The rise of new job roles is an indicator of the rapid transformations that businesses are undergoing as they adapt to a world where the coronavirus pandemic is now a fact of life, writes Nick Matthews.
With organisations looking to maintain staff motivation and wellbeing as lockdown is eased and the end of furlough looms large, observers of the HR profession are predicting the rise of new job roles that would once have been unheard of: director of remote experience, chief wellbeing officer, and welfare & resilience managers, are just some of the new roles being created. Meanwhile, Cognizant believes that the next 10 years will see the emergence of roles including work-from-home facilitator and distraction prevention coach.
At first sight, this change echoes the management shift of a decade ago, when a raft of transformation-centric roles appeared. Companies tried, not always successfully, to embrace what was then Internet 2.0, and, borrowing from lean manufacturing, suggest more agile working methods.
As businesses and public bodies reallocate resources, they are putting markedly greater emphasis on looking after their people and their wellbeing”
So are today’s radical new job roles just part of the new normal? An eye-catching way for companies to show they are taking the pandemic seriously? Or are there other reasons? And could employees actually benefit from new thinking on roles and responsibilities – or exploit it amid challenging times for companies?
The first reason for the rise of descriptive (or what might previously have been deemed outlandish) job titles is that they represent a response to unprecedented crisis: organisations’ determination to reach out to and support their employees – who have in many cases been asked to change their core job tasks, work at home, or be furloughed. As businesses and public bodies reallocate resources, they are putting markedly greater emphasis on looking after their people and their wellbeing.
Return to work
Research shows that happy employees connected to their company perform better; the LSE’s Centre for Economic Performance aggregated data from 339 studies involving 1.8 million people in 2019, demonstrating that positive employee wellbeing is linked to organisational performance. The current crisis’ harmful effects could give leaders more pressing reasons to promote wellbeing: in a recent review of quarantines’ psychological effects, some studies indicate that restrictions cause problems such as emotional disturbance and in some cases might even lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnoses.
The second driver of more wellbeing-focused or expressive job titles is the need to bring changes to physical workplaces under closer management control – in a move reminiscent of companies appointing chief risk officers after the 2008-10 financial crash. Covid-19 will mean that workplace hygiene and commercial real estate will be a board-level focus for the foreseeable future. What happens when a vaccine is available – what role will organisations play in the vaccination of their staff?
Cue the emergence of chief wellbeing officers taking a prominent role in defining the office/real estate strategy rather than the COO/CFO, or involved in the immunisation of supply chains as recently demonstrated by Amazon – down to determining new working hours for employees and incorporating the complexities of changing homeschooling and care-giving responsibilities. Likewise the welcome rise and increasing prominence of the chief diversity officer, ensuring that workplaces are more equitable by design as well as overseeing more effective action from senior management and executive boards on diversity, equity and inclusion strategies in the wake of the Black Lives Matter campaign.
Many team members have enjoyed a better quality of life and productivity during lockdown compared with the presenteeism and draining commute they endured before”
The third reason has arguably been overshadowed by pandemic, elections and Brexit. Today’s novel job roles reflect changing company operating structures, signifying that departmental functions have been redefined in recent years by better connectivity, easy-to-use SaaS (software as a service) solutions and new app-based business tools. And as UK firms increasingly manage workloads through flat or modular management structures and federated business units, we are seeing roles such as director of remote experience established to support distributed workforces and outsourced teams across multiple sites.
In service-based economies, companies are blurring the divide between physical and virtual workplaces – or abolishing it altogether. One of the largest distributed companies in the design space has nearly 900 employees working remotely across 28 countries. The company’s director of people happiness is tasked with ensuring that all employees feel valued, supported by and connected to the company, even though there are no physical offices.
But despite today’s heightened focus on wellbeing and more flexible organisational structures that demand fresh HR thinking, these innovations still may not be enough for senior management to retain their highest-performing employees.
That’s because, after mass furloughing and enforced home working, we are still likely to see organisations receiving requests for pay rises or new working arrangements from employees.
Many team members have enjoyed a better quality of life and productivity during lockdown compared with the presenteeism and draining commute they endured before. After months of strain, employees might be seeking better compensation, or to work fully remote in a location of their choice, or see no practical reason not to change jobs.
Our Return to Work survey of companies, conducted from May to June this year, found a clear divide between organisations’ concern for employees and what can be delivered on the ground.
While employees gave very high ratings to company leaders’ focus on staff wellbeing in the crisis and strongly believed that line managers genuinely care for them, employees were nevertheless much less likely to agree that their work was energising or that they could accomplish what they wanted most days.
Today’s descriptive job titles reveal companies’ deep concern for employees’ wellbeing and a willingness to keep them engaged with their organisational goals. However, the question is whether this striking focus on wellbeing can successfully deliver in today’s uniquely trying conditions.