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Most HR practitioners will be familiar with putting together a job description and may even have gone beyond this to designing entirely new jobs. Knowing how to redesign jobs is fast becoming an essential skill in our rapidly changing workplaces – as I explain in this blog. 
For the past thirty years employers have been allowing small adjustments to jobs in their efforts to accommodate flexible working requests. But with big changes on the horizon as a result of Artificial Intelligence and the Gig Economy this tinkering around the edges will no longer be enough. 
Up till now the HR profession has embraced changes to working practices such as part-time and term-time working, job-share, compressed hours and even the possibility of allowing more senior people to work less than full-time. What we need to do next is get more radical by stripping down the tasks involved in specific jobs and reformulating them into better – upcycled – jobs. Let me tell you why: 
Artificial Intelligence is not going away; but smart commentators such as HR Professor John Boudreau maintain it will change rather than destroy jobs. Within any job there are routine tasks which can be automated, leaving the post holder free to focus on the creative and skilled aspects that humans do better. 
We may be used to reading about Uber and Deliveroo drivers, but the bulk of the Gig Economy is being powered by highly qualified professionals with specialist skills. Employers hiring these freelance professionals will want to be confident they’re getting value for money – which means jobs must be structured to ensure they’re using their time wisely. 
The current practice of allowing staff to work flexibly while providing little or no guidance on how to disconnect from work, is leading to an #AlwaysOn working culture that is compromising health and wellbeing. 
So what does it mean to #Upcycle jobs? 
Reviewing a job description has traditionally meant identifying changes with the post holder or their manager. New tasks may have crept in and old ones discarded but fundamentally the way the job is worked remains the same. An upcycling approach, on the other hand, focuses on recreating the job for improved efficiency and productivity along with better balance. To do this requires new HR skills. Practitioners must: 
Be able to identify those tasks which can be automated, eliminated or perhaps simply delegated if they don’t make best use of an employee’s most valuable skills. 
Understand the health implications of not switching off from work and offer guidelines on how best to approach this. We know from work-life balance research that everyone needs ‘recovery time’ and that this recovery is best achieved by engaging in something completely different from work. Managers must be encouraged to set clear guidelines and expectations for their teams around out of work contact. 
Recognise that success in upcycled jobs depends in turn on upcycling skills such as negotiation (which can help with boundary management) and mindfulness (which stops us getting sucked into distractions when we should be focusing on the task in hand). 
When we think in terms of upcycling jobs, rather than reviewing job descriptions we shift our attention away from simple processes, towards making changes that can more fully improve work and working lives. We’re almost two decades into the new century. It’s time to acknowledge that 20th century working practices don’t fit 21st century lives: and respond accordingly. 
About The Author 
Anna Meller is the UK’s leading work ReBalance expert. Her now book ‘#Upcycle Your Job: The smart way to balance family life and career’ is now available on Amazon. 
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