Caring for an Ageing Population: Problem or Opportunity for Organisational Life? Reply

Photo of Dr Leah Tomkins
Guest blogger: Dr Leah Tomkins, Senior Lecturer in Organisation Studies at The Open University Business School.

In the West, we are all living longer. Indeed, the fact that our retirement ages keep getting pushed back suggests that we are expected to have many more years of productive life than was the case in previous generations. Whilst this is undoubtedly a triumph in terms of advances in medicine, nutrition and lifestyle, at the same time, it has thrown up a huge challenge for families, communities and institutions who have to work out how to care for elderly people for much longer periods of time than ever before. In particular, it has created a generation of ‘working carers’ who balance caring for an elderly relative with trying to build and sustain a career themselves.

Facts about carers – from the campaigning group Carers UK

  • 1 in 8 adults (around 6.5 million people) is a carer.
  • By 2037, it’s anticipated that the number of carers will increase to 9 million.
  • Every day another 6,000 people take on a caring responsibility – that equals over 2 million people each year.
  • 58% of carers are women and 42% are men.
  • Carers save the economy £132 billion per year, an average of £19,336 per carer.

Working carers

  • Over 3 million people juggle care with work.
  • As of 2014, 30% of working carers were earning at least £20,000 less than before as a result of caring.
  • And the significant demands of caring mean that 1 in 5 carers is forced to give up work altogether.

Carers UK – facts and figures.

A problem for organisational life?

It is easy to see why the increasing numbers of ‘working carers’ might create difficulties for organisations, and for HR and resource planning departments in particular. The advent of caring responsibilities often comes unexpectedly, as an elderly relative suddenly becomes less capable of looking after him- or herself. Caring responsibilities can feel open-ended and unpredictable, and it is impossible to know whether they are going to last for months, years or even decades. It is not easy to adjust workload allocations and expectations when it is unclear how long-lasting or how intensive an employee’s caring duties will be.

For ‘working carers’ themselves, the advent of caring responsibilities can represent a serious challenge to their sense of identity. We live in a world where the idea that professionalism equals dedication reigns supreme. Corporate strategists and culture change specialists strive for high levels of organisational commitment from their employees. The business literature abounds with terms such as ‘employee engagement’ and models of organisational ‘transformation’ which emphasise the importance of employees being inspired by, even devoted to, their leaders and the corporate vision they espouse. Most management consultants and OD strategists would probably agree that employees need to have ‘skin in the game’ if an organisation’s objectives are to be achieved. And for ‘working carers’, of course, there is more than one ‘game’ making claims on their ‘skin’!

Across both private and public sectors, organisations are working hard to try to help the increasing numbers of ‘working carers’ in their midst. Many have established support networks, and introduced a range of policies including paid and unpaid leave to try to acknowledge the complexities of balancing work and care. Appraisal systems are being reworked to try to set ‘performance’ in context, and to focus on quality rather than quantity of contribution. In some of the organisations I have visited, senior leaders talk openly and publically about their own caring responsibilities and about the practical and emotional impact these have had on their work and sense of professional identity. This is powerful stuff, because it can help to dissolve the shame and anxiety that employees feel when their domestic lives make it impossible to be the perfectly ‘engaged’ employee that has traditionally been required for career success.

However, despite the valiant efforts of many organisational leaders, HR professionals and line managers, I think there is still an assumption that becoming a ‘working carer’ is basically a problem – both for the organisation and for the individual. However sympathetic colleagues, managers and support staff try to be, there is an underlying sense that care disrupts, even destroys, careers.

An opportunity for organisational life?

I want to challenge this assumption that care necessarily destroys careers by asking the question:

“What is it that we experience as carers that might help, rather than hinder, us in our organisational lives?”

In other words, I think we might look at our experiences of care as a valuable resource and source of expertise. This relates to our experiences of both giving and receiving care, and to how these inform and shape our interpersonal relationships throughout our lives. I make this somewhat provocative suggestion not because I want to downplay how tough being a ‘working carer’ is. Nor do I deny that having to incorporate different work patterns and unpredictable availabilities can be extremely disruptive in organisational life, and trigger all sorts of resentments amongst colleagues who are left holding the fort.

But there is an extraordinarily powerful upside to having the notion of care at the heart of our organisational lives. This is because care experiences are all about asymmetrical or unequal relationships – about the way in which people interact when one person has more power or capability or capacity than another. And this is precisely the kind of interaction that underpins many key debates in business, including:

  • Relationships between leaders and followers – which are marked by differences in status, power, experience and/or expertise.
  • Decisions over leadership and change management methods – especially those which involve deciding between ‘transactional’ and ‘transformational’ approaches.
  • Ideas about ‘tame’ and ‘wicked’ problems – and the extent to which stakeholders are either directed or empowered to participate in their resolution.

