We spoke to Navlika Ratangee, Clinical Operations Director at ICAS, in a Q&A session about The Fourth Industrial Revolution’s impact on organisations and their employees, as well as on Employee Wellness Programmes. By way of an introduction Navlika had this to say:
“Although The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) has already been underway for a while, it certainly has only recently, in 2019, become a ‘catchword’ in many South African industries and businesses; and there are some who are not yet talking 4IR. This is a bit scary – it makes one wonder what these organisations are doing to prepare their businesses for the changes that are coming – or whether they are doing enough to prepare for change.”
From an employee perspective what impact has The Fourth Industrial Revolution’s impact been on business so far?
I think in terms of 4IR’s impact on business, the main characteristic is that it has already demanded conscious acceleration in the innovation that needs to take place across industries, no matter which industry you are in; and there needs to be continued velocity in the disruption that takes place.
Most people are inclined to equate 4IR with the loss of jobs. This is their main concern when we talk about innovation, digitisation and automation – that we can’t afford to lose jobs in the South African economy. What people don’t see is that jobs are being created in new and different ways. These are just not the traditional jobs we know or have heard of. For example, a pilot is no longer someone who necessarily flies an airplane. Today, someone could choose to be a professional drone pilot who may sit in the comfort of an office and fly a drone. The way in which we think about jobs needs to change significantly.
How will 4IR affect employers in the next decade?
When one is managing a large organisation there is a lot of work that needs to take place into thinking about how the business needs to adapt to keep in step with the 4IR. If organisations are not already doing this they face the advent of losing relevance – a very scary reality that will loom for them within the next couple of years
Also, something that is repeatedly lost to people talking about adapting to keep pace with the 4IR is that the 4IR is really about making every process, product and service about the customer. To my mind, and in accordance with all of the reading and research I have done in this space, 4IR is really centred on customer-centricity. It is a time when it is important to have an answer to the question: “How do we ensure that the customer gets the best out of any product or service in a tailor-made solution for them?” This is where processes and innovation play a pivotal role, because gone are the days when organisations should be looking at how they can standardise everything that they do. Now, we are looking at how we can tailor-make everything that we do in a way that does not escalate costs; and so we have to bring digitisation into that solution. And, the minute you make the customer the centre, the game changes considerably. I think this is why concerns around privacy and data management are becoming such a priority for organisations.
It is because customers are also more knowledgeable about their rights and how they want things. There needs to be a growing transparency about how we engage with our consumers. There are new patterns of consumer behaviour, as well, which change the way in which organisations need to design markets and need to deliver their products and services. There are even new professions that have come about as a spin-off from Marketing. In any case, it is about user-based script writing in products and services. A key question is, “How does your consumer engage with you in a way that is quite different to how they engaged with you in the past – if they even engaged with you at all?”
There is a lot that needs to happen for all employees in terms of understanding how they need to function in their own jobs together with technology. There is a big change in mind-set required for every person in the working world – not just leaders who are grappling with what this means in their businesses.
For the longest time people operated in a predicable work environment, in alignment with the values within an organisation. People could rely on the fact that things were going to happen a certain way, but this is not the way things operate today. The current term VUCA describes the modern workplace as being one of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. Everything is happening in a VUCA context where people have to manage living in a changeable world. Our brains are not wired to manage this amount of change and we have to prepare ourselves to become more change-ready. As knowledge workers in organisations we have to build that muscle – it’s a muscle that requires work and practice in sharpening as tools in a world in which there is no such thing as predictability. For a time the term ‘change fatigue’ was used for people who were tired of change in an organisation. There is no time for change fatigue anymore, because we have to be constantly ready for the change that comes from the world of work on a continual basis. And, these are the people that are going to survive – these are the skills sets that employers are looking for. The likes of Google and MIT, for example, are saying: “We are not looking at qualifications anymore, we are looking at skills.” This is going to be a growing trend across industries. So, the question is, “What are you doing to add to your own skills-set? And, “How do you manage change and how do you manage the stresses that this brings with it by developing this change readiness muscle?”
I think this is something that people are going to have to readily speak to in job interviews – their ability to manage change. We talk about resiliency and in fact a lot of the consulting houses list resiliency as one of the top three skills required for the future world of work, along with creativity. The new term is actually “prosilience” – if resilience is your ability to bounce forward then “prosilience” is the ability to consciously build muscle that deals with the challenges one is continually faced with. How do I read challenges, how do process them, how do I prepare for them? How do I make this a skill?
If people are not talking 4IR being targeted at people, and the fact that it’s about business and people’s wellbeing – in keeping with the topic that we presented at EAPA-SA’s Eduweek 2019 – then these people are not aware that in certain quarters we are already talking about The Fifth Industrial Revolution (5IR), with 5IR being more about the introduction of automation as a complete merger of machines and people to support certain work outputs. The jobs that are currently most at risk in 4IR are administrative jobs, but 5IR will bring cohabitation in the world of work, where machines and people operate in the same space and deliver on a certain products or service as one, working together to get something done.
How should Employee Assistance Practitioners (EAPs) keep up with the 4IR to enhance employee assistance and wellness programmes?
In terms of the personal issues that people struggle with, some problems will never change while other problems are changing at a rapid pace because of the speed at which change is happening. So it is important to keep abreast of these changes to ensure that EAPs stay relevant in how we deliver our tools and how we train. What is top of mind is that wellness becomes critically important particularly because things are happening at such a fast pace. All organisations want the best out of their employees; and today being focused on getting the best productivity from employees is synonymous with managing employee wellbeing. With this in mind, I would say that there is a shift in how organisations position EAP programmes within the workplace – from them being reactive in nature to becoming employee wellbeing programmes that incorporate all areas and dimensions of wellbeing that are more proactive in nature. It has become exceptionally important that people focus on employee wellbeing and what it means to ensure the wellbeing of employees so that beyond the triple bottom line, it is talked about that employee wellbeing is the “fourth bottom line”.
In the past employee wellness was seen as the employee’s prerogative – the employee’s personal business and something the employee needed to manage – but today progressive organisations recognise that they have to make it their business. They have to ensure that they are also playing a positive role in how employees manage their overall wellbeing. The concept of work-life balance has become outdated. It is now a matter of “work-life integration”, and when we talk about work-life integration employers today can’t say, “I am not worried about the life part. I am only worried about the work part.” Then employers are endeavouring to separate the two which can’t be done as people present as a whole entity in every aspect of their lives and should be managed with this in mind.
I think many people question if they are going to have a job in the future and how they are going to remain relevant. I think these are relevant questions to ask, but that people shouldn’t be disabled by these questions and feel threatened. My hope is that people start developing an almost childlike quality of developing curiosity again and asking more questions around: “What does this mean? How can I up-skill myself? How can I ensure that I still have value to give? How do I ensure that I am part of the value that is being added?” This is exciting and opens up a whole new world of opportunity in terms of not having to feel caged anymore as the new world of work brings the merging of all sorts of industries. For example, not so long ago if you were to tell me that I could do my banking from my cell phone I would have laughed at you and now we can’t survive without this technology. This is exactly the sort of thing we will see more and more of on a day-to-day basis. How do we start changing our way of thinking to embrace the opportunities that lie ahead and ask ourselves the questions around our relevance as in, “How can I add more value?” and “How can I build my skills so that I stay relevant in this changing world of work?”
Clinical Operations Director at ICAS