Trinity College Dublin: ‘Behind the Headlines’ on the changing culture of work

‘Work is a necessary evil’, wrote the American author Mark Twain. During the pandemic working life for many changed dramatically. As part of its ‘Behind the Headlines’ series, the Trinity Long Room Hub Arts and Humanities Research Institute gathered a panel of industry and academic experts and author Caitríona Lally to discuss the changing culture of work.

Participating in the online event which took place on Monday, November 22nd, 2021, were Ryan Shanks, Managing Director of Accenture, The Dock; Carole Holohan, Assistant Professor in Modern Irish History, Trinity; Ilse White, Corporate Learning Researcher at Learnovate, Trinity; and writer and Trinity Long Room Hub Rooney Writer Fellow, Caitríona Lally. The speakers considered the function and representation of work from a variety of perspectives and the prospects for our working culture in the future. You can listen back to the podcast here:

Caitríona Lally is the inaugural Rooney Writer Fellow at the Trinity Long Room Hub, and author of Eggshells and Wunderland. Caitríona lives in Dublin and divides her time between her young children, her writing, and working in the housekeeping department at Trinity College Dublin. When Caitríona was awarded the Rooney Prize for Irish literature in 2018, she received international media attention for being both a writer and a cleaner.

Caitríona spoke about the different types of work she does, in terms of pay, commitment, satisfaction and respect and how “both very disparate aspects of my work complement each other, and how differently I am perceived when I define myself as a cleaner, rather than a writer, and yet how my cleaning job pays me more than my writing”.

Ilse White is a Corporate Learning Researcher at Learnovate at Trinity College Dublin where she consults and collaborates with clients looking to improve practices in learning design and employee development. She spoke about the relationship between wellbeing and learning and its importance for the future of work.

Ilse says wellbeing has been a topic of research and debate for centuries but in advance of but noted that “research suggests levels of wellbeing are decreasing”.

“Even before the pandemic, people reported the lowest levels of wellbeing and engagement ever. Organisations no longer perceive wellbeing solutions as ‘nice to have’ or an add-on. They realise wellbeing solutions can provide their organisation with a competitive advantage in attracting and retaining talent. However much more needs to be done and there is a massive readiness gap. While 80% of organisations say worker well-being is important or very important to the success of their organisation, only 12% say they are very ready to address the issue.”

Also speaking at the event was Ryan Shanks, Managing Director of Accenture, The Dock (Accenture’s flagship R&D and global innovation center). Ryan has been working for over 20 years at the coal face of industry around the globe, implementing new technologies, restructuring organisations, and developing talent with global organisations.

The panel also included Dr Carole Holohan, Assistant Professor in Modern Irish History at Trinity, whose research examines the social history of the sixties, with publications on the history of youth and the history of poverty in modern Ireland. Her book Reframing Irish Youth in the Sixties (Liverpool University Press, 2018) also explores Irish attitudes to welfare and employment, economic growth, and emigration.

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