All three of these examples involve understanding the power dynamics of asymmetrical or unequal relationships. All three of them have a noticeable presence on the curricula of both corporate and academic leadership and management development programmes. And, in my view, all three of them are illuminated through the prism of our experiences of care.

This is because caring involves taking decisions about how to manage differences in status, power and expertise, without dominating or infantilising the other person. Caring also means coming to terms with being on the receiving end of a whole host of projected emotions, often in the form of anger, resentment and frustration. These are often completely unfair and unreasonable, but then again, so are the feelings of fury and disappointment that are hurled at leaders when they let us down and prove to be mere mortals after all. Our expectations of both ourselves and others in caring relationships evoke incredibly strong and primitive emotions. Acknowledging and coming to terms with these in our private lives might – just might – help us to acknowledge and come to terms with them in our working lives, too.

These thoughts dovetail with increasing calls for organisational life to be infused by an ‘ethic of care’. For me, the idea that care relates to ethics is really important, because it stimulates reflection on the meaning of our work and our organisational commitments, rather than pushing us always to be looking for ways to get more efficient. Indeed, my arguments about how care might enhance our working lives will lose their power and authenticity if they get leveraged into policies or procedures – or into jargon or sound-bites. In my view, an ‘ethic of care’ is not a shiny new model or theory that can be turned into a recipe for business success. Instead, it involves reconnecting with what we already know as human beings – with our understandings of the emotional dynamics of our selves and our relationships with others. Care is an ‘opportunity’, not in the sense that organisations can colonise and yoke it to issues of business performance, but more in the sense that, as human beings, we might reflect on how our experiences of our lives outside work might not be so different or disconnected from our experiences of our lives inside it.

An ‘ethic of care’ in organisational life involves:

  • Challenging the assumption that care is purely a domestic issue, or something ‘pink and fluffy’.
  • Reconnecting our experiences across the so-called ‘work/life boundary’.
  • Acknowledging the emotional undercurrents of our working, as well as our private, relationships.

If you are intrigued by any of these ideas, and want to learn more about my current and forthcoming publications in this space, please email me. Also, take a look at the videos from the Business Perspectives Masterclass (February 2016).

Is Organisation the Place for Care? Reply

Our Business Perspectives half-day masterclass in London on Wednesday 10 February 2016 will look at ways in which care can influence leadership, organisational strategy, HR policy and issues of work/life balance. The event will be hosted by Dr Leah Tomkins, Senior Lecturer in Organisation Studies at the OU Business School, who has held senior leadership positions in Accenture, KPMG, PwC and the Cabinet Office, Whitehall. Amongst the keynote speakers will be Professor Yiannis Gabriel (University of Bath), Dr Viv Burr (University of Huddersfield), David Macdonald, Director of Organisational Learning at Arup and Zoe Davies, head of Accenture’s ‘Accent on Enablement’ programme.

BOOK NOW

We’ll explore some of the meanings associated with care, and their implications for our approach to work, career and organisational and personal commitments. In thinking about where these meanings come from – and how they are charged with some of our most primitive emotions – we hope to offer some reflections and provocations for how care might influence organisational strategy and practice.  We’ll consider three particular aspects of care, and try to tease out their common themes:

  • Care as an element of organisational culture; what does a ‘caring organisation’ look like, and what are its barriers and enablers?
  • Care as a central dynamic of leadership; what does it mean to be a ‘caring leader’, and would we really want to work for one?
  • Care in relation to work/life balance; how can we reconcile the rhetoric of flexible working with the reality of juggling work and care, especially relevant with our ageing population?

This event will appeal to those interested in issues of organisational strategy and culture, leadership, HR management, demographics and workforce planning, diversity and equality. It will have a special relevance for those juggling these interests with a caring commitment themselves.

For further information and to register, visit our website.

Intercultural Working webinar – recording available 1

Our webinar on Intercultural Working took place on 15 July. If you missed it or want to watch again, the webinar is now available to view on demand.

Watch the webinar

Listen to what our speakers had to say about the issues relating to leadership and management in different multicultural settings, cross cultural coaching and the role of political astuteness in communicating with impact.

Our webinar panellists included Dr Björn Claes, Senior Lecturer in Operations Management at OUBS and MBA alum Jeremy Roebuck, volunteer Business Consultant, Grow Movement. Facilitating this virtual event was OU Associate Lecturer Peter Wainwright, host of our previous Business Perspectives webinars.

