News & Insights

15.06.20

YGN Futuresight - Values

At the Nuclear Institute YGN, we understand the disruption that has been wrought upon the world by COVID 19 and like other professional bodies, we are dealing with the impact, rethinking our strategy and trying to foresee what the future will look like so that we can continue our mission to ensure that the voice of young people is heard in shaping the future of our sector.

We, our members, our industry and our society are adjusting to a different world where working from home in social isolation is the new temporary normal, and some of us are learning to cope with worklessness or loss of income, 24/7 childcare, looking after vulnerable relatives, and possibly even impact to our own health and that of our loved ones.

During what is due to be a challenging few months for us all, we would like to offer some positivity and stimulate critical thought about the future so that we emerge on the other side (which we will) in a position to embrace the new world.

We should take collective pride in the emergency response efforts seen over the past few weeks – people have come together to do what is right for the good of society, whatever the cost. This has shone a spotlight on those people and industries that are fundamental, not to the way of life we have come to believe is important, but to what is truly important: our health, safety and security, our very existence. This includes health workers and the NHS, and also those who we sometimes take for granted: the armed forces, emergency services, the food sector, civil servants, local government, charities, the third sector, community groups and of course the energy sector. Perhaps the disruption caused by COVID 19 will refocus us as individuals and society as a whole on what is really important and how we recognise that value.

We should feel proud too that nuclear stations around the country continue to reliably provide around 20% of the UK’s electricity needs and up to 50% of the UK’s low carbon electricity. At this time of need, our industry has continued to keep the lights on sustainably, reminding us that as nuclear professionals we play an important role in energy security and combatting climate change (for more on this search #RediscoverNuclear). Further, nuclear organisations across industry and the supply chain have come together to provide PPE, materials, equipment, transport, skilled labour and voluntary support to the NHS and communities across the UK.

Looking Ahead

It is the YGN’s role, as part of the professional body and learned society for the nuclear sector, to look ahead and envisage a better world and a future in which our members and our industry will flourish. Times of great societal pressure and motivational shifts such as this create innovation (the list of companies founded during economic recessions includes General Electric, IBM and Disney to name but a few) and will inevitably result in a change in societal behaviours and attitudes towards the vocational aspects of our lives. Through this series of articles we will explore a range of topics by asking questions that help us to foresee what will become the new “normal”, including:

  1. Values: this article, keep reading!
  2. Leadership: lessons learned from leadership in uncertain times
  3. Community: what do we mean by community? How will the bonds formed in coming weeks and months within communities endure beyond the COVID pandemic? What does this mean for us as the YGN, as an industry and on a global scale?
  4. Self: being comfortable in our own company and that of our closest family, taking time to reconnect with our own drivers and investing in ourselves.
  5. Technology: what COVID 19 has taught us about real and perceived challenges to implementing new technology in the nuclear sector?
  6. Energy: how might current circumstances shape future energy policy in the UK and what is nuclear’s role in decarbonising heat, power and fuels?
  7. Our Planet: COVID has curtailed the activity of our global economy and restricted us to our own homes – what impact has this had and what future does this lead us towards?

 

1) Values

Humans like to impose complex (and often overcomplicated) theories and constructs onto the world in order to understand and control it. We are conditioned by the structures of society which we have created for ourselves to feel comforted by order and permanence. So the present disruption of these systems and what seems like impending chaos may understandably be cause for concern and discomfort to many of us.

But by bringing us closer to the essential things in life, the current period of uncertainty highlights those things that are fundamentally important to us, and those which are not.

We often talk of “work-life balance”, but these are categories of our own making: we consider some activities to be work, some play, some fun, some not - have you ever considered the legitimacy of a model within which we try to balance everything we mean by the term “life” against what we know as “work”?

Normally, within our cocoon of permanence, timelessness is our excuse for taking people and the world we live in for granted - think how often you have put off something important, not invested in yourself (for example by exercising or reading), or failed to keep in touch with family or old friends because "there's no time".

Now, in isolation, our human interaction has been restricted to those in our household, video calls (and quizzes) with family, friends and colleagues and a distant "Good Morning" to others from at least 2 metres away during our daily exercise. We are all in different situations - while some brave people are involved in emergency response efforts and others find themselves on 24/7 childcare duties or caring for vulnerable relatives, many of us will find that we suddenly have an abundance of time. This will feel uncomfortable at first and it will be tempting to binge watch everything on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Now TV and all of Youtube. But this is a unique opportunity to devote time to the things that matter to us but are usually deprioritised for us by the rush of daily life – reading a novel, going for a walk in the local area, exploring nature, focusing on health, fitness and wellbeing, learning and development, cooking, DIY and playing with our children (or pets!).

Should we see this as the upside of a fleeting enforced break from normality, or is there a message here about the freedoms afforded to us by the world of work, and whether we choose to continue to accept the former status quo in the future? Is there a way that the future could be reshaped to enable us to continue the valuable and meaningful work that we do, while allowing us to fulfil other the other important individual, social and societal needs that have been recently highlighted to us?

