The Future of Work: 5 Major Trends

de | 18 décembre 2016

The Future of Work: 5 Major Trends

“One of Gallup’s most important discoveries is that everyone in the world wants a good job. More so than ever in the history of corporate culture, employees are asking, ‘Does this organization value my strengths and my contribution?’ ”   Jim Clifton

Enormous changes have taken place in the economic landscape worldwide in the past few decades: Expanding globalization, fiercer competition, more powerful technologies, financial meltdowns and persistent unemployment.

Job insecurity, uncertainty, stress, and deep changes in the relationship between employers and employees have followed (1).

Not surprisingly, fundamental questions are being raised about the future of work. As robots continue their conquest, will there be enough jobs for all? Where are the good jobs providing meaning and insuring a decent income?

Will management evolve and face up to its responsibility (2)? Will we be able to reconcile productivity and wellbeing, enhance innovation, promote collective intelligence and empower employees to participate and contribute to the success of the company?

What promises do future technologies hold for us? How might they endanger our culture, our way of life? How can findings in neuroscience help organizations adopt managerial and leadership practices that are better adapted to human needs and help us all not just to survive, but to thrive and flourish at work (3)?

Five future trends, emerging from ongoing research and promising practices, are outlined below.

  1. Employment

“Growth and innovation deliver handsome gains to the skilled, while the rest cling to dwindling employment opportunities at stagnant wages.” The Economist

Today’s employment is characterized by short-term engagements, weakening loyalty and commitment by both employers and employees, continuous organizational restructuring and outsourcing, as well as a growing multicultural mix. All indications are that these trends will continue and become even stronger.

As technology is advancing, more jobs with lower ability requirements will disappear, creating massive unemployment among workers whose skill set no longer corresponds to labor market needs.

At the same time, as the population is aging and older employees retire in larger numbers than younger people entering the workforce, a vast shortage of talents and qualified workers is becoming ever more alarming world-wide (4).

The middle class is shrinking, and this trend willfurther accelerate the income gap between the poor and the rich (5; 6).

The future of work (Morgan, 2014) will be largely shaped by:

–new behaviors based on social media and the web

–powerful technologies, extending into all human activities

–the millennials who bring new attitudes, expectations and ways of working

–growing mobility and flexibility with the possibility of working anywhere, anytime and on any technology

–disappearing economic boundaries among regions of the world.

2. Employees

As employment has become less satisfying and more unstable, exposing workers to increasing vulnerability and raising questions about their future, employee orientations and choices are shifting dramatically.

More and more employees are quitting their jobs and setting up their own shop, creating a real freelancer economy. Women and men of all ages seek new opportunities, but also more flexibility in organizing their work and personal life (7; 8). This trend towards independence even includes high-end professionals who increasingly leave lucrative jobs (9).

“The surprise may be not that top talent is looking for ‘permanent temp work’, but that anyone who has a choice would want a traditional job.”                     Jody Greenstone Miller and Matt Miller

Newly established independents face numerous challenges: Offering a product or service that corresponds both to their competence and experience, as well as to market needs; setting up an optimal structure with respect to location, organization, marketing and finding enough clients to provide at least minimal revenues to subsist. Fortunately, technology providers are actively responding to the growing demand for assistance (10; 11).

Employers also need to adapt to this new labor market, learning what kind of contracts and remuneration to establish, how to find qualified independents and how to balance their number with that of their own employees. Here too, an abundance of apps and tools are becoming available to assist with these challenges (Morgan, 2014).

Millennials will soon represent the majority of the workforce (12) and will significantly impact the work environment:

–they seek more autonomy, freedom, flexibility and meaning

–they rate the importance of learning and growing above salary and promotion

–rather than being connected 24/7, they prefer clear boundaries between their work and private life

–they desire a clear definition of what is expected of them (13).

3. Managers

“When we think about the future of work, managers MUST be leaders. It’s time we stop referring to managers and leaders as two separate people. If you haven’t earned leadership then you shouldn’t be a manager.”  Jacob Morgan

Rapid and profound changes have occurred in just about every sector of the economy – markets, products, services, customers and employee expectations – but management has hardly evolved at all despite persistently low employee engagement, severely depressing productivity (2; Hamel, 2012).

Multiple layers of rigid hierarchies, command-and-control and top-down management still largely dominate in many companies. Performance, innovation and wellbeing continue to suffer as a result (2).

The good news is that more companies are experimenting and exploring new approaches that are better suited for the future, more adapted to the evolving needs of customers and to the expectations of new generations of employees. Organizations that have been successful in moving forward and paving the way for the future have emphasized a more open and flexible work environment where employees enjoy considerably more freedom and autonomy (Hamel, 2012).

They have also found that more transparency and lean management are far more conducive to productivity and enjoyment at work, altogether significantly reducing absenteeism, rotation and health-care costs and vastly improving innovation and adaptation to change (Morgan, 2014).

