Reinventing the world of work after Coronavirus

Opinion article by Maxime Legrand, Secretary General of CEC European Managers

This 1 May is in many ways particular. Beyond reminding us of the importance of social peace and social dialogue, today’s situation represents a window of opportunity to rethink the world of work and management. Protecting employees’ health and safety, managing digital workflows and making the business model more resilient to shocks – managers are central and responsible agents of the response to the Coronavirus. The other part of the coin however is that they too, need protection.

Never before, have managers faced such pressure. While job stability is decreasing, the emotional and psychical demands towards manager have never been greater. Our report “Managers in Europe: today and tomorrow” has clearly shown that the current management model is not sustainable. We need to develop a new management standard to safeguard workers’, managers’, but also socio-environmental health. Burnout, stress and other mental health challenges risk becoming mainstream.

The second teaching is the one of well accompanying the digitalization of businesses. Besides participating in the European social partners’ negotiation on a framework agreement on digitalization, CEC has published a handy guide for managers. The current situation has created new challenges, such as the loss of direct contact with colleagues, the issue of data privacy, the distance between blue-collar workers (more often at the sites of production) and white-collar workers. It is absolutely crucial that managers dispose of the right skills to make digitalization a success. But it’s also about involving workers and employers in social dialogue. After all, only dialogue and common solutions permit to avoid strong resistance.

Lastly, and most importantly, the crisis in the context of the Coronavirus may also well represent an opportunity to transform the world of work sustainably and purposefully. This is the main message of our ongoing project on Sustainable Leadership. We have to think beyond ideological market versus state dynamics and consider planetary boundaries and societal needs to legitimate our business models. Furthermore, social dialogue has to become mainstream. Provenly, companies practicing social dialogue are better prepared for crisis and better come out from them. We also have to value more the enormous importance female labour, in particular in healthcare and education. Maybe it’s time to rethink the grounds on which managerial bonuses are granted, e.g. by linking them to protecting health and delivering on societal needs.