The future of care at work: useful and productive

If there is one notion that has recently become established in the landscape, it is the notion of care. At the beginning, there were the businesses that had strong convictions on the subject and the others. Over time, under social pressure, more and more companies have become interested in the subject, willy-nilly, and the pandemic has finally driven the point home.

Today it seems to be a foregone conclusion that there will be no turning back, so when we talk about the future of work, it is important to look at this subject carefully, especially since the memories of the COVID crisis are still there and difficult times lie ahead.

And as usual we’ll look at the topic through the forces shaping the future of work in 2022.

The pandemic

If some companies are far from having a real culture of care or think that it is expensive compared to what it brings, the pandemic has radically changed the situation. At least for a while.

Many managers suddenly wondered “how people were doing”. Managers were asked to take care of their suddenly confined teams when sometimes they were more accustomed to criticizing them for being too nice and not pushing them hard enough.

Granted, this was not always without interest, as some were more concerned with keeping people in a state to give 100% to their work (or even more) than with the state of the employees themselves.

Many things were put in place at that time. Some were logically temporary and disappeared with the crisis, while others will remain, impacting the role of HR, managers, and employees’ lives at work.

But responses to care issues can be generic (relevant all the time, in all circumstances) or specific (responding to a given need at a given time).

The end of COVID-specific measures should not obscure the fact that other needs arise and disappear over time and that it may not be necessary to face a major crisis to take them into consideration.

In the same way that what has been kept from COVID will deserve to be questioned in time. Is it still necessary? If we have to choose, and given that budgets are not unlimited, shouldn’t we abandon certain things to focus on subjects with greater impact?


No impact here.


Useful provided it is used wisely, as we have seen with the use of feedbacks and secondary data.

One feedback can be a weak signal, an accumulation of concordant feedbacks is an alert. But if the person who raises a personal alert or a whistleblower is sanctioned…

In short, as usual, technology is not self-sustaining and will do good or bad depending on the humans who have it in their hands. However, in an increasingly hybrid world where people are less visible and where it becomes difficult to pick up certain weak signals, it offers interesting capabilities that it would be a shame not to use.

As long as we are talking about hybrid companies, I would like to add to what I was saying about the role of the manager in such a context. The other day I mentioned the notion of digital leadership, which corresponds to his ability to exist at a distance through digital tools in order to embody his leadership, especially in the non-verbal dimension. But in terms of care, there is another skill to develop: detecting weak signals at a distance.

The evolution of society and economy

At the level of society, there is not much to say except that there is a growing expectation in this area. I’ll go even further: at a time when businesses are going further and further in terms of social and environmental responsibility, it would be good if some of them understood that multiplying their actions towards the world around them is a good thing, but that starting from the inside would not be any worse.

As far as the economy is concerned, I am not going to talk about the economy in general but about our economy in particular. We have just come out of a crisis and we are entering a new one, one in which businesses will not be massively aided as they were for the COVID. They will not be helped at all except at the edge.

I often criticize the employee experience for having taken an almost exclusive turn towards quality of life at work, a field to which care can be linked. Indispensable, it could not not be done.

I often criticize the employee experience for having taken an almost exclusive turn towards quality of life at work, a field to which care can be linked. Indispensable, it could not not be done.

But there is still a whole part of the work that is not covered: the “operational” part, in the flow of work, when the employee is working. What happens when working and not just at work. And there too, care has its place.

It is in the attitude of the manager. It is in the fight against the complication of the organization, the tools, the processes, and all those things that add to the mental load by decreasing performance. Addressing them allows us to win on the human and performance fronts and to show people that we really care about them.

I will refer you again to this article seen on the BBC website.

But while those are nice extras, she says that what employees really require are measures that address the root causes of their need for mental health help in the first place.

We have mental-health days, but everything’s reactive, not proactive. When you offer a mental-health day because you can see someone’s burnt out, but you don’t lighten the workload, it makes the stress worse

There are two complementary ways of being in care. One addresses the person directly without any direct impact on his work (even if there are of course many positive impacts by rebound), the other addresses his work in order to treat the primary causes that a person is confronted with in the exercise of his profession.

When I saw all that was put in place in relation to the first form of care following the pandemic, I was of course delighted to see that things were finally moving in the right direction. But it worried me. All this is not without direct and indirect fixed costs and if nothing is done to put in front of concrete operational gains I was afraid that the backlash would be violent during the next crisis. Except that I didn’t imagine that it would happen so quickly.

Let’s be clear: care policies, as they have often been implemented, weigh on fixed costs and sometimes in a lasting way (efforts related to premises for example) and have an undeniable advantage: if they have a cost, they do not question anything fundamental and are an excellent subject for care-washing communication.

But I’m not going to surprise anyone by saying that times are changing and that we are heading for a very complicated period from an economic point of view which, for businesses, will mean strict cost control and frugality.

Could this call into question some of the care policies? Yes, more or less unconsciously. Managers will be asked to make the most of their resources, or even to lighten the financial burden, and everything that costs money and/or takes time, everything that is not directly productive, will be put under the microscope.

Managers will have less time, will certainly receive paradoxical injunctions that will lead them to less listening, understanding, benevolence. Of course they will not be asked to do so and it is not even a will, but indirectly the result will be the same.

The validity of attitudes and initiatives will be questioned. And where care intersects with quality of life at work, there is a risk of cost cutting.

And when the costs are associated with the people and put a strain on the finances, it may be an incentive to part with people more quickly. We may regret having overloaded the boat after COVID…

So in a nutshell, rightly or wrongly, there will be less room for care and everything we do for people will have to pay for itself.

The transformation of service activities and knowledge work

That’s not necessarily the point here, but still a little bit indirectly.

If I have to repeat myself for the umpteenth time, the best way to show that you care about your employees and that you want to take care of them is to stop complicating their lives and giving the impression that you are setting goals for them and that you are doing everything you can to prevent them from reaching them by making their work difficult.

It shows that the causes are being addressed instead of putting a band-aid on the consequences or installing a spa next to the torture room to compensate.

It is also the guarantee of having a productive care, with impact.

Bottom line

The question of whether or not to show care is a bit like quality of life at work, and in fact the two come together or even mix sometimes: the question should not even be asked.

On the other hand, in an economically difficult context, and all the more so since the boat was loaded a bit after the COVID, businesses will be in demand for “productive” care, not just time, attention and sometimes attention spent for the beauty of it.

Attention yes, but attention that pays off in a visible way. And quickly.

1Forces shaping the future of work in 2022
2The future of work is about…work and its future
3The future of work is not a promise or a dream
4The future of work is not a place or a time of day
5Future of pay and compensation: speaking the same language, paying in real time, making sense.
6The future of work: simple by nature, simple by obligation(coming soon)
7The future of work only the result is watched
8The future of work will rely on data and continuous improvement
9The future of work will be “agile by design”
10Management in the future of work: digital leadership and systemic approach to management
11In the future of work, engagement is measured in relation to the work, not the companny or the people
12Career management in the future of work: the art of adapting to the unpredictable
13In the future of work the employee experience is a background task, not a program
14The future of “care” at work: useful and productive
15The work of the future will be designed for humans
16The work of the future will be designed according to the “job to be done”
17The future of work will be automated with relevance
18In the future of work the mental load is the new workload
19The social link in the future of work: weaker, stronger
20The future of work will be digitally responsible
21But who is in charge of the future of work?

Image : care by Jo Panuwat D via Shutterstock.

Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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