You can also share your views and comments about the event or topic by following us on Twitter @OUBSchool  #OU_BP

Intercultural working trend report & webinar Reply

Intercultural Working trend reportOur latest Business Perspectives trend report looks at our current topic of Intercultural Working. The report considers the wider world of business culture, focusing on hiring, development, communication, embracing and the big picture.

The pace of business has never been so fast, which is why this summary has been designed so it can quickly inspire you at home, in an airport or on the go. You can download the report now, absolutely free.

Download the report

Continue the conversation with our free Intercultural Working webinar, where we’ll explore issues relating to leadership and management in different multicultural settings, look at the role being political astute and hear about cross-cultural coaching. Our free one hour webinar will take place on Wednesday 15 July 2015 at 19:00 (BST).

The online webinar will introduce video highlights from the Business Perspectives masterclass, held in London recently. During the webinar, we’ll draw on contributions from our masterclass and further develop these discussion points. You can contribute via our live online polls and Q&A forums.

Register for the webinar

We invite you to download and share the report and send us any comments.

If you would like to contribute your perspective towards future topics, please contact our Business Perspectives Editor.

How to manage multi-generational workplaces? 1

Murray Eldridge


Guest blogger: Murray Eldridge, Open University MBA Alumnus, Head of Commercial and Operations at Subsea Infrastructure and Director of Actinium CS Ltd. Author of ‘
Leading High Performance’.

Questions abound around Boomers, GenX’ers, Millennials and how to manage multi-generational workplaces?  We may be forgiven for thinking that this is a new problem of the modern era but when have work places not been multi-generational?

Every generation, indeed every child, has always sought its own place in the world. That eventual place is a blend of parental, peer, educational, societal, cultural, technological, and other factors. Despite this today’s received wisdom is, for example, that Millennials are very different from Gen X’ers and more difficult to manage. One could argue that if you want to look at a ‘difficult’ generation think back to the Baby Boomers in the late 60’s and 70’s! Rebellious and hedonistic in an era of over-abundance in jobs, goods and wealth!

It is worth noting that (in the west) Gen X was the first generation that on average earned less than their parents. Millennials have continued this downward trend. Because both Gen X and Millennials are on average more highly educated and more interconnected they ‘get’ the fact that current leaders (organisational and political) have a lot to answer for. Consequently there is a higher degree of scepticism of leaders, their motives and their competence. In their ‘Mind the Gaps’ survey (2015 Millennial Survey) Deloitte state “The message is clear: when looking at their career goals todays Millennials are just as interested in how a business develops its people and its contribution to society as they are in its products and profits.”

Leading and managing multi-generational workforces has not fundamentally changed. First it is about having a clear understanding of the purpose of the organisation and what is required to be successful. Next it is about learning and understanding what the organisations’ people value, what they need and what they would like. Last it is about synthesising these two sets of needs to create a vibrant, successful entity where, hopefully, people enjoy working.

While much is made about technology in the modern world, and the instantaneous inter-connectedness provided to all generations, peoples’ basic needs remain relatively consistent. People in organisations want their leaders to provide five key elements: a sense of purpose, a sense of belonging, a sense of excitement, a sense of belief and, probably more than ever before, they want their leaders to be authentic with an ethos and values followers can believe in. Given the generational types and expectations there is a requirement for modern leaders and managers to engage ever more closely with their people. Carlos Goshn, CEO of Nissan, has said:  “Leaders of the future will also need to have a lot more empathy and sensitivity… They are going to need global empathy, which is a lot more difficult.”

Coaching and mentoring leadership styles work well in most walks of organisational life and today more than ever before these will be crucial approaches to engagement. However, coaching and mentoring require skill, time, energy, commitment and a willingness to provide guidance and impart knowledge. Preparing people for these more nuanced leadership and management roles will be both crucial and difficult. However, like the very best sports teams, those that can commit to this approach will secure stellar results.

How can managers effectively harness the human capital they bring to enhance operational effectiveness? Reply

Gerard McGurk final cropped


Guest blogger: Gerard McGurk, Open University Business School MBA Alumnus and member of our Alumni Council,
Consular Regional Director – Middle East & North Africa at Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

The workplace in 2015 is facing a unique opportunity (not challenge) in so far as it will have four generations (or waves) of employees (listed below). In 2015 what does this mean for employers of multi-generationals (whichever label they are given) in terms of recruitment, retention and motivation? How can managers effectively harness the human capital they bring to enhance operational effectiveness?

