The Evolution of UK Work Culture: Past, Present & Future

Carly Cannings, Founder of The Happy Business School is delivering a talk.

The history of work and organisational culture has seen some dramatic changes, particularly in the UK. In this blog post, we will take a look at the evolution of the UK work culture from its beginnings in the industrial age, to the present day people-centric environment and what we can expect to see in the future. 

The Industrial Age and Factory Life

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the UK work culture was largely shaped by the industrial revolution. People migrated from rural areas to urban cities to work in factories with very long hours, low wages and poor working conditions. Workers had limited rights and the hierarchical organisational structure meant that leaders had complete control over the labour force. Workplaces were far from the people-centric environments we strive for today.

Trade Unions Emerge

As the harsh realities of factory life became widespread, workers began to band together to demand better working conditions, fair pay and legal rights. Trade unions began forming in the mid-19th century and played a pivotal role in improving workplace conditions, setting the groundwork for improved labour relations and employee engagement in the future.

Shift Towards the Modern Office

Throughout the 20th century, the UK work culture witnessed a significant shift towards office-based jobs. The growth of the services sector, technology and globalisation led to the emergence of new areas of work, such as marketing, human resources and IT. Organisations started to recognise the value of employee satisfaction and productivity, resulting in an increased focus on work-life balance, job satisfaction and a more relaxed working environment.

The 21st Century: A People-Centric Work Culture

Today, we find ourselves in an era where organisations like The Happy Business School are championing the cause of creating people-first work cultures, where happiness and engagement are the cornerstones of the work environment. This modern approach includes offering flexible work arrangements, having strong and ethical values and investing in employee wellbeing initiatives that aim to increase happiness and maximise potential.

The Future of UK Work Culture

With remote working here to stay and an increased focus on work-life balance, the future of UK work culture is expected to continue evolving. Technology will play a key role in shaping the way we work, but perhaps the most critical aspect will be a continued emphasis on employee happiness as a driving factor of organisational success.

Leaders need to be proactive in fostering a people-centric culture that promotes happiness and collective thriving. This means ensuring teams feel supported and their efforts recognised, as well as creating a culture of trust, respect and fairness. 

In Conclusion

The evolution of the UK work culture has brought about considerable changes in how we perceive work and the environments we create for employees. The future of work looks promising, as leaders and organisations continue to adopt a people-centric mindset and strive for a workplace where everyone can thrive. From the industrial age to the people-centric culture of the present, let us continue advocating for happiness and productivity as integral parts of work.

5 myths about happiness at work

Wrong. The absence of disease isn’t health and the absence of misery isn’t happiness. Just because we might do enough as leaders to not have our people crying at their desks doesn’t mean we are invested in their happiness. Just because an employees comes in every day, does a good job and leaves without complaining about anything doesn’t mean they are happy.

Wrong. It’s right that some some people are more naturally optimistic but, with practice, you can become happier. There is a wealth of science that shows, when we know how, we can train our brains to be more positive. Asking someone to write down three good things that have happened in the last 24 hours may appear glib but this is about training the brain to spot positive things. When we learn to look for things we see them more easily.

Wrong. In fact blind optimism is a bad thing. Who wants to be in a plane where the pilot never believes anything bad can happen so doesn’t bother doing all the safety checks (not me for sure!). Just like in the world of work we don’t want to fail to look out for the risks and dangers, we just don’t want to be overwhelmed by the fear of them.

Wrong. The science tells us that being happier at work makes us more productive, more resilient, more creative, more accurate, more analytical, less likely to take time off sick, leave or burnout. Who doesn’t want those benefits? Yes, what a great wellbeing initiative to be able to say we are interested and investing in your happiness but it goes much further than that. There are real business benefits to helping people increase their happiness.

This one is only a half myth. Yes, people need to be invested in working on their own happiness but as a leader it is for us to help them with that, to show them we value their happiness, to allow them time to work on it, to give them the tools they need to become happier at work. Importantly we need to help them understand why being happy at work is important. As a leader if you can show you are invested in your own happiness it will show your people they should invest in theirs too.

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Forget gimmicks like ice cream van visits or ping pong tables – let’s work together to build a positive culture where people feel valued and encouraged. Let’s help your people find purpose and meaning in their work.

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