The world of jobs and pay is changing fast. Technology and automation are key drivers of change but also improvements in healthcare, with subsequent increase in longevity, changes in habits and generational shifts, are transforming labor markets. Future generations will work in positions that do not exist yet. Because automation will replace and change the nature many of the tasks we humans perform today, the concept of a “job” is going to change fundamentally. As a consequence, the majority of workers will no longer be able to rely on a salaried job for life and will need to redefine the nature and source of their incomes.
We have just published the book “Flex or Fail” to help companies cope with the challenges of addressing this revolution. Let us start with some estimates: by 2030, independent, rather than salaried workers in developed countries may perform 50%, or more of all jobs. This means that the traditional approach to organizing labor markets, based on organizations called firms that distribute tasks and coordinate output, is going to be transformed.
Something else: in his recent book “Bullshit jobs”, David Graeber reports that in a survey conducted in the UK, 37% of people consider that their work does not create any value for society. Moreover, 30% of survey respondents do not find personal meaning in their job. This is truly disappointing! We thought that technology and progress would have improved our quality of life so we would perform self-fulfilling tasks. Instead, in the 21st century, dissatisfaction with our working life is growing. There are several reasons for that:
• Money and power are not the only drivers of happiness. Estimates in the US show that optimal level of happiness can be achieved with income levels of $75,000 a year—not less, but not much more either.
• Technology eats jobs, but also creates massive income inequalities between those technology-savvy employees, and the ones who either lose their jobs or are confined to “shit jobs” (Graeber dixit).
• Organizations are becoming more and more complex, so employees hardly see their own impact on performance.
How are societies responding to these challenges? First and foremost, through a rise in independent and task-oriented jobs, as we mentioned earlier. Second, by acquiring the skills that will be truly needed in a world of automation and robots: those skills are the ones related to creativity, resilience, a global mindset, familiarity with technology, and social interaction. Third, we are transforming our societies into trust-based societies, where the sharing economy and blockchain technologies are changing our way of interacting with each other. Fourth, we as individuals are moving from single-income to multiple income-streams. Soon, we will be able to make money from different activities that are not necessarily “jobs”. For instance, through social networks we will be able to monetize our attention, social capital, fitness data, and many other intangible assets that will increasingly become unlocked.
For companies, the transformation in work and pay is even more radical. We claim that only those companies that build a flexible mindset and adapt to the new trends will succeed. Adaptation involves
building some key capabilities that we observe today only in very few companies—that is why the main message of our book is not just for individuals, but also for organizations!
As Alibaba’s Jack Ma said: “There is no expert of the future, there is always an expert of yesterday.” Companies will increasingly have to change their mindset when attracting new talent. Previous experience, technical skills, formal degrees and objectives measures of success such as corporate status will be prioritized less in favor of resilience, global mindset, and social skills.
Boards will have to build higher levels of technology awareness and not just focus on business expertise alone. The best director is not the one who knows the industry upside-down. Board members will need to be master’s in technology, understand how to create value through new business models and recognize wider global issues.
Working spaces will have to adapt to the new demands by employees. Most people prefer to blend working from home, working in the office and working in the city. With new mobility solutions, centralized headquarters will lose efficiency and make less sense. With the emergence of a new type of company, the Decentralized Autonomous Organization, formal hierarchies will not determine the distribution of power within the company, the ability to interact with others will.
Business leaders recognise that both competitive threats, and opportunities are emerging from automation in their industry sectors. They face the challenge of selecting and implementing winning technology strategies, and at the same time, developing new workforce strategies that meet the needs of a leaner and more agile structure. All this needs to be shaped around a new culture to make this happen faster and more efficiently. Without making this ‘step-change’ there is an increasing risk of becoming overwhelmed by competition.