The future of work is often associated with the rapid pace of technological advancement, and the widespread adoption of artificial intelligence. This makes it difficult for some to believe the promise of New Work, namely that people and their individual strengths will be at the centre of work.
This is not surprising, as these visions would require a fundamental change in the current norm, as today it seems that employee well-being is promoted only to increase performance and competitiveness. But unlike our parents' and grandparents' generations, employee wellbeing will play a key role in the future of work. And this change is already underway: with global wealth on the rise and increasing use of automation and robotics, we can begin to focus on finding fulfillment in what we do.
Generation Alpha, which has grown up with social media, is critical and outspoken, will expect more from their job than just a salary. As consumers, they expect the business world to follow ethical practices and a purpose, and the same holds for their professions, striving for belonging and for their beliefs to align with their work. At the same time, earlier generations will be working longer than ever before, having multiple careers. All these factors contribute to people being at the centre of work.
The shift in employee perspectives on work will lead to a long overdue change in employers' leadership models to meet these new demands, as top talent will continue to be scarce. Instead of focusing on maximising profits and employee productivity, the big challenge going forward will be to coordinate the constant change in work methods, employees, and environmental factors.
Employees will be at the centre of the emerging new strategies, because they too will be required to act quickly and flexibly. This will make it difficult for organisations to insist on rigid working hours and fixed workplaces. The new way of working is agile, which benefits those who pay attention to their own needs and act according to their own interests, including menstruators who want to work flexibly according to their cycle phase and well-being.
This development is in line with Sven Gábor Janszky's trend analysis Leadership in times of multi-optional disorientation, in which he describes that employees of the future will be able to openly communicate their own ideas about how they want to work and that tomorrow's leaders will play an active role in helping them achieve their goals in the company.
This is what New Work is all about: allowing flexible working conditions and focusing on the individual strengths of employees, so that people can bring their whole selves to work. For this to work, a change in mentality is needed, and diversity and inclusion must be understood as an overarching task.
Ironically, the concept of New Work is not new at all, but was already developed in the 1980s by the social philosopher Frithjof Bergmann. Bergmann also defined the term much more broadly than we usually do, because new, sustainable and innovative models of work should ideally go hand in hand with a new way of consuming. In short, we can afford to work in a more fulfilling and meaningful way if we minimise our consumption.
Today, success is often based on the amount of money someone makes, leaving little room for self-fulfilment and leading to many people feeling their impact is underwhelming. At the same time, happiness research indicates that above a certain income, more money does not lead to happier people, and if it comes at the cost of time for loved ones or hobbies, the very opposite occurs: overwork leads to stress and, in the worst case, burnout, leaving no time to take care of oneself.
No less problematic is the current view of health and illness in companies: instead of seeing illness as part of life, it is often interpreted as a weakness and as if it does not belong in the workplace.This inevitably leads to a situation where illness is not talked about in the workplace, is even hidden, and workers are seen as separate from it, as if it only existed outside of work.
"If you talk about people-centred organisations, that is, if you want to focus on the whole person, you can't leave out their illnesses. We are all sick, have been or will be."
Louka Goetzke (2021): Health at work: we are all sick after all!
In the end, a menstruation-friendly workplace is not just about illness, even though education about it plays a big role. It is about respecting and valuing the individual rhythm and cycle and integrating it into our social and professional activities. Communication will play a key role in this, because as Paul Watzlawick put it in his Five Axioms of Communication: you cannot not communicate. Remaining silent on certain topics, for example menstrual health, is not a sign of neutrality, but of disinterest and rejection. Given that half the population menstruates for a large part of their lives, a climate of innovation inevitably means a menstruation-friendly way of working and communicating!
What does the organisation of the future look like? To answer this question, Frédéric Laloux explores new ways of leading organisations and which conditions need to be met for them to thrive in his book Reinventing Organizations. In Striving for Wholeness, Laloux points out that we still wear masks at work today to conform to certain expectations. Just as uniforms are a way of hiding the real us, we all try to hide a part of ourselves when we are at work. We tend to show our masculine, determined side rather than our feminine, caring and vulnerable one - even though we have both sides in us. Emotionality is usually seen as completely out of place. We feel ashamed if we burst into tears at work and fear being seen as less competent or capable.
"Extraordinary things begin to happen when we dare to bring all of who we are to work. Every time we leave a part of us behind, we cut ourselves off from part of our potential, of our creativity and energy."
Frédéric Laloux, Reinventing Organizations
In order to create a safe and collaborative workplace, a new way of communicating ground rules is needed. Instead of training people to behave a certain way at the workplace because we have to, it will be because we want to. Self-motivation has to be the main driver and an independent and customised way of providing information on matters like discrimination and inclusion through new, digital tools will allow for exactly that shift. That holds open the promise of an open and inclusive working environment.
Work-life blending instead of work-life balance
When our needs at work are taken into account, we can finally stop thinking of work as something independent from our bodies, health or menstrual cycles. The boundaries between work and leisure will continue to blur, because the working models of the future will give us much more space to really enjoy our work. When we can do what we’re good at we regain control, creating a space in which we can self-organise our work according to our well-being, interests and abilities, taking our health into account. The future of work is not rigid but fluid, just like the menstrual cycle, just like us.