Does the Future of Work Mean More Agency for Workers?

This week, we look at a few of the macro trends shaping both the labor market today and the future of work — such as the Great Resignation and collective bargaining — and examine how tech-driven business has both brought them about and potentially given workers more freedom and leverage. We also consider what all of that means for you if you’re the one tasked with managing workers or leading a workplace forward, as well as what these trends might mean overall for humanity.

Guests this week include Giselle Mota, Christopher Mims, Dr. Rumman Chowdhury, Dr. Dorothea Baur, John C. Havens, and Vanessa Mason.

The Tech Humanist Show is a multi-media-format program exploring how data and technology shape the human experience. Hosted by Kate O’Neill.

To watch full interviews with past and future guests, or for updates on what Kate O’Neill is doing next, subscribe to The Tech Humanist Show hosted by Kate O’Neill channel on YouTube.

Full Transcript:

Kate: The global workforce is experiencing an unprecedented level of change. The Great Resignation may look like a direct result of the COVID Pandemic, but the drivers behind this large-scale trend come from deep-rooted and centuries-old issues in employer-employee dynamics that have been amplified by evolving technology.

So in this episode, we’re exploring the lessons we’ve learned from the technologization — the impact of technology on work, as well as how the changing work landscape is pushing people to crave and demand more agency over our work and our lives.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Giselle Mota, Principal Consultant on the Future of Work at ADP, who offered some insight into the emotional human factor behind these changes.

Giselle: “I think it’s more about us realizing that work is not all that we are. Some people have left their very high-paying roles because they had stress about it, or because they need to be at home caregiving, or now they have issues with their own healthcare or mental health that came up, and they’re prioritizing self over this idea of ‘I live to work I live to work I live to work,’ right? The value system of humanity globally has shifted a lot, and people have been reassessing, ‘how do I want to spend my time?’ ‘How do I want to live my life?’ Work should not be driving all of that, our lives should be driving work experience. The ability to think about choosing when you’re gonna work, ability to work from different places, how long is my work week, can I come in and out of my shifts throughout the day, can I work on projects, can I destructure and break down what work is and work at it my way? I think that’s what we’ve been seeing.”

Kate: Before we can fully understand why this is happening, we have to look at where we are and how we got here. Trends like the Great Resignation follow many years of jobs being automated or shipped overseas. Fewer people are needed to fill the remaining roles, so demand for workers in certain markets is disappearing, while in other markets, the supply of workers for a given job is so high that people aren’t paid a living wage. With the rise of the ‘gig economy,’ it’s becoming less clear what level of education is needed to attain a well-paying job that will still be around in 5 years.

Not that this is an entirely new phenomenon. Since at least the dawn of the industrial era, automation caused certain jobs to go out of favor while other jobs sprang up to fill the void. In the 21st century, with the advent of the Internet, algorithms, and ‘big data,’ this cycle has been significantly accelerated. More jobs have been “optimized” by technology to prioritize maximum efficiency over human well-being, which is part of what’s causing—as I talked about in our last episode—a global mental health crisis.

And while the overview sounds bad, there is good news. As long as we can stay open-minded to change, we can work together to design solutions that work for everyone. And if we can do that, the future of work has the potential to be much brighter than the realities of today.

To get there, we have to ask ourselves, what assumptions were made in the past to create the modern work environment, and which of those no longer serve us?

Rahaf: “If we’re gonna move to a more humane productivity mindset, we have to have some uncomfortable conversations about the role of work in our lives, the link between our identity and our jobs and our self-worth, our need for validation with social media and professional recognition, our egos…”

Kate: That’s Rahaf Harfoush, a Strategist, Digital Anthropologist, and Best-Selling Author who focuses on the intersections between emerging technology, innovation, and digital culture. You may have heard the extended version of this quote in our last episode, but her insight into how questioning our assumptions about work is playing into the changing work landscape felt equally relevant here.

