People have been talking about the future of work for decades, and it’s always an interesting, controversial, and complicated topic. Well, this week I spoke at a very unique event in Europe that gives us new ideas how to address this large and complex issue.
This event, hosted by H. M. King Willem Alexander, H. M. Queen Maxima, and H. R. H. Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands, brought together more than 150 invited guests from industry, government, labor, and the public sector. It was organized by Janine Vos, the CHRO of Rabobank.
The goal of this symposium was to discuss the big issues we all face by the future of work: jobs, wages, unemployment, income inequality, and how businesses and governments collaborate in the future. At the direction of Queen Maxima, the event focused new ideas, big problems, and changemaker strategies.
My keynote focused on the five issues employers face in the future, and I was accompanied by Lynda Gratton, professor at London Business School, who spoke about the individual’s role in the future of work.
The five issues I discussed were the role of automation, the changing nature of jobs, the disruptive nature of hybrid work, the need for diversity, and the new, human-centric role of leadership. Lynda discussed her work on the hundred-year life, and how lives and societies are changing from longevity and a reduction in the birth rate.
But perhaps the most interesting discussion of all, was our third speaker: Dr. Kim Putters, who challenged us to “change the game.” And this is the topic I’d like to briefly discuss.
As Dr. Putters explained, the future of work is really the future of society. We, as collective business leaders and policy makers, have to decide what kind of future we want. The Netherlands, for example, faces high levels of underemployment, childhood depression, and income inequality like almost every other developed country in the world. This nation has also experienced high levels of immigration, and feels challenged to create diversity and inclusion at all levels of society. (Transcript here.)
Does this sound familiar?
Every country faces these issues today, and we can no longer expect our political institutions to “fix them” overnight. We, as business people, HR leaders, entrepreneurs, and professionals, must create a future of work that is balanced, equitable, healthy, and inclusive. We must design our companies to pay people fairly, prevent bias based on degree or education, and create opportunities for everyone.
I am reminded of the Guild Opportunity Summit I attended in October. That entire event became a celebration and problem solving session, showing companies how they can raise people up in the workplace, give people new career pathways, and create growth in a company without the cost and complexity of over-hiring based on credentials.
The King and Queen of The Netherlands understand how complex this problem has become. As I talked with them we discussed how technology, demographics, culture, and public policy must come together to foster new ideas for inclusive growth, wellbeing, and economic success.
The Value Of Open Discussion
By bringing this diverse group together, we explored and discussed many important issues.
Should the country create forced government service for young people? Should University degrees be so highly valued in the society? How can young people, who feel left behind by inflation, gain traction and a sense of confidence as jobs continue to change? And how can those in small businesses (The Netherlands has more than 80% of its workforce employed in small companies) invest in education, wage growth, and human capital investment? Should industry groups team together to share talent and resources? Should universities partner with local companies to change their curricula? Should The Netherlands consider rules like Denmark, where unemployed must attend classes in order to receive unemployment checks?
These issues are hard to solve in a traditional democracy, and they force discussion between young and old, labor and management, business and public sector leaders.
This seven-hour meeting, hosted by the King and Queen, brought these stakeholders together. And while the political process is slow, I believe many important conversations took place. I saw policy makers talk with business leaders and NGOs, discussing ways that low-income workers could be retrained or revitalized through education and apprenticeship. Entrepreneurs described new models of hiring, encouraging large companies to be more flexible. And dozens of good ideas emerged.
The Future of Work is not a book or a speech, it is a set of values-based decisions, many of which we make every day.
Should we raise wages to help people improve their standard of living? Should we lay people off indiscriminately or give them a lifeline to their new job? Should we invest in more internal mobility, job sharing, and flexible work for mothers, older workers, and those with disabilities?
We, as HR and business leaders, make these decisions all the time. And with each decision, as small as it seems, we change the nature of our communities and our society in a profound and important manner. So let me leave you with that thought. Every decision you make about your team, your workforce, or your company, is a “statement” about the future of work.
Go thoughtfully into the coming year, we will face many interesting challenges. If we talk about these issues together with all our stakeholders, we can make the future of work better for everyone.
Speech by Professor Kim Putters
Speech by Professor Lynda Gratton
Speech by Mr. Josh Bersin