As global managers, we need to be careful about how we talk about multi-generational working. Most academic literature focuses on definitions of multi-generational employees from a North American or European perspective. It is a mistake to look to apply these to other regions in the world: the drivers and broader conditions (political and socio-economic) vary from country to country. The cultural dimension to multi-generational working therefore needs to be understood – both from a management and leadership perspective.

Traditionalists
: born before 1945. Value hard work. Dislike for conflict and detailed orientated.

Baby Boomers: born between 1946-1964. Adaptive, goal-orientated with positive attitude.

Generation X: born late 1960’s – 1970’s. Independent, adaptable, resilient and family-orientated.

Millennials (Gen Y) – born between 1980’s and 1990’s. Creative, committed and loyal, accept diversity easily.

The continued existence of multi-generational working as both a concept and also a recurring theme for business and academic discussion demonstrates the extent to which there is no agreed approach. Thankfully these broad, sweeping descriptors don’t fully describe the wide range of experiences or knowledge that employees possess. Nor do I believe that these simplistic definitions act as the basis for managing across generations.

I should declare a strong affinity for the work of Dorothy Leonard and Walter Swap and their 2005 article on “Deep Smarts” – the “stuff the produces that mysterious quality – good judgment”. Leonard and Swap argue that experience is the reason that deeply knowledgeable individuals make swift, smart decisions. In this context, the connection with the developmental principle of “70-20-10”, with the 70 representing the informal, on-the-job, experienced-based and practice, is relevant and needs to be appreciated more in terms of understanding how certain generations of employees integrate pattern based learning into their performance.

If we accept the proposition put forward by Nonaka and Takeuchi that knowledge and intellectual capital act as a company’s primary source of production and value, suggesting experience is a factor in value production, why is there still a level of tension between managing such pivotal contributors of organisational value? Why is there still a tendency to dwell on the differences between Baby Boomers and Generation X’ers rather than focus on common goals?
In my experience of working in a cross-cultural, multi-linguistic environment, there is little to be gained from the “divide and conquer” approach. No one size fits all – the world we live in is complex and diverse and management solutions cannot be framed to capture all possible instances in all locations. Broad principles may be applicable but the policy prescriptions need to be context specific.

Managing a multi-generational workplace undoubtedly has its challenges. However primary responsibility for turning this generational diversity into opportunity rests with managers first and foremost. It is critical that they get close to their employees – whatever their age – and understand what drives them. A tailored approach is likely to be more successful as it will have their personal motivation at the heart of the solution and will address their personal goals and needs.

Building collaborative partnerships is important. Creating blended teams enables mixed experience to be shared across age differences and support a common sense of purpose. Teams comprise of individuals working towards a shared goal. It is the skill-set, knowledge, commitment and dedication to that common goal that are key. Job shadowing, mentoring and coaching are also valid and support methods of developing cross-generational meaning and shared experiences – all with the purpose of adding value, be it organisational, personal or professional.

Tomorrow’s demands on today’s leaders – highlights from the roundtable discussion & webinar Reply

Highlights from the Business Perspectives roundtable discussion and webinar on Management Now: tomorrow’s demands on today’s leaders are available to watch, in a short 30 minute video.

Listen to our speakers about how managers can tackle the knowledge gaps and skills shortages of the future, whilst embracing new ways of working and creating more effective working environments.

This concludes the Management Now quarter. The next Business Perspectives Masterclass will take place in London on 12 February 2015, focusing on Leading and managing in age diverse organisations. More information and details on how to register are available on our website.

Today’s learning landscape – how L&D is supporting democratisation, creativity & innovation, leadership & change 3

Sue Parr

Guest blogger: Sue Parr, Head of Executive Education at The Open University Business School looks at the business challenges behind the buzzwords.

This content first appeared on HR Magazine, an online HR publication for people-focused, forward-thinking, business leaders who want insight into, and examples of, business-contextualised HR to develop high-performing organisations.

Many managers are recognising that they have to adapt to new ways of working to meet the expectations of their employers and their employees.  New behaviours and ways of working are being driven by changes all around them, but what changes can be supported through developing capability and skillsets?

Complexity: Today’s managers contend with the complexity created by the many different perspectives of a multi- cultural, cross- functional, often geographically dispersed workforce spanning as many as three generations. In fact, there are more generations in our workforce than at any other time as those previously of retirement age extend their working lives.

For example, in areas of manufacturing companies who are increasingly aware of the benefits of sharing best practice and collaborating to drive innovation, in surprising ways, but ultimately to the benefit of all.  Commercial sensitivity is being nuanced and boundaries pushed.

