Future of Work: Biggest Challenges

Future of Work: The Biggest Challenges

A new world of work requires a new social contract—a New New Deal. Intrinsic to this world of work will be decentralization and democratization. However, decentralization is not just a spatial concept in terms of more and more work being done remotely, it also requires a shift in values. The old top-down, authoritarian decision-making model must give way to true workplace democratization. Workers who are no longer under direct supervision must be empowered to allow their voices to be heard so as to maximize their ability to contribute and take ownership of the enterprise. Inclusive decision-making is no longer an ideal but a necessary component of business competitive advantage.


This guide is designed to describe some of the Biggest Challenges in the future of work. It tries to summarize some of the important insights which were discussed in the Future of Work Pioneers Podcast. There is a great deal of nuance in these discussions and the reader would benefit from going straight to the original podcasts online, with the summary in this guide serving as a sign post for topics he or she finds interesting.

Guide Overview:

  1. Thomas Kochan (Professor, MIT Sloan School of Management)
    Future of Work and the urgent need for a New Social Contract
  2. Arianna Huffington (Founder & CEO, Thrive Global)
    The human layer & Future of Work
  3. Jonas Pricing (Chairman & CEO, Manpower group)
    Labor Markets & The Haves & Have Nots
  4. Alain Dehaze (CEO, Adecco Group) 
    Future of Work: VUCA world, Technology, & The Need for a Tripartite Agreement
  5. Michael Posner (Professor, NYU Stern School of Business)
    Magnifying on Human Rights for a Better Future of Work

Future of Work and the urgent need for a New Social Contract

Discussion with Thomas Kochan (Professor, MIT Sloan School of Management)

A constant theme of Professor Kochan’s work has been the need to update public policies, institutions, and organizational practices in order to catch up with the changing nature of work. He raises the challenging but important question: “How do we build a new social contract in America and around the world?” This question has become especially pressing due to the growing inequality in society and the pandemic, which has disproportionately targeted underprivileged people across the globe.

He states that right now is the time to tackle these issues. 

So, how do we take Rousseau’s social contract and translate that into a contemporary one? 

To get to a new social contract, Thomas Kochan asks the question, “What mutual expectations and obligations do we have for employers, for workers, and for public policymakers with respect to work in employment relationships?”

This, in turn, raises the following three questions: 

  1. What do we expect out of work? 
  2. What should we hold all the parties accountable for in helping to achieve?
  3. How can we make sure that this will be inclusive? 

The essence of the social contract as used by political philosophers focuses on the obligations of the state to the citizens, and the reciprocal obligations of the citizens for contributing to an effective and just stake in society.

One could argue that it only makes sense to apply the idea of the social contract, which is central to our political understanding, to the world of work. As Kochan observes, the workplace, in particular, is a place “where we spend so much of our energy and time, and we depend on it for so much of our economic livelihood, identities, social interactions, and psychological welfare.”

Kochan concludes with optimism:
I believe we can build a better social contract if we can get all of the parties, workers, and their representatives, employers, governments, and educators together. By bringing everyone together, we can build a better social contract at work that is both more productive, more resilient, and more equitable and inclusive.

In the context of building a new social contract, Thomas Kochan has observed a phenomenon that he identifies as the “voice gap.” He argues that from the 1940s and 1970s, we saw a social contract that had wages and productivity moving up together. From the 1980s, things started to change, and the gap between productivity and wages grew, which resulted in the current situation where productivity continues to grow at a reasonable pace and wages have essentially flattened. This has ultimately led to much anger and frustration in society where workers feel like their voice at work has been lost. 

Kochan did a survey on the issue of workers and their voice at work, and summarized the following findings:

  1. The majority of workers say that they don’t have as much say or influence on issues that they care about at the workplace (e.g., wages, benefits, safety).
  2. There is a dramatic increase in the desire to join a union today compared to earlier time periods.
  3. Workers want new forms of “voice” at all levels of the workplace, leading to more productive and meaningful work (e.g., sitting on boards of directors).

This exclusive content is part of ‘The Future of Work: Lessons from the Trenches of Corporate America’ | Download the eBook

The Human Layer & Future of Work

Discussion with Arianna Huffington (Founder & CEO, Thrive Global)

A holistic, humane approach will increasingly be a sine qua none of strong workplace environments. The personal and the professional are becoming so deeply entwined that a well-managed workplaces must account for the overall well-being of their employees not just in terms of healthcare but in terms of personal satisfaction.

Many people would agree that we have allowed technology to dominate every aspect of our lives. Some would even claim that it has monopolized our lives and continues to do so. Do we simply have to accept this as an inevitable trend? How do we think about the future of work in a world that is dominated by data and algorithms? 

Pointing towards a crucial question: How do we break this dependence on technology?

