Organisations often develop tactical and operational business strategies according to known and predictable factors in their internal and external environments. However, the world is becoming increasingly complex and therefore necessitates some insight, or perhaps even foresight, into an external environment that is less predictable (or even completely unpredictable) in nature. The only manner in which companies can prepare themselves adequately for the future is by observing and analysing megatrends and considering the manner in which they will determine the sustainability and competitiveness of the company.
Megatrends are long-terms patterns or processes of transformation that are currently taking place. They are regarded as global forces that define a future world, with a potentially far-reaching impact on businesses, societies, economies, environments, cultures, and even the personal lives of individuals. Because megatrends are long-term patterns or processes, they are slow to form but will have a fundamental and determining effect on almost everything. Hence, it is fundamental for companies to be cognizant of global megatrends as they will enable organisations to drive growth and innovation in a rapidly changing environment (Singh, 2011).
Several sources confirmed the prevalence of the following global megatrends:
- Urbanisation and the rise of mega cities, mega regions, mega corridors and smart cities
- E-mobility; the growth in the electric vehicle market and its associated value chain; batteries (including second life and recycling); charging stations, and packaging innovative mobility solutions such as “pay by electrons”
- Social trends, including geo-socialisation and its enabling capabilities, such as geo-coding and geo-tagging to support additional social dynamics; generation Y as the customer of the future and the reverse brain drain
- The virtual world, including fluid interfaces and haptic technologies, as well as the effect of a virtual environment on training
- Innovation to zero: Zero emission technologies, zero harm, water footprint
- Robotics and the impact of automated and mechanised, as well as remotely-controlled operations in the workplace of the future
- Health, wellness and wellbeing, and a greater emphasis on the inclusion of the “whole being” or body, mind and soul of the individuals
- SPACE JAM and the increasing pervasiveness of satellites and drone technology
- A World War III that will evolve around information warfare as the future domain of conflict, and the resulting need to manage big sets of data
- RoboSlaves and the pervasive robotic technology that will act as a “slave” in everyday life from 2020 (Frost & Sullivan, 2015)
In addition to those megatrends already discussed, the following megatrends have also been identified:
- The rise of a digital culture
- Amplified emphasis on the needs of individuals and individualism
- She-economy and the growth of the buying power of females
- Globalisation and the diminishing effect of geographical distance
- Rising aspirations of the generation Y workforce
- Brick-and-click-based commercial models
- The future of energy and the increased global appetite for alternative and sustainable energy sources
- Corporate leadership and the increased focus on ethical and social corporate responsibility (Erasmus, 2015)
Workforce of the future
From the above-mentioned megatrends, it is evident that the nature of future organisations and their workforces will differ substantially from their current manifestations.
Morgan (2015) describes fourteen characteristics of the future organisation, which includes:
- It is not unusual to see a single employee working in a remote location
- Employees will be able to conduct work anytime, anywhere and on any device
- The use of collaborative technologies to learn from colleagues anywhere and anytime
- Women will increasingly become the decision makers and consumers
- Future organisations run in the cloud and utilise cloudware
- Employees want to be at the workplace instead of assuming they need to be there and this will necessitate an increasing focus on individualism
- People are motivated by benefits, such as employee health and wellness, community involvement, sustainability and making a positive impact on the world
The above characteristics exemplify the impact of megatrends, such as automatisation and remotely-controlled operations, pervasiveness of information and communication technology, the rise of individualism and the she-economy, the digital culture, the fact that people are more inclined to be motivated by being a “whole being”, as well as a shift towards prosperity and not just profit and financial gain.
The changed nature of future organisations and workforces will subsequently have an impact on HSE requirements. As the nature of work, workplaces and workforces will change in the future, there will be also different demands placed on the manner in which HSE is managed and manifested within organisations. Additionally, individuals responsible for HSE roles and responsibilities need to be aware and prepared for the new requirements of the organisation and workforce of the future.
Megatrends in HSE
The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) has identified various known trends that will have an impact on the manner in which HSE manifests and is managed in organisations. These trends include the following:
- Population ageing
- Stress at work
- Workplace violence and harassment
- Health of women at work
- New technologies in green jobs
- Climate change
- A Globally Harmonised System of Classification
However, of far more importance, are the five HSE megatrends listed below:
- The impact of information and communication technology
- The impact of the financial crises on the nature of work
- The impact of globalisation of trade in managing work
- The impact of the changing location of work
- Trends in human resource management practices affecting worker wellbeing
An analysis of the above five megatrends clearly indicates a correlation between global megatrends, as well the nature of the future organisation and future workforce.
The introduction of pervasive information and communication technology will not only have an effect on the manner in which individuals do their work (namely, the introduction of robotics and mechanised equipment and the ability to integrate “machines” into work and work processes), but they will also have implications on the actual location of the workplace.
The integration of information and communication technology will enable the workforce to be active from anywhere and at any time. The financial crises will have a substantial effect on the manner in which HSE is managed and manifests in organisations, since less financial and human resources will be allocated to HSE. Furthermore, organisations will employ more resources on a contract basis, which will have an impact on their accountability and adherence to HSE policies and procedures. Globalisation implies that workforces can be deployed at any location across the globe. This exacerbates competitive pressure and may result in a reduced spending on HSE, or even the relocation of the workforce to countries with lower labour costs through lowering standards (including HSE standards and protocols).
Due to the demands on the workforce in terms of their availability and accessibility (because of the pervasive nature of information and communication technology), as well as the less permanent nature of employment due to the financial crises, future organisations will need to address the expectations of the future workforce in terms of their rising aspirations and requirements (i.e. being regarded as “whole beings”), and hence their associated requirements in terms of wellness.
European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) 2015. Scoping study for a foresight on new and emerging occupational safety and health (OSH) risks and challenges.
Erasmus, S. 2015. Megatrends from the Idea Capitalist and Lacuna Innovation [personal interview].
Frost & Sullivan, 2015. Report on the top 20 global megatrends and their impact on Business, Cultures and Society.
Morgan, J. 2015. The future of work: attract new talent, build better leaders, and create a competitive organization.
Singh, S. 2011. An analysis on the Frost & Sullivan megatrend research report.