The future of work: trends in the 21st century workplace

The future of work: trends in the 21st century workplace

What does the future of work look like in the 21st century workplace and how do organisations need to adapt to meet these changes?  Dame Janet Gaymer is an eminent employment lawyer with extensive experience of advising organisations on diversity, work life balance and changing working practices.  Here she shares some of the highlights from her talk at our March Cityworks event.

What are some of the key changes you have observed taking place?

Traditionally the work bargain consisted of a series of mutual obligations between employer and employee.  Employees provided a service to their employer (usually just a single employer) in return for pay and benefits and the risk in the relationship sat firmly with the employer. 

This traditional employment deal has shifted; it is now common for people to have multiple employers.  People don’t have the same obligations to their employer, the tie of exclusive work has been loosened and there is much greater job mobility which has triggered a reassessment of the physical work environment.  This has all led to an intensification of the war for talent with much of the power sitting firmly with the employee.

Why do you think these changes have happened?

Organisations now have a much wider talent pool with differing expectations.  Workforces are multi-generational with baby boomers still in work (1 in 3 are delaying retirement) working alongside post-millennials who are the most socially networked generation in history and looking for alternative career paths.  Women make up a significant proportion of the workforce (40-50% in most developed countries) and men are starting to want to spend more time as fathers.

And ways of working have also changed.  The number of people self-employed has doubled in the last 40 years and we’ve seen a significant expansion of the contingent workforce, an increase in outsourcing and reductions in permanent headcount.  Globalisation has triggered new ways of working and communicating and artificial intelligence is set to present the next challenge to organisations.

How have organisations responded to these changes?

The big focus has been on improving flexibility for employees and this has been supported by Government interventions that have improved statutory rights around flexible working.  However, although flexibility is considered a sought-after benefit, actual take-up of it has slowed.  And other employment rights that aim to help employees balance work with home life such as paternity leave and shared parental leave are not widely taken up.  Ultimately, managers still consider flexibility to have a negative impact on business and be incompatible with leadership. 

What else do you think organisations need to focus on?

Organisations need to create a significant change in management mindset, to recognise that all employees have different needs throughout their careers and understand there is no full-time worker default.  The focus needs to be on time, task and tempo; task and tempo will vary but time is the new currency and many people value this now more than pay.  There is evidence to suggest that people will work harder if organisations don’t measure time; we need to stop looking at time as a measure of performance.

What practical changes can organisations make to support this?

If we are going to stop measuring time as an indicator of performance then reward structures will need to change to shift the emphasis away from time spent in the office.  Some organisations are already starting to move away from annual salary reviews, instead offering spot bonuses for delivery of specific projects.  And others are embracing continuous performance feedback rather than the traditional annual appraisal process.  Ultimately, some people will always be happy to still deliver 24/7 but organisations need to accept that many other employees will not want to work in this way and adapt their practices to ensure these people are accepted and accommodated, rather than being treated differently.

Underpinning these changes is a significant shift in management mindset which can be supported by refocused management training and coaching to bring them on board and making the most of non-conventional role models: people who are embracing time, task and tempo and who can demonstrate how this can work effectively to the rest of the organisation.



Dame Janet Gaymer was the Senior Partner of Simmons & Simmons the law firm and has held a number of high-profile advisory roles including recently as a Non-Executive member of the House of Commons Commission.  She has received an impressive number of awards throughout her career including receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Law Society in its 2018 annual Excellence Awards and the International Alliance of Women “100 World of Difference Award” for her public service in helping to promote the economic empowerment of women.  For more information or to get in touch visit

Released On 13th May 2019

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