Are things better or worse than they were? That’s a pretty open question, we have to admit – and what does it have to do with the workplace? Well, nothing and everything at the same time!
There’s no doubt that, over the past couple of years, many a Brit’s opinion will have shifted somewhat, with political and economic uncertainty affecting everyone. But what about the way we work, the way we live, the way we communicate? We have the world at our fingertips, we can travel freely across the planet and back (for the time being at least) and, even if we can’t travel, pretty much every nation’s food and drink is there for us to enjoy. So is that better or worse than those carefree, simple days of our childhood when we ‘made do’ with an Atari games console, only had four TV channels to choose from (which shut down at about 11pm) and our crisp selection went as far as Salt and Vinegar and Cheese and Onion. And plain!
We’ve assembled a diverse selection of experts for our latest Round Table debate – in the hope that we’ll get a plethora of different viewpoints (and not just about crisp flavours). Will our guests be divided by age, by gender or by sector? Here’s a snippet of what proved to be a fascinating discussion.
We begin by asking our guests how they currently feel about life, the universe and everything – so an averagely broad question to kick things off!
Carlo: I’m not a big fan of the way things are going right now! I don’t know if you can tell by my accent – I have a slightly American accent, mixed with my Italian accent. I left the United States after 18½ years and moved to London. I was traumatised by what happened on 8th November!
Bronte: I’m probably a fence-sitter right now. Of course I want things to be better. I have young children and I also have a fairly positive outlook on life – but I also see that there is now a constant struggle to find the right balance in life. For our team to get that balance right is really hard right now. My biggest bugbear right now, however, is technology and how it is consuming us. Don’t get me wrong, technology is great – but it really affects how we balance everything in our lives.
Fergus: I think you can look at things from two ways. Statistically, the world is a better place – but, with two children, I do worry about them in terms of future work opportunities, crime, violence and the influences they get from a lot of places, which aren’t particularly healthy.
Terry: I think things are better now than they were 10 years ago. It’s actually 10 years since Lehman Brothers folded – things had been fantastic up to that point and then fell off a cliff. Things became really bad. I think things are better now – but I fear things will get worse because of Putin, Trump, Brexit and all the uncertainty out there.
Kate: I like to be positive – and I’d like to think that things are getting better. I can see that the media is currently making us feel that it’s getting worse – but on the whole I think there are positive prospects for the future.
Chloe: I would also agree that I’d quite like to escape from the world right now! I feel very sad about a lot of things that are happening – but I do feel that you must have positivity. If you don’t have positivity, I don’t know what you have. I’d really like to say that things are going to get better – but I’d have to say that, right now, things have gotten worse.
Steven: I think it’s getting better. I’ve just been living in the Middle East for 10 years, I work for an American company, have an American wife and so have spent a lot of time traveling around. I think the perception is worse – because of the access and speed of the media – but the reality is it’s not worse at all. There is a lot of scaremongering about what is happening in the world.
Aimee: There are definitely two sides to this. There’s a lot of negativity around social media and technology, but the opportunities we now have are way better than they were in the past. I think it’s getting better – but we need to improve things in order to get there.
Bronte: I wouldn’t have had children if I thought we were heading for a doomed future! I think that helping them navigate their future – because it is now so fast and unknown – is a great responsibility. Becoming a parent, you get this overwhelming responsibility to think on behalf of someone else – but that’s nothing new.
Steven: That’s true – older generations had the same thing, just different issues.
Fergus: I think it’s worth defining what better or worse means here – are we looking at things from a micro or macro perspective. As I said a little earlier, from a statistical point of view, things are getting better – but from an individual perspective it might not be getting better at all. You really can have two different answers to the question.
Carlo: Economically, things are getting better.
Steven: Length of life, sickness, education…these are all things that are improving.
Carlo: Yet the world is massively overpopulated. Japan is finished! There are still massive issues out there.
Steven: There are still great divides in the world in terms of poverty – and yet, statistically, the world is a better place in terms of health and people living longer. This, however, brings different issues that we’re going to have to deal with – such as an aging population and working beyond retirement age.
