UNLEASH London 2019: 4 powerful messages from this year’s show

The world of work is changing. That was the overwhelming message from this year’s UNLEASH London.

The evolving world of HR is something that People professionals have heard and discussed before, but this time, the speakers clearly wanted to demystify what that really means.

The focus wasn’t really about the technology at all – it was all about people.

The annual event showcased two days of impressive speakers that included Josh Bersin, analyst and founder of Bersin by Deloitte, and London Business School Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship Costas Markides.

Here’s four messages that came out of the two-day event.

1. Humanization through technology

In a world that’s full of technology, it’s easy to forget the true purpose of it: to enable us to be more human.

Many people may associate technology, especially AI, as replacing the human. Yet Cassie Kozyrkov, Chief Decision Scientist at Google, explained that technology enriches our working life to make tasks quicker and easier, and helps do what humans do best: the unquantifiable and human.

“Technology is a lever,” explained Kozyrkov. “It’s all about how good the worker is on the end of it.”

Tim Leberecht, Co-Founder of The Business Romantic Society, also echoed Kozyrkov’s point during his talk on romanticism in the workplace. “We are dealing with a crisis of loneliness,” he explained. “We have to bring more intimacy, vulnerability, beauty and romance to what we do at work.”

Between both talks, there was an overwhelming sense that technology must be seen an enabler, not a driver. It’s essential to know what tech levers you need to pull to support you as a ‘business romantic.’

2. The People journey needs to evolve

“A one-way road with no exits.” That’s how Director of the HR Trend Institute Tom Haak explained what the employee journey looks like for many organizations today.

His point was that there are many things that organizations do in a linear way – but is an employee journey really that straightforward and simple, from onboarding to offboarding?

Haak explained that with 8% of employees returning to organizations that they’ve left (‘boomerangs’) and many making up the gig economy, the employee journey in many businesses is far less linear than we might think.

Companies should be re-imagining what the employee journey at a company should look like based on realistic employee expectations, he explained.

3. Do people really do trust their employers?

In the wake of significant societal change, there’s a constant: peoples’ trust in their employers.

Dr Daniel Thorniley opened UNLEASH 2019 with his keynote on how politics and the economy are challenging the way we live and work. In spite of this, he argues, 75% of us trust our employers. You could almost hear a sigh of relief from the audience.

Josh Bersin also echoed Thorniley’s words: “Employees don’t really trust the government, but they trust their employer.”

Trust really is part of employees feeling psychologically safe at work. It’s something we’ve talked about before: If your people feel safe and secure then they will be empowered to take risks, ask questions and not be afraid to fail. In fact, it’s the common characteristic of top performing teams.

So, building and maintaining trust is vital to creating those great employee experiences all HR and People teams strive towards.

4. The productivity problem

Productivity was a subject that the industry experts didn’t shy away from at this year’s UNLEASH London. There’s a lot of pressure put on HR and People teams to improve workplace productivity, but there’s often a question mark over how to do it.

Creating great workforce experiences are important. Yet, Josh Bersin says we’re not there yet. Engagement – “not an easy needle to move” – is on the up, but productivity hasn’t caught up. In fact, it’s stagnant. Let’s face it: in today’s workplace it’s harder than ever to be productive.

In fact, over a third of workers are productive for less than 30 hours a week, our research with 3,500 employees found. That’s a whole day each week that they’re in work, but not working. Overall, this low productivity is costing the US a staggering $450 – $550 billion a year.

The answer lies in experiences. 78% of all employees say that positive workforce experiences have a big impact on productivity, rising to 92% of younger generations, who will make up half of the workforce in 2020, according to our research. Find out how this breaks down in our blog summarizing the research findings.

Until next time

We had a great time at UNLEASH and will be sure to be at the next one. Until then, if you didn’t get chance to have a demo from us at the expo stand and would like to see exactly what Sage People could do for your company and workforce, why not book a personal demo to find out more.

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