Huffington begins by saying that she would not frame the question as such. Instead of focusing on breaking the dependence on technology, she prefers to put it into terms regarding setting clear boundaries. 

In order to illustrate the point regarding the importance of setting clear boundaries in the context of technology, Huffington gives us the example of companies preparing for the return to offices. Many companies have been working very hard over the past year or so to come up with protocols, ranging from elevator protocols to Plexiglass to advanced software to use for contact tracing. In other words, companies are leveraging the latest technology at their disposal. 

Even though these are clearly important measures and protocols that one should think about when pondering the question of returning to the workplace, Huffington reminds us that we are missing something crucial here, if one would simply stop here. This is where the human layer ought to come in.

As Huffington states:
If we don’t add a human layer to that to help people deal with their own stress and anxiety that’s growing, we cannot really achieve the results we want to achieve, which are basically productivity and great business metrics. So, we need to wake up and realize that all the platitudes that we use, like putting people first, bringing your whole self to work, etc… we are not really living up to them fully because if we were, there would always be a human layer over any technological preparedness.

So, how do we move in the direction of being more prepared? 


According to Huffington:
“I think we need to give tools to every employee to deal with their own stress and anxiety, and to tap in their own center of wisdom and strength.”

These tools would allow us to experience psychological safety while also building psychological strength in order to deal with growing challenges and disruptions. 

Huffington is tackling these challenges head-on with Thrive Global’s platform. She and her colleagues are doing this by dividing work into four journeys: 

1. Recharge: The first step is about the recognition that sleep and 60-second breaks during the day are essential both to our physical immunity and to our mental health.

2. Fuel: The second step focuses on very basic stuff that has a real impact on how we show up in our lives and at work. Questions such as “What do we eat?” and “How much do we move?” become relevant.

3. Connection: The third step is about connection-connecting with ourselves and connecting with others. What thoughts are we holding in our heads?

Often we are holding negative thoughts that prevent us from moving forward. Huffington quotes the French philosopher, Montaigne,
“There were many terrible things in my life, but most of them never happened.”

Further stating the problem:
So, how can we help people deal with the negative fantasies in our minds that are incredibly depleting, and that move us into a fight or flight mode, and basically, most of the time, have very little or nothing to do with reality.

4. Focus: The final step is focus. This is essential, and many people are having a hard time focusing, especially during times such as the pandemic. Huffington cites new data from Yale that shows how stress is an incredible enemy to productivity. It literally weakens our prefrontal cortex.

The problem with step four is also captured by the finding shared by Huffington that “Google searches for “How do I get my brain to focus” have gone up by 300%.” 

Huffington has been doing fascinating work on building a platform to address these issues and to help people make a behavioral change. 

She reminds us: “Cracking the code of behavior change is the biggest challenge we’re facing.”

Huffington illustrates this point with the example of combating the virus:
If you look at combating the virus, we have not been able to get people to wear masks. That’s a behavior. If we had gotten people to behave differently, we would not be where we are with containing the virus.

Huffington believes that AI has a big role to play in further addressing the issues of behavior change. AI can help us particularly in improving feedback loop recommendations, thereby increasing personalization that is relevant for understanding which micro steps to take, what content to feed you, and which ancient wisdom to expose you to – ultimately allowing us to be more effective in helping people adopt healthier habits.

This exclusive content is part of ‘The Future of Work: Lessons from the Trenches of Corporate America’ | Download the eBook

Labor Markets, and The Haves and Have Nots

Discussion with Jonas Prising (Chairman & CEO, ManpowerGroup)

The pandemic has accelerated the divide in the workplace between the haves and the have nots—those with skills and those who lack them; the rich and the poor; the old and the young; the core labor force and the contingent workers.

ManpowerGroup recently conducted a major survey of eight thousand workers across eight countries to understand their attitudes in the context of the pandemic. In this survey, they talk about the widening gap between two groups that they call the Haves and the Have Nots. We asked Prising to tell us a bit more about this phenomenon, and the wider findings from the survey. 

Before diving into the Haves and the Have Nots, Jonas tells us to first take a step back and think about some of the structural changes that are happening in labor markets, which have become visible over the last eight years. In particular, those that have been going on for a while. As part of the analysis, they looked at the data coming from their business, which has been generating for almost seventy-five years now across many geographies. 

Prising explains how labor markets and their business are inherently very cyclical. It is related to how labor markets act. So, when unemployment is high, their business is difficult. When it gets better, their business is much better. Around 11 to 12 years ago, they started to see some changes in that cyclicality that were new to them. What changed? Labor markets started to behave in ways that were different from what they expected based on where they were in the economic cycle. 