We move on to talk about the divisive subject of social media…
Kate: I think social media has definitely had a huge impact – especially on mental health and anxiety in young people, who feel under pressure, all the time, to portray this perfect view of themselves. Nobody posts about their bad days – they post about the best of themselves.
Aimee: I think that social media is something we all need to improve upon. People are addicted to the ‘like’ button. They’re addicted to getting positive responses back. We have to learn how to deal with that. We have to remember that this is something completely new – previous generations have not had to deal with this, it’s only been here for a few years.
Steven: Companies such as Heineken now switch their emails off after a certain time – and there is a real movement towards this. I had a client in Dubai who doesn’t allow his children to use any technology at home. He wants them to be able to think for themselves – and I think there is a movement towards this attitude as well. My dream is to get rid of my iPhone and go back to having a normal phone, with just texts and calls! I think, maybe in a period of time, we’ll see a change when it comes to social media and how it is used. Who knows, maybe we’re at the peak right now?
Terry: I don’t really use social media personally, but I think that is right. I think the user will eventually start to reject it – although it will be replaced by something else.
Chloe: I read a fact earlier today that said that, on average, a seven-year-old in the UK has already spent one year of their lives looking at a tablet – that made me feel a bit sick. The things is, however, with Gen Z coming up and being even more tech-savvy, if it’s bad now then it could get even worse before things do get better.
Bronte: I think that we’ve learnt enough now that we’ll be able to guide them in the right direction – at least I hope so!
Terry: I think there is in that clients – everyone actually – expect things faster, because of technology. When I started out, there used to be something called ‘fast-track projects’ – projects that were quicker than other projects! It’s always expected nowadays. I remember when the construction industry used to have a bit of a summer shutdown. Contractors would suddenly stop. That doesn’t really happen now. It’s too much – you can now always be thinking about work.
Steven: We’re now creating mixed-use environments where people come together, can work, go for drinks, go for lunch, have dinner, go to the theatre, they live there…it’s all in one place – because people want to live like that.
Terry: But can these people switch off? I’m not sure that they can. You might go swimming or go shopping, but that doesn’t mean that you’re not available for work! Maybe the only answer is to switch off your phone.
Steven: That’s exactly what I would do – switch off the phone.
Chloe: It’s not easy. On average, I’d say that I leave work at around 7.30pm. I make sure that I don’t look at emails and work stuff after that – but I am always thinking about it. I’m a natural worrier, so work-related issues will still be in my head. If I’m on holiday, I try not to look at stuff – I try, but it’s not always easy!
Carlo: I have a little French Bulldog who demands that I’m home around 6pm for a walk. A lot of nights, though, I’ll hear my phone going in my bag up to 11pm. We have a lot of banking clients and they work outside of what we’d consider normal hours – and will then take care of emails on the train home. I’m not sure they expect answers at 11pm, but they will expect me to respond early the next day.
Bronte: I have a real issue – I feel like I have to look. I need to manage that more.
Carlo: If I don’t look then I feel as though I will never be able to catch up!
Fergus: The key thing, like everything in life, is to try to find some kind of balance. I don’t really have an issue with this because, on the other side of the coin, the majority of us are actually doing something we enjoy.
Terry: It’s about managing things. It’s far better to just deal with something rather than lie awake at 3am thinking about it.
Steven: I’ve never wanted to work 9-5 and I love the fact that I can work where and when I want to – if I want to take the afternoon off, I can.
Terry: That’s a good point – we demand flexibility so we should give it back as well.
Not so much a conclusion, but we’ll leave the final words to our sponsor. Long gone are the days of £2,000, two-tonne workstations with zero discount. Surely, it’s a more difficult world for the manufacturer?
Fergus: Things have certainly changed – and it would be nice to get that kind of business again. But the whole landscape has changed and furniture companies have needed to change with it – to adapt their offering accordingly. To be honest, I really do think that the market is a lot more interesting today.