Sustainable Work Is The Key To A Better Future

When we talk about sustainability, we think about nature, ecology, recycling or the zero-waste movement. Yet, sustainability applies to so much more than that. It’s equally about the way we lead our lives — or work lives, for that matter. Why is sustainable work so important? Well, it promises to be the one way to future-proof our careers and well-being.

A brief history: from natural resources to human resources

If we look back in history, the idea of sustainability gained momentum in the context of sustainable development. In 1987, the United Nation’s “Our Common Future” report defined it in this way: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This view was centred around how we use natural resources to fulfil human needs.

Fast forward to the present and the attention is starting to shift from natural resources to human resources. The European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions argues that sustainable work is achieved when “working and living conditions are such that they support people in engaging and remaining in work throughout an extended working life”. This new focus is caused by two global trends that are reshaping our society.

Two game-changing trends

Two phenomena are clearly emerging as real game-changers in the way we work and live. One is demographic, the other is technological.

#1 People are likely to work for longer

Life expectancy has increased, as a result of economic and social progress. The fact is that we will live long enough to create a demographic imbalance. In practice, the relative number of people of working age is shrinking while the relative number of those retired is growing. If predictions follow the same pattern, there will be fewer people to financially support the population over pension age. As a consequence, we are likely to need to work for longer.

#2 Technology is changing the nature of our jobs

It is now clear that artificial intelligence and new technologies will reshape the skills that people need to remain employable. This does not mean that robots will replace us. According to current research, it is unlikely that this hyped up version of the future will materialise. However, it does mean that routine tasks will be easier to automate and technology will change the nature of the skills we need. One thing is for sure: we have to engage in life-long learning to adapt to the changing nature of jobs.

The solution: embracing sustainable work

These two global trends urge us to implement a long-term vision for our working lives — one that is sustainable. Organisations and their employees will need to embrace two pre-requisites that can truly transform work into a sustainable practice. The first one is a more active management of well-being, both mental and physical. The second one is a continuous effort to engage in life-long learning and acquire new skills. As a result, embracing sustainable work is both an individual and collective responsibility.

Sustainable work stands at a very interesting crossroad where both well-being and professional development meet. So, is there something you could start now to make your work life more sustainable?

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