Prising elaborates that these changes were due to the structural changes that were impacting labor markets all over the world. This was due to a variety of factors, such as changing demographics, an aging workforce in all of the developed countries, a very fast aging workforce in developing countries, globalization, the impact of how quickly things move between different regions, and the first global generations coming out now where the sentiments and everything else is unfettered by geographical boundaries. Furthermore, the impact of technology was tremendous.

Another factor was the advent of how companies thought of the use of human capital. It used to be that companies were very intent on growing and shaping their workforce, and keeping them for a long time. However, Prising continues by saying that we know through various recessions and with the help of supply chain tools that companies have started to consume labor more than grow their talent and their workforce from a skills perspective. This has led to a way of thinking around human capital that is very much in line with supply chain thinking. Knowing exactly how many people you need, with what skills, and especially at what cost, is driving companies to make decisions around offshoring, along with other decisions. Furthermore, this has translated into individuals who have seen these changes and are reacting to them in quite a rational way… namely, by being loyal to their own career, and not being loyal to the company because they couldn’t trust the company to take care of them. 

All these changes mentioned above have led to a polarization of the workforce in what Prising calls the Haves and the Have Nots in terms of skills. People with adequate to good skills saw good wage progression, good career advancement, and low unemployment rates everywhere in the world. On the flip side, low or unskilled labor saw wage growth stagnation, much fewer opportunities, and much higher unemployment rates. Prising reminds us that what we have seen come out of this are all of the bifurcations in society, whether it is left or right. 

Prising cites that roughly twenty to twenty-five percent of the population in most developed nations are profoundly unhappy with the structural changes that were just mentioned. They have started to vote accordingly, and that is why we have seen this polarization occur with sometimes unpredictable outcomes, unexpected outcomes, and sometimes outcomes that don’t make sense. Nevertheless, if you look at the data and the rationale behind what is actually happening, it is the reality we live in. 

Prising concludes this part of the conversation by saying that he believes that the pandemic is going to accelerate the underlying structural changes in the labor markets in a sense that the use of technology is already changing the world. ManpowerGroup managed to adjust to remote working in ten days across seventy-five countries. Technology resilience is crucial to their survival and to thriving in the future. Therefore, this will lead to investing even more in technology. This, of course, will lead to an increased need for a more skilled workforce in this sense, and at the same time, the pandemic is hitting large portions of the workforce who are engaged in the hospitality and service sectors, which require lower skills or few skills, and this accelerates the bifurcation of the workforce, along with greater polarization. 

We moved on to discuss three major findings that came out of the survey.

First of all, the eight thousand workers in the survey expressed that holding onto their job is their number one priority. They realize that we are moving from a healthcare crisis to an economic crisis to a social crisis. There was only one exception to this, which relates back to the technological structural change. Namely, those involved in the IT sector say that they are not worried about it. They believe that with the skills they possess, they will be fine as far as work is concerned.

Another point that came out of the survey in terms of generations is differences as to what they see as the long-term impact, and how they want to engage with the workforce. Prising explains how baby boomers generally would like to come back to the workplace and engage in the old ways of working as quickly as possible. On the other hand, the younger generation is equally interested in coming back because they have not had the opportunity to engage. Millennials and GenZ are much more reluctant for various reasons; particularly Millennials, because they have discovered the benefits of managing family, their lives, their children, and all kinds of things in a different way from what they really like. 

Finally, the third point relates to the gender difference between how eager men and women are to come back to work. Women are much less interested in coming back, which Prising thinks can be related to the need for child care and elder care, and the burden that the pandemic has put on women on top of what everybody else has been feeling.

This exclusive content is part of ‘The Future of Work: Lessons from the Trenches of Corporate America’ | Download the eBook

Future of Work: VUCA world, Technology, & The Need for a Tripartite Agreement

Discussion with Alain Dehaze (CEO, The Adecco Group)

Government must play an active role in facilitating the shift to a better world of work. It is imperative that policymakers work to help workers upgrade their skills and make capital investments to facilitate economic development of emerging industries.

Dehaze works with the ILO or the International Labor Organization, and they have recently released a year-long report on the future of work. There are more than 200 governments that are part of the International Labor Organization, and it was the centenary of the organization last year in June. The agenda of the ILO is to provide guidance on how organizations and governments can cope with the changes being brought about by AI and automation.

The agenda on upskilling and reskilling has been talked about across organizations, and Dehaze agrees that it is one of the most important topics for HR leaders across the world.

Jobs are changing, and the nature of accelerated digitization creates a demand for people who are conversant with new skills.  There is the question of “build vs buy” when it comes to talent with these new skills. According to a study commissioned by the General Assembly, a subsidiary of the Adecco Group: 

Research suggests that the cost of recruiting a mid-career software engineer (who earns $150,000-200,000 per year) can be $30,000 or more including recruitment fees, advertising, and recruiting technology expense. This new hire also requires onboarding and has a potential turnover of two to three times higher than an internal recruit. By contrast, the cost to train and reskill an internal employee may be $20,000 or less, saving as much as $116,000 per person over three years.