They are being helped by new technologies that facilitate communication, creativity and capturing ideas, embracing fairness, sharing values, enhancing collaboration and promote wellbeing.

Managers of the future will be far different from those of the past (2; 11; 14; Morgan, 2014):

–they must all be leaders, walking-the-talk and serving workers

–they need to have a good grasp of new technologies

–embrace vulnerability, asking for help, admitting their errors, solicit the opinions of their team members

–believe in sharing and relying on collective intelligence rather than on the direction of one

–challenge convention, experiment, become “fire starters” rather than just putting out fires

–provide on-going, real-time recognition and feedback rather than using annual performance reviews

— recognize that work-life balance is critical for well-being and productivity.

Higher education, and business schools in particular, will also have to align with new trends and better prepare students for actual and future challenges and job requirements (15).

4. Technology

“Even the highest-paid occupations in the economy, such as financial managers, physicians, and senior executives, including CEOs, have a significant amount of activity that can be automated.”  McKinsey Group

Machines learning from each other, the internet of things, robots, artificial intelligence and big data are increasingly being combined to progressively taking over the work of humans. It is estimated that within a couple of decades close to 50% of all job categories will open to automation (16).

The next generation of robots is evolving into more humanoid creatures. They will look, feel, think and act more like people, enabling them increasingly to respond and interact with humans and allow them to assume ever more demanding tasks in a wide area of vital endeavors, such as rescue operations, caregivers, prosthetics, cooperation, research assistance, surgery and a host of others (17).

Different scenarios concerning the role of technology have evolved over time, speculating whether future advances will create enough new jobs to replace those that are continuously getting lost to technology, or whether we will we see more unemployment (5; Brynjolfsson & Mcafee, 2016; Ford, 2016).

But new technologies are not just “stealing” jobs from workers, they also provide great assistance to organizations, employees, customers, start-ups and freelancers (Morgan, 2014). New platforms and apps are appearing constantly to facilitate interactions and teamwork, real-time surveys on happiness at work, issues with management, colleagues and engagement, provide feedback, and numerous other tools that will all become critical in the future (18).

5. Neuroscience

“A job is not solely an economic transaction. The brain experiences the workplace first and foremost as a social system.”  David Rock

Over the last few decades, neuroscience has made tremendous strides in elucidating the origins of behavior and reactions at work (19). A whole new field is exploring the neural basis for more effective leadership and management. Based on their findings, neuroscientists assert that many failures to change behavior and arrive at greater productivity and well-being are due to a lack of understanding of how the brain functions (20).

Two overarching principles govern the brain’s primary reactions: The motivation to minimize threat and maximize reward, and the fact that social needs are treated in the brain in much the same way as fundamental needs for survival, such as food and water (20).

The SCARF model (Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, Fairness) is designed to demonstrate how these two principles operate. “The human brain is a social organ. Its physiological and neurological reactions are directly and profoundly shaped by social interactions. This presents enormous challenges to managers (20).”

Feedback, for example, may be experienced as an attack on status, change can generate uncertainty and anxiety, micromanagement curtails autonomy and elicits stress, not being included in an important project is felt as a threat to relatedness, and inequality in pay for the same work as lack of fairness. Such reactions create demotivation and disengagement.

Managers and executives are subject to the same brain dynamic. They react just the same as employees when SCARF elements are threatened. But their reactions and emotions have a much greater impact because they are highly contagious and constantly influence the entire work environment (20).

Brain processes have only limited energy available. When this energy gets used to deal with what the brain perceives as an attack or a threat, it has less energy for performance or innovation. The result is less engagement and productivity. Following this model, it is incumbent on organizations to do all they can to reduce threats. Threats always trump over rewards, they are stronger, more immediate and harder to ignore (20).

The good news is that “neuroscience has also discovered that the human brain is highly plastic. Neural connections can be reformed, new behaviors can be learned, and even the most entrenched behaviors can be modified at any age (20).”

Bringing It All Together

Five future trends have been identified:

–Employment will be scarce for people with a limited skillset, and the shortfall of talents will further intensify

–Freelancers and millennials will dominate the workforce and significantly change the labor market

–Successful managers of the future will be transformational leaders, challenging convention, relying on collaboration and collective intelligence

–Automation will continue to take over jobs, but new technologies will also contribute to a more dynamic economy

–Neuroscience will further elucidate brain mechanisms to improve management and leadership.

It is critical that we become aware of the looming employment crisis and find responsible ways to reconcile productivity and wellbeing for all.


Brynjolfsson, E., McAfee, A. (2016), The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, North.

Ford, M. (2016), Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future, Basic Books.

Hamel, G. (2012), What Matters Now: How to Win in a World of Relentless Change, Ferocious Competition, and Unstoppable Innovation, Jossey-Bass.

Morgan, J. (2012), The Future of Work: Attract New Talent, Build Better Leaders, and Create a Competitive Organization, Wiley.


Marcel Lucien Goldschmid, PhD, Director, Management Training & Coaching, MTC