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Ivey Academy event explores the future of work

May 15, 2023

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L-R: Martha Maznevski, Janice Byrne, and Romel Mostafa

The saying, “The only constant in life is change,” couldn’t be truer when considering the future of work. During the Ivey Academy livestream, Empowering People in the New World of Work, Ivey’s Romel Mostafa referenced the old adage as it relates to the societal shifts we’re seeing in technology, the economy, and social norms.

More than 200 alumni and Ivey community members joined the virtual discussion, as part of Global Ivey Day activities, to engage in conversations on the evolution of work, which is one of the critical issues facing business and society identified in the Ivey Next strategy.

A panel of Ivey faculty discussed what’s driving the evolution of work and how organizations and employees can set themselves up for success in the new working world. Panellists included Martha Maznevski, PhD '94, Professor of Organizational Behaviour; Janice Byrne, Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship; and Romel Mostafa, Assistant Professor of Business, Economics, and Public Policy. The discussion was moderated by Bryan Benjamin, Executive Director of The Ivey Academy.

What is driving the evolution of work?

When interacting with entrepreneurs, Janice Byrne has noticed a shift in what people value in the workplace.

“People want flexible work, people care more about wellness, and people care more about equity, diversity, and inclusion,” she said. “We’ve seen a change in this generation of workers in terms of what people want and value.”

And the numbers don’t lie. When livestream participants were polled on which factors are driving the evolution of work, a notable 88 per cent said individuals’ values and priorities are shifting. Fittingly, when asked what are the most impactful ways organizations can support new ways of working, 82 per cent selected “to allow for flexibility” (e.g. remote work, flexible work hours).

“We talk a lot about what's driving the evolution of work, but some of those same things are enabling the evolution of work,” said Maznevski. “The technology that's letting us do our jobs differently is also shifting our values and enabling us to rethink our approach to work.”

High stakes

One of the obvious concerns for organizations is attracting and retaining talent. For organizations to stay ahead, Maznevski said they need to solve complex problems for their value proposition.

“If employees are engaged and taking advantage of opportunities with new tools and new ways of working, we have the opportunity to solve some really sticky problems, or at least to try and start solving them both for customers and society,” she said. “I think the stakes are enormous and they go way beyond retaining and attracting people.”

Byrne highlighted the importance of keeping people engaged and feeling in control of their work.

“Employees need a sense of autonomy” she said. “They need to feel that they’re in control and can see themselves in the work they do. For me, that’s linked to the notion of valuing our employees. The challenge is to look at how we as leaders do that, while at the same time keeping everybody pulling in the same direction.”

The elephant in the room

Maznevski pointed out that we often forget there are two very different dynamics currently going on in the working world – people who work remotely and have flexibility and people who need to physically be at their place of work every day.

“It’s important to have the conversation around the feeling that it’s not fair that some people get to choose where they work and others don't,” said Maznevski. “If you don't have that conversation, it becomes the elephant in the room. For example, when people see their colleagues saving money because they don't have to travel to work every day and are not seeing that reflected in their own work life, it feels very inequitable.”

She said the companies that have a better employee response to this issue, have an open dialogue about these perceived inequities.

Ask. Listen. Try.

So, how do leaders begin these conversations? Ask, listen, and try, says Maznevski.

“Leaders need to be clear on what’s not negotiable, but be clear as to why,” she said.

Leaders are challenged with nailing down a short list of tasks that need to be achieved no matter what – the non-negotiables, then everything else can be a conversation. That’s where the Ask. Listen. Try. (ALT) strategy comes in, says Maznevski.

“When you ask questions, you’re giving people an opportunity for influence and an opportunity to grow. By listening, you’re building relationships, and meeting those basic needs. And then try – you don’t need to have a policy today that’s going to last for three years. You can try something for a few weeks or months and keep revisiting it with the ALT approach.”

Set for success

As for what employees can do to set themselves up for success in the new working world, Mostafa suggests investing in themselves and growing their skillset. And no conversation about the evolution of work is complete without delving into the implications of artificial intelligence (AI).

“Develop skills that are complementary to the technological evolution,” said Mostafa. “You will get great insights from AI data-driven applications, but improving critical thinking, good judgment, and reasoning are all going to be even more important moving forward.”

Our collective responsibility

To wrap up the session, each panellist summarized the critical takeaways from the discussion.  One was the need for collective responsibility.

“We collectively have an opportunity and responsibility to shape the evolution of work,” said Maznevski. “And given the pace of change and what's going on in the environment, we need to do it together. ‘Ask, listen, try’ is about us doing it together.”