Futurizing Y’our Workforce’s Health and Wellbeing
How to empower employees to flourish and thrive in a fast-changing and challenging world
In these fast-changing times, taking care of employee health and wellbeing with clarity is vital for creating a good future where employees flourish and organisations thrive. This will require a new holistic and future-minded collaborative approach to health and wellbeing which promotes personal health responsibility and futurization. A holistic approach that incorporates futures thinking on purpose and enhances employees’ ability to adapt, self-manage (health) and flourish in the flow of evolution (wellbeing).
The next 10 years will bring more changes to humanity than the past 100 years. (Gerd Leonhard)
In times of change and any other time: “Mind your body before your body reminds you.”
We are living in a fast-changing and challenging time. A time where entire populations are under immense pressure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is devastating lives and livelihoods and which has triggered a global economic crisis with far-reaching implications.
We are also living in a time where new technologies are changing every aspect of the way we live, learn and work, and where millions of jobs are at risk of being automated.
Furthermore, while all this is going on, let us not forget that climate change is affecting our natural environment, fuelling conflict and mass migration in many parts of the world, and also harming our health and wellbeing, global security and world peace.
In these unsettling times, with everything changing so rapidly and so extensively, there is a great need to find stability and clarity, something to hold on to while everything changes.
This requires new ways of thinking on the part of organisations and the workforce alike. New ways of thinking not only to secure the economic aspects of the organisation but also the heart of every organisation — which is the health and wellbeing of the workforce.
Fostering a healthy and happy workforce is a vital factor to enable organisations to flourish and thrive in these fast-changing times. It is not only good for business because happy employees are more engaged and productive; it also contributes to prosperous societies and a good and sustainable future for all.
Therefore, the need for organisations to include a good, future-proof and clear strategy for health and wellbeing is simply common sense. Such a strategy will be essential for an organisation to thrive and flourish in the years to come.
Disruption and change will be part of the future, and organisations need to prepare their workforce for this reality.
Many organisations have rolled out a strategy addressing the immediate health threat of COVID-19. However, a clear, long-term, future-proof and human-centred approach to health and wellbeing is needed to keep the workforce dynamic, adaptable, engaged and productive in these times of exponential change. An approach that takes into account the immediate and long-term challenges including employability, new working conditions, the use of new technologies, and stress.
Apart from the consequences on our health that COVID-19 has brought along, it is also having a huge impact on employment, with unemployment numbers soaring rapidly. However, this trend is nothing compared to the impact that automation, robotisation and digitisation will have on jobs in the coming years.
In its latest Future of Jobs Report, the World Economic Forum (WEF) projects that by 2025 around 85 million jobs are set to be displaced by automation. Furthermore, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a staggering 1 billion jobs, almost one-third of all jobs worldwide, are likely to be transformed by technology in the next decade.
What jobs will be automated?
The extent to which a job is at risk of being automated or robotised can be investigated on replacedbyrobot.info.
The good news is that the WEF also predicts that, despite the accelerated disruption, 97 million new jobs of tomorrow will emerge by 2025. New jobs requiring new core skills. 40% of current work skills are expected to change in the next 5 years. The most in-demand type of skills of the future will include working with people, problem-solving, technology use and development, and self-management.
New emerging technologies will also bring about new ways of working and new working conditions. This in turn means new challenges for body, mind and spirit. Just as the introduction of the computer led to adverse health conditions such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, eye problems and musculoskeletal pain, mainly due to a more sedentary lifestyle, and certain patterns of social media use have been associated with the development of depression and anxiety.
We can already see how some new emerging technologies are causing new health challenges. For example, some virtual reality (VR) users who wear a headset and engage in full-body, three-dimensional movements are experiencing muscle strain and discomfort.
Rising levels of stress are also a problem. In this fast-changing world, where we will experience ever more rapid demands on ourselves, our way of living and working, the economy and the environment, levels of stress that are already high will rise further. If this added stress continues to be left unmanaged, it will directly and indirectly contribute to even more physical, psychological, social and spiritual (biopsychosocial-spiritual) problems.
Personal Health Responsibility
Health is not a given…
Time will tell what other health problems will emerge when new technologies and new working conditions find their way into work or private life and we start implementing new skills for the emerging jobs and leisure activities.
However, organisations can prepare their workforce to become more resilient, adaptable and future-ready. This can be done by including a long-term holistic health, wellbeing and skills training strategy in their strategic plans for the future.
That taking care of employee health and wellbeing has become crucial is evidenced by the list recently published by the WEF of the top 10 skills most in demand for the future, which includes self-management (resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility).
In other words, a life skill where all, on an individual level, take ownership of their health and wellbeing. Health and wellbeing are essential for being able to cope with and rise to the inevitable challenges, problems and setbacks that people will encounter.
Self-management is a life skill that also has a direct and indirect impact on how effective people are in learning and utilising the many hard and soft skills of the future. Just imagine trying to think critically or solve complex problems while depressed or anxious, or preparing a robot when you have acute back pain.
We can learn from the past, without even needing to look towards the future, to see why it is so important to learn self-management.
It is sufficient just to observe how the current COVID-19 lockdown, with the ensuing measures of working from home, has led to increased psychosocial risks, technostress, insomnia, conflicts of work-life balance, domestic violence and - due to poor ergonomics - various musculoskeletal disorders. Working from home is not easy, as the conditions are not always optimal. A new remote health and wellbeing strategy is needed, as working from home is here to stay.
I see this in my osteopathy practice on a daily basis: poor working conditions at home are leading to increased musculoskeletal pain and stress.
