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Why you need to have a happy workforce

5th August 2021

Gina Miller: “There’s a new kind of presenteeism in the workplace”

The fact is that after Brexit, we’d been living in lockdown for about three or four years anyway because we’d stopped going out. The attention generated by Miller I and Miller II had meant that life had become pretty restricted. Anyway, we carried on as normal and what changed is that the not so pleasant people we were busy dealing with had their own life and so they let us alone.

However, it all popped up again with the anniversary of Brexit, and I had forgotten actually how horrible it is to be on the receiving end of this kind of abuse. It doesn’t really get to me – but I had forgotten how nasty it can be.

But we’ve had a time of reflection, and society is now coming to a point where everybody’s wondering what they’re supposed to do with these supposed new freedoms. Family life has changed. Everybody had got to a place where home was almost an afterthought – even though it costs so much money. The challenge is going to be finding the balance as we move forwards.

What I find very interesting is that the UK is in a dilemma over remote working, whereas other countries have already decided their approach. For example, in New York, the authorities have that said if you can eat out, you can work out, and so they’re encouraging people to go back to the office. That’s happening across Europe and in Asia as well. It all comes down to productivity, and how you get that up and working from home works better in some sectors than in others.

I work in wealth management, and I think for professional settings – and I include lawyers, accountants, and bankers in this – there’s so much that you learn by watching people and seeing how they make decisions. It’s also a question of mentoring and asking ourselves how we bring on the juniors. Business-owners will realise that you can’t do that remotely.

But the reality is that each profession – and each business – is going to have to make up their own minds and I don’t think we’ll see a holistic view of how we work for the future. But it also raises other issues, many of which people aren’t thinking enough about. One of those is pay. For instance, if people are using more of their own energy and electricity and they’re going to be at home, do we need compensation structures for that? Many companies had travel allowances before. Will we now have a home allowance? That needs to be resolved. 

Then there’s the question of human resources. How do you actually assess progress? The problem is that if progress is going to carry on being measured by outcomes then that could actually create all sorts of other discriminations, as you’ll find output varying a lot according to home circumstances. 

That opens up onto a topic I’ve become especially concerned about, which is presenteeism at work – that’s to say, people showing up at work and being unable to be productive. For parents – and for women, in particular – it was fantastic during Covid-19 that you could be at home so much. But for professional women we’re beginning to see data that they’re already thinking of going part-time or giving up work. That’s because at home, they’re still the mum and the wife, and they’re having to do an awful lot more. Middle management women, or women in senior management roles, are working late into the night once they finish their domestic day. They’re working until two or three o’clock in the morning, and we shouldn’t be surprised if such people experience burnout.

So you have a concerning situation whereby presenteeism at the workplace is being replaced by presenteeism at home. It’s disturbing to me that we’ve fought so long to get into the workplace, and to push the diversity agenda, to consider the unintended consequences here: if we’re not careful, we might undo all that work very quickly. 

We’ve got to look at this business of virtual mansplaining. Do we want a world where women are being left out of team meetings and pitches, and we have male workers go: “Well, we know she’s really busy in the day, they’ll pick it up in the evening?” Of course, not, and we’ve got to be mindful that that’s happening in order to prevent it. 

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