At the Choose France Summit in 2020, the Adecco Group announced its pledge to upskill and reskill 5 million people by 2030 to address the widening global skills gap. According to Dehaze, his company has made a major commitment to upskilling and reskilling to equip individuals with the skills of the future..

The interrelated developments when it comes to digitization, remote working, and diversifying the workforce can be challenging. However, according to Dehaze, it is also a great opportunity to design a better social contract that reflects a new set of expectations and lays down the responsibilities for people to share.

As companies redesign their internal policies to create a new type of leadership that will put the workers first and make their organizations more inclusive and socially responsible, governments need to ensure that the labor market will be primed for job creation. Dehaze urges government leaders to build a safety net for workers. The right way to do this is by incentivizing and supporting workers to maintain their relevance within the labor market. Policymakers should invest in economic development and worker employability, while helping businesses that struggle to survive. Protecting jobs that won’t be relevant in the future is unsustainable.

This exclusive content is part of ‘The Future of Work: Lessons from the Trenches of Corporate America’ | Download the eBook

Magnifying on Human Rights for a Better Future of Work

Discussion with Michael Posner (Professor, NYU Stern School of Business)

Work which is as fundamental to our lives as health care is a human right. Due to the massive technological disruptions on the horizon, governments need to understand the consequences of the 4th Industrial Revolution and support workers who are disintermediated from employment by these ongoing changes.

According to Professor Posner, work in the human rights world historically has been very focused on government abuses, and increasingly, in the last 25 years, it has become more and more obvious to him and other people that governments are often weak. Governments often do not have the ability, capacity, or resources to deal with the problems that our current world faces – Professor Posner calls this the governance gap:

We live in a world where the assumption is a bunch of governments sitting around the table. They have their flags and their placards.

When Professor Posner worked in the State Department, it was clear to him that the U.S. government, at least in the Obama administration, didn’t really have the tools to figure out how to regulate U.S. based companies. This led Professor Posner to create a unit in the State Department for looking at businesses and human rights. 

We face range of problems, such as the pandemic we are facing today and natural disasters. When you look at the global economy of GDP and revenue, and use that as a measure, half of the biggest economies in the world are not states; they are private companies.

The Universal Declaration lays out the basic obligations of states to protect their own people and the world community, and it makes sure that they do so. This is something that governments talk to each other about, but there is very little according to Professor Posner. He asks the question:

So, the question is, if this is now a subject that involves a broader set of actors, including the private sector, what do these standards mean for them?

Professor Posner believes that they should double back and make an effort to look at each industry and see the things that apply to this industry as well as how leaders can bring business to the table to refine those standards, to apply those standards, and build metrics and means of evaluation that businesses either live or die, and things they can measure.

Professor Posner believes that most of the industrial revolutions pose both great opportunities and challenges. The fourth Industrial Revolution of AI and Technology will pose probably the greatest opportunities and the greatest challenges so far in the world. The lives of the people have been changed in the way we work, learn, debate issues, and communicate with our families. All of that is enhanced by new technologies.

Future of work: the Biggest Challenges
Challenges of the workplace

At the same time, it is also causing great disruption, particularly in the subject of the changing nature of the workforce. This led to companies understandably looking for efficiencies, just like using a machine to produce something that 20 people can do. It’s faster, cheaper, and you may get a better product. It is logical for businesses to figure out how they can find machines that do work that is redundant and repetitive, allowing people to reach for more opportunities.

Governments need to think about how they can mitigate the risks and the damages, and make sure that they are holding firm to notions such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that people ought to have a decent life.

We’re going to live in a world where there’s more automation and more reliance on technology; where some people are going to be more easily re-trained if they lose a job. People will need to be smart about the tools available to them as part of their training, and leaders need to ensure that these people will have their core necessities taken care of. 

Professor Posner emphasizes that this responsibility falls both on governments and on private companies. There should be an honest discussion, along with transparency, about what’s going on and what’s at stake, and then combine what the government can do and what the private sector can do. 

Going back to one of his first points in the conversation, Professor Posner reiterates that there’s a governance gap, and the U.S. has one of them. This inevitably makes the private sector bear a greater share of their responsibility of the burden of trying to figure out how to move forward.

There are immense challenges on the horizon as the world or work evolves. These challenges have political as well as commercial implications. Governments must understand these changes and design policies to assist those who are certain to lose employment in the years ahead. Failure to do so will lead to a profound political backlash. Governments, businesses and workers must partner together democratically to develop solutions to profound changes in the way that we live and work.

This exclusive content is part of ‘The Future of Work: Lessons from the Trenches of Corporate America’ | Download the eBook