Although teleworking has been forced upon the employee, rarely do I hear of employers taking responsibility for making sure the working conditions at home are optimal or that employees receive support. As a general rule, this is the employer’s responsibility. I also see that employees who are working from home have often not really thought it through. Many are working for 8 hours or more at the kitchen table without a good chair; some are even working on the sofa or in bed.
With the new working conditions, new training is needed in order for team leaders to be more attentive to health and wellbeing issues emerging in their remote team.
In addition, the remote team members need to be trained in how to cope, self-manage and maintain their health and wellbeing while at home.
Health and wellbeing is a shared responsibility, and employers have a front-line role to play here. It is also in their interests, as, for organisations to thrive in a fast-changing world, they need to help their employees become the best version of themselves.
Thinking in the present is what has got us here — now it’s time to start thinking from the future to get us out of here (T. Meyers).
In these fast-changing times, the second life skill that is key to the health and wellbeing of the organisation and its workforce is futurization.
Futurization means incorporating futures thinking into present decisions and choices. In other words, imagining scenarios of what the future will bring or what we would like to see, feel or avoid in the future, and acting upon them today by aligning our decisions and choices to the preferred outcome.
This is a change from the current “focus on the present” mindset and helps us to prepare for what is to come. To be mindful of the present can have its benefits, but it does not prepare us for the future. It is also in many ways against our nature, as futures thinking is a ubiquitous feature of the human mind.
In his book “Futures Consciousness”, Tom Lombardo writes that flourishing within the human condition requires a purposeful future focus. Furthermore, he states that, unquestionably, living in the relative present is the fundamental cause behind many of our most significant problems, including global warming.
Our minds, based on millions of years of evolution, are not constructed to live in the present. To evolve, there needs to be anticipation of a general direction for the future. It is the nature of the conscious human mind that we act with purpose and perceive with anticipation.
Dr Bob Johansen, a futurist with the Institute for the Future (IFTF), explains that what you need in the middle of a crisis is a North Star that gives you clarity. It is often easier to look 10 years ahead than to look one or two years ahead, especially in a crisis.
What the brain wants is certainty — and when the immediate future is difficult to predict, as it is today, we can achieve greater clarity by thinking in the longer term.
Futurizing health and wellbeing means proactively thinking of the long-term aspirations for your health and wellbeing (motivation). It is creating an image of a preferred future, of the way you want to feel 5–10 years from now. On an organisational level, it is thinking how you want your employees to feel 5–10 years from now.
The future is influenced by y’our (you and our) actions and decisions. Therefore, on both accounts, when we align our behaviour in the present to the preferred future, we create clarity that will help us navigate uncertainty.
Helping employees to futurize themselves, empowering them to shift towards futures thinking and conscious navigation into the future — from the future, and on purpose — will also enhance their personal health responsibility. It can also become a great motivator for adapting to new, more digital ways of working and preparing for the changes to come.
Futurizing Y’our human capital
We are living in a fast-changing and challenging world. A world where COVID-19, new emerging technologies and climate change are challenging organisations and the workforce to discover how to futurize themselves to stay relevant, engaged and productive.
Fostering health and wellbeing is critical in order for individuals to cope with and flourish through these changes, as well as for organisations to thrive.
The wealth of business is best founded on the health of its workers, and investing in health and wellbeing is a responsibility.
However, organisations and their employees struggle with the practical implementation of health and wellbeing within the new conditions.
In these fast-changing times, creating a good future where employees flourish and organisations thrive requires a new holistic and future-minded collaborative approach to health and wellbeing.
A new approach that hinges not only on biopsychosocial and spiritual (purpose) aspects to accommodate the individual and organisational needs but also on the requisite life skills, personal health responsibility and futurization.
Personal health responsibility is needed to enhance the employees’ ability to adapt and self-manage, especially while working from home. This skill is not only in the interests of the individual but also in the interests of organisations, which will need people who can access the best part of themselves and thrive while working conditions are changing.
Employers can enhance the health and wellbeing of their employees by identifying people’s needs, evaluating the existing policies, and accelerating innovative solutions. This should go hand in hand with offering the coaching and training needed for employees to take responsibility for maintaining their own health.
Futurization is needed to prepare employees for the future and for flourishing in the flow of evolution.
Shifting towards incorporating futures thinking and conscious navigation into the future — from the future, on purpose — will also enhance and reinforce personal health responsibility.
In the same way that successful organisations futurize themselves by imagining future scenarios upon with they act in the present, so employees must be encouraged to futurize themselves to stay healthy and relevant in a fast-changing world.
Health and wellbeing is a shared responsibility, but appropriately empowering employees can help them become the best version of themselves — which in turn increases employee engagement and potential, reduces costs and helps to ensure that the business will thrive in an uncertain future. Ensuring healthier lives and promoting wellbeing will also contribute to a more sustainable future and more prosperous societies.
Tom Meyers (Belgium) is an osteopath M.Sc., D.O. OSD, body-centred stress coach with more than 15 years experience. His research is based on a novel body-mind and educational hands-on health approach he coined the “Reaset Approach”. Tom is also a forward thinker, wellbeing futurist, space enthusiast, TEDx organiser, podcast host, author of Futurize Yourself — Design your life on purpose and the founder of the Futurize Y’ourself Network. Tom’s mission, for the greater good of all, is to empower people to flourish and for organisations to thrive in a fast-changing, uncertain, and challenging world by helping them to futurize themselves with resolve and purpose.