Insights from the inaugural CIPD Festival of Work

Andrew Heath · June 24, 2019

We were delighted to showcase WeThrive at the recent CIPD Festival of Work held at London’s Olympia earlier this month. It was truly a pleasure to mingle with so many like-minded people who share our passion for employee engagement and wellbeing at work.

The Festival of Work brought together two former CIPD events – the Learning and Development and HR Software and Recruitment shows – and added in a brand-new dimension, The Future of Work. This year’s slogan was The Future of Work is Human.

We didn’t get heaps of time to explore because we were busy talking to the visitors dropping by our stand. That said, we had a ball chatting to a huge range of people professionals from so many different backgrounds. Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing your brilliant insights and posing such thoughtful questions. If you didn’t manage to catch up with us, see more about us here.

We did however, manage to pay a few visits to one of the most popular stands at the event – the Purina Pets at Work stand, where a bunch of lovely, friendly dogs were in attendance. With 40% of people with pets at work saying it enhances work-life balance, bringing your dog to work is certainly something that employers are considering in their wellbeing programmes.

We also managed to dip in to some of the brilliant talks though and loved the flashmobs. With so much on offer it was difficult to choose from (it’s not humanly possible to attend everything). So, here’s a round-up of our best picks.

Data-driven learning – using data insights to design learning and measure its effectiveness

This talk was delivered by Catherine Pinchen, Head of Global Learning Analytics at PwC, and Mike Collins, Senior Digital Learning, LX and UX specialist at River Island.

Practical case studies were presented to demonstrate data-driven learning strategies. We know data is the most valuable resource in organisations (our employee engagement model has been developed to mine important, often hidden, data, so we know a thing or two about this).

The message from this L&D talk was heard loud and clear – employees needs are constantly evolving and we need to do more to lever the data and insights that ensure learning at work programmes have the intended impact.

The ethics of automation – driving meaningful working lives in a more automated future workplace

Chaired by Warren Howlett, the Head of HR Content at CIPD, this conference session was joined by Suzanne Harlow, Chief Executive Officer at Jack Wills, Kate Davies, Chief Executive at Notting Hill Genesis, Andrew McStay, Professor of Digital Life at Bangor University, and Alejandro Saucedo, Chief Scientist at the Institute for Ethical AI and Machine Learning.

The panel looked at the ethical implications of using technology and automation in the workplace and why we need to look at ways we can preserve social well-being in more automated work environments to ensure a positive outcome for people, organisations and the wider economy.

There has been much flouted about the impact of AI and the danger it imposes on driving the human workforce into extinction, but there were some real positive messages coming from the panel.

Removing mundane tasks and automating the most “boring” parts of the job would ultimately create a more engaged, happier workforce, suggested Kate Davies, chief executive of Notting Hill Genesis, a developer that provides homes for lower-income families in London. She said she hoped automation would allow staff to use their “distinctly” human skills, such as spending more time engaging with customers.

In the earlier opening keynote speech, former World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov highlighted the fact that AI will also open up opportunities.

“AI will bring millions and millions of people that never had access to the job market, many of whom have great talents, but they never had the opportunity to put them on display. Now AI can help blind people hear what a machine sees and deaf people to see what a machine hears. There’s so many opportunities and there’s a new army of talented people that could actually become part of the new employment landscape.”

At WeThrive we believe strong business cultures built on openness and trust, and operating with clear communication channels are best placed to flourish during this transformation. AI is alarming to many workers. It is the responsibility of employers to ensure staff are on board with any automation programme and that the workforce is reassured and empowered.

This view was echoed by Suzanne Harlow, chief executive at fashion brand Jack Wills:

“Being transparent and honest with staff about the changes they are likely to see will help reassure staff.”

Speakers agreed preparing staff for the inevitability of automation is vital.

See more on AI and automation in the workplace in a CIPD fact sheet here.

The Wellbeing Village

We loved the Wellbeing Village. The colouring-in wall was great to take a moment, breathe and chill. This was a brilliant space offering massage, mindfulness and yoga to unwind and some great well-being at work ideas. There was also a very insightful wall where visitors were asked to post their thoughts on what would really further wellbeing at work…


We are missing the Festival of Work buzz and can’t wait for next year. In the meantime, we’ll get back to helping our clients create workplaces where employees feel less stressed, more trusted and motivated, highly valued and can flourish as high performing members of their teams.

Want to know more about how we do that? Get in touch with our exceptional employee engagement specialists today. If you are HR professional looking for the next step in growing your business, join our partner program to take your clients to the next level.