Creativity and innovation: We’re not talking about being good with colour here!  We are talking about turning problems around, not going for same old safe solutions because ‘this is the way we’ve always done it ’. Organisations need their people thinking more broadly.  For managers who had stages 1, 2 and 3 of their career in a technically specific function, creative practice techniques can start to get them thinking more holistically about their whole organisation, the needs of their current market and exploring opportunities in new markets.  Although these tools and techniques can be learnt, but the prospect can be daunting for those who have bought in to a self-image of not ‘being’ creative.

Change: The themes of leadership and change have always been high on the management agenda but the focus of these has changed. As organisations recognise increasingly that what is needed to stay competitive is to be more responsive, agile and comfortable with increasing ambiguity, they are investing in their middle managers. As a result there has been a democratisation of management and responsibility. Where once the focus of executive education was on the most senior of senior teams, today’s companies recognise the need for developing leadership excellence at every level.

Connection not Control: The traditional workplace had a top down structure, hierarchies where orders were given and carried out. As more organisations use project teams spread across locations, remotely connected, the skills of influencing become much more important. Managers need to learn how to influence people to achieve outcomes where they don’t have direct authority or control.

Career Development: As the economy gets back on track the scales are tipping and businesses need to make the effort to retain good people. L&D has a proven track record as a powerful retention tool. Generation Y workers are much more likely to move onto new jobs quickly. Restless for new experiences, employees need to see a development pathway within their organisation or they will be tempted to move on. A structured, embedded talent management programme can help employees visualise their personal growth plan.

But on top of this, the managers on-the-ground, are expected to satisfy this quest for knowledge, development and progression. Coaching is a skill that can meet many of these needs, but how much should, or can, individual managers be ‘expected’ to fulfil this role?

(l&d) Centricity: Increasingly HR departments are embedding elements of leadership in learning and development right from the start of employees’ careers. Advanced organisations are incorporating leadership development and L&D at the centre of their organisational strategy. The leaders of these organisations act as ambassadors for this approach, realising that when L&D becomes a part of the DNA of a company it is much more successful.

We worked with a large UK-based retailer who wanted to change the whole way people accessed L&D and highlighting at every career stage, why it’s important. This cultural shift led to a company-wide holistic approach that supported the company’s strategy and goals.

(bite size) Content There is a definite shift towards a blended learning approach to executive development. Rather than taking people out of their workplace for long periods of time, face-to-face delivery is being supported by shorter chunks of online learning and interaction.

In the past executive education frequently included an online facility – a library of content. However this approach often wasn’t successful.  People simply didn’t use the library.  Now online is used to prepare for, and follow-on from, face-to-face learning.It’s all about making people more responsible for their own development, learning at their own pace and accessing information when they need it.

The virtual academy, or online campus, gives people the opportunity to access the content they need.  This can be particularly helpful for senior managers who are often expected to have achieved “sage status” or business “omniscience”.  The virtual academy provides a safe environment for them to fill in the gaps in their knowledge.

Overall, managers are expected to have a much broader repertoire of skills, often earlier in their careers: effective management will require highly developed communication and interpersonal skills, capability building though coaching and mentoring, problem solving through creativity, networking through social media savvy.  The pace of change is heady and the combination of developing hard and soft skills at all levels to enable individuals and organisations to adapt and thrive requires a commitment to professional development for a career-lifetime; both from the employee and the employer.

What is Change Management? 2

Mostly Change Management

I like the idea that change is mostly about Leadership.

As a practitioner I have discovered that genuinely involving staff in implementing the change is the key.

Put simply, leading others to change themselves works best in the long-term.

A useful summary of the process I generally follow:

  1. Establish a sense of purpose. What is there to gain / What happens to us if we do not act?
  2. Identify early adopters and work with them from day one. Involve everyone, yes everyone, at all levels. Spot the “negatives” and try to tune into and comment on their chatter. Adopt strategies to diffuse it.
  3. Create a “story” about what work will be like when the change has happened. A realistic, believable, deliverable story. Tell it to everyone, at all levels, every day, until you are thoroughly bored with hearing it. Then tell it some more.
  4. Communicate, communicate, communicate, in appropriate…

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Leadership quarter summary report 1

summary reportHere we introduce you to our third Business Perspectives summary report in the series, which concludes the leadership quarter with a rich collateral of global perspectives on leaders and leadership.

We invite you to download and share the report and send us any comments.  A similar summary report will be available following the change management quarter. If you would like to contribute your perspective towards the change management theme, please contact our Business Perspectives Editor at oubs-alumni@open.ac.uk.

Click here to download the report.