During this time of change and uncertainty, I urge you to reconsider your outlook on the future through a new series of lenses:

  1. Identify your values – what do you hold most dear, and how can you prioritise these things? Do the values of your employer and your wider work context align with your own?
  2. Focus on fulfilment - does your work offer a route to achieving something meaningful and enjoyable? If so, great! Otherwise, could you achieve this in other ways?
  3. Take control of (y)our future - what change would you like to see in the world and the workplace, and how can you create it?

Our answers to these questions as individuals have huge implications for how we allocate our own time but also for the future of work (if it will still be called "work" …), for the economy and the role of business. And by thinking about this and being adaptable, we help ourselves to navigate the uncertain landscape we find ourselves in.

Who do we want to be when we emerge from the worst of this? What do we want our organizations to stand for?

Business as usual is out of the window – it is almost impossible to predict what tomorrow will look like, never mind plan for the future. How should organisations approach strategy development as the world emerges from response mode into recovery and then settles into a new normal?

This pandemic and the increasing frequency and severity of global crises show us the urgent need to better align the needs of individuals, business and society towards shared goals – economic wellbeing, yes, but perhaps also community wellbeing, empowerment, resilience and other qualitative measures encompassed by the UN Sustainable Development Goals that historically have come second to profit for shareholders.

Without learning from our current experience and the implications of this pandemic, it may be tempting to revert to history and in the face of financial hardship and economic decline, to recede into a world of Corporate Social Responsibility and away from holistic social impact, something which the nuclear sector has made great progress on in recent years. But we must do the exact opposite and lean into a new world, with a reimagined relationship between business, society, community and individual.

Will business of the future truly put people first? This thought-provoking article from IDEO explores this topic in more detail.

Future of Work

At the YGN, we play a wider role in shaping the future of our industry, as a delivery partner in the “People” strand of the Nuclear Sector Deal, as a member of the Nuclear Skills Strategy Group and as a supporter and delivery partner in the EDI Strategy for the sector. We would like to see organisations across the sector take the opportunity afforded by the current pause to business as usual to truly consider equality and diversity in their strategies, and to create a fair and inclusive sector for the future. We have set out our wish list for what this will look like:

  • Jobs that can be done remotely will be. The new normal will be remote and agile working. The office, as a permanent work location 5 days per week, will be no more and we will move to a touchdown hub model with shared meeting space and work facilities to be used only when required. This will require a mindset and behavioural reset among our leaders, and requires a particular management skillset (more on this in Article 2 - Leadership).
  • Flexible working will also become the norm - employers' concerns around trust, performance and productivity will be a thing of the past in the face of overwhelming benefits to staff morale, productivity, retention and wellbeing. This requires planning and is not easy to achieve, but Boston Consulting Group's "Smart Simplicity" modeloffers insight into how performance can be improved in complex industries by removal of restrictive process and by giving the staff greater agency.
  • Job roles will be valued not purely based on productivity or financial return, but on societal value. Businesses and organisations too will be recognised not only for their profit-making credentials, but for the greater value they add to society.
  • This refocussing of our business priorities towards society and people, will be the catalyst for the cultural change that we all know is required if we are to create a truly diverse and inclusive industry. Hiring and promotion in this system will be fair, based on merit leading to equal opportunity, enhanced social inclusion and mobility, greater diversity at all levels, better decision making, increased levels of innovation and ultimately improved performance.
  • As individuals and organisations, we will be more attuned to everyone's mental and physical health and wellbeing - attitudes, working practices and the workplace itself will reflect this.
  • Significant reduction in business travel will improve air quality (and therefore health) and reduce our industry's environmental footprint. With the freedom afforded to us by reduced time spent in the office and travelling, we will have more time to focus on (and a greater proportion of our salary available to spend on) the things that really matter to us.
  • We will no longer be afraid to implement new technologies or to use the ones already available to us. Communication technologies enable us to sustain our global networks without the need for physical travel. In an industry historically defined by strict regulation, risk aversion and restrictive information security protocols, in a post-COVID world, the new workforce of "digital natives" will embrace new technology and digital innovation will flourish, bringing about long sought after productivity gains and both opex and capex cost reduction to new build and legacy decommissioning programmes.
  • We will see investment in the science, technology, industry and infrastructure required to create an equitable, resilient society and a sustainable, inclusive future. UK Energy Policy will support secure, reliable, low carbon nuclear energy as the only commercially deployable technology that can enable rapid decarbonisation of heat, power and transport (more on this in Article 6 - Energy).

In this series, we prompt you to think beyond COVID 19, and by raising our gaze from the immediate challenge, we are able to see a better future on the horizon and plot our route towards it. We would love to hear your thoughts about what that future will look like. Please join the conversation on our social media channels or get in touch directly.

Look out for related pieces in Nuclear Future, the Nuclear Institute’s journal – available free to Nuclear Institute members or via subscription on the NI website.

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