Uncertainty and change typify working life future

13.1.2014 9.51
News item N5-63672
”Many of the things that we nowadays take for granted will have to be re-thought in the future. This is because the way work is done is in many respects changing.  The strategic planning group of the Department for Occupational Safety and Health is prompting people to think about what we should already be doing to keep pace with current developments,” says the group convenor, Ministerial Advisor Päivi Mattila-Wiro.

Other reviews of future scenarios are also being carried out by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, but the Department’s Working Life 2025 report will examine the issue from a new perspective.

”We’re focussing on changes to working life and the impacts on occupational safety and health and wellbeing at work that they cause. The better the prognoses, the easier it’ll be for us to act timeously. We are aiming for as broad a consensus as possible on how working life should develop to respond to future changes.”

Work irrespective of time and placeInformation technology has rapidly altered working life, and there are no signs that the pace of change will slow down. Mattila-Wiro detects both opportunities and pitfalls in this development.

“Maybe the most obvious impact on working life is the breaking of time-place ties. People are more mobile and can work where they choose. This fits with values that give importance to choice and free time. But in terms of occupational safety and health there are challenges.”

The main danger created by technological development is inequality. With different services, equipment and programmes constantly coming onto the market, it is hard to keep abreast of developments.

“Technology increases the polarisation of the situation. Those in the know will cope, but for those who are not the future is uncertain. And while new equipment and programmes make it easier to work, constant learning increases the workload. The provision of the Occupational Safety and Health Act for training and instruction will become more relevant.”

Megatrends alter working lifeMattila-Wiro gives the example of environmental problems as one of the main factors influencing all work.

“In terms of employment, we’re used to talking about crises caused by the economy. But the reason for a crisis may also be due to an ecological disaster. Because this could escalate suddenly, occupational safety and health must be able to operate quickly and flexibly. It’s also clear that we must all be able to withstand greater levels of uncertainty.”

With environmental issues, predictions cannot simply be about what will directly affect Finland. For instance, worsening shortages of drinking water in dry regions around the world may lead to migrations, which affect the entire international community.

“Globalisation is anyway continuing and accelerating. Country borders are becoming blurred and people are increasingly on the move. Workplace multiculturalism will become more widespread.”

It will not be possible to meet workforce needs caused by population ageing solely by using immigrant labour. Solutions will also have to be found domestically.

Retired people will inevitably have to take more of a part in working life. Many already do, as the opportunities for doing part-time and home-based work have improved,” says Mattila-Wiro. She points out that there are also many people with disabilities or partial workability who would like to be able to work.

“Work should be better adapted to people with partial workability. This requires that workplaces produce definite solutions and models.”

The report on Working Life 2025 does not take a position on whether existing employment structures  meet the sorts of changes that are anticipated. Mattila-Wiro reckons that they will require creativity from all sides. She believes that there will be sufficient agreement to move forward.

“The report, which will be finalised this spring, will be passed to the Advisory Committee on Occupational Health Care, which deals with principles concerning occupational safety and health. We’ re lucky to have a functioning system, and this offers good possibilities for reaching a consensus on the issue.”

Text: Paula Mannonen and Mark Waller