Rahaf: “We really have to talk about, ‘growing up, what did your parents teach you about work ethic?’ how is that related to how you see yourself? Who are the people that you admire? You can start testing your relationship with work, and you start to see that we have built a relationship with work psychologically where we feel like if we don’t work hard enough, we’re not deserving. We don’t ever stop and say, ‘does this belief actually allow me to produce my best possible work, or is it just pushing me to a point where I’m exhausted and burnt out?”

Kate: Outside of our own personal assumptions about our relationship with work, there’s also the relationship businesses and technology have with us as consumers, and how their assumptions about what we want are equally problematic.

John: “I’ve read a lot of media, where there’s a lot of assumptions that I would call, if not arrogant, certainly dismissive, if not wildly rude… You’ll read an article that’s like, ‘This machine does X, it shovels! Because no one wants to shovel for a living’!”

Kate: That’s John C. Havens, Executive Director of the IEEE Global Initiative on Ethics of Autonomous and Intelligent Systems. Here he’s talking about the current belief held by a lot of the people creating modern technologies that everything can be automated, no matter the cost.

John: “We’ve all done jobs that, elements of it you really don’t like and wish could be automated, but usually that’s because you do the job long enough to realize, this part of my job I wish could be automated. I’ve done a lot of, y’know, camp counseling jobs for the summer where I was outside, y’know I was doing physical labor… it was awesome! That said, you know, I was like, ‘this is great for what it was, I kind of don’t want to do this for my whole life.’ Yeah, a lot of people would not be like, ‘give me 40 years of shoveling!’ But the other thing there that I really get upset about when I read some of those articles is what if, whatever the job is, insert job X, is how someone makes their living? Then it’s not just a value judgment of the nature of the labor itself, but is saying, from the economic side of it, it’s justified to automate anything that can be automated, because someone can make money from it outside of what that person does to make money for them and their family. We have to have a discussion about, y’know, which jobs might go away. Why is that not brought up? It’s because there’s the assumption, at all times, that the main indicator of success is exponential growth. And a lot of my work is to say, I don’t think that’s true.”

In many ways, our society has failed to question the assumption ‘if something can be automated, automate it.’ But as the great Ian Malcolm said in Jurassic Park, “your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” While automation of jobs is frequently thought of in a manufacturing context, more and more we’re seeing automating creep into other areas as well, like decision-making and workplace management. The same factories where machines are replacing physical human labor have now been optimized to replace human thought labor and managers as well.

Christopher Mims, tech columnist at the Wall Street Journal and author of Arriving Today, on how everything gets from the factory to our front door, calls this phenomenon “Bezosism.”

Christopher: “Bezosism, it’s like the modern-day version of Taylorism or Fordism… the bottom line is, this is how you optimize the repetitive work that people do. This isn’t just Amazon, Amazon is just the tip of the sphere. Amazon is the best at doing this, but every other company that can is trying to do the same thing: make workers more productive by managing them with software and algorithms, kind of whatever the consequence is. Emily Gindelsberger talks about how, whether it’s an Amazon warehouse, or any fast-food restaurant you can name, or a call center… all of these places are now managed by algorithm, and the workers are monitored by software. Instead of a boss telling them to work faster, it’s the software cracking the whip and being like, ‘you’re not working fast enough, you need to pick packages faster’ in this Amazon warehouse, or ‘you need to flip burgers faster’ if you work at a McDonald’s. But this is becoming the dominant way that work is organized if you don’t have a college degree, if you’re an hourly worker. You know, the whole phenomenon of the gig economy, the rise of part-time work, subcontracting, the so-called ‘fissured workplace’—all of that is, as one person put it, do you work above the API, like, are you a knowledge worker who’s creating these systems? Or do you work below the API, where, what’s organizing your work and your life—it’s a piece of software! I mean, it’s designed by humans, but your boss is an algorithm. And that is becoming, other than wealth and income inequality, one of the defining characteristics of, almost a neo-feudalism, ‘cause it’s like, ‘hey! we’ve figured out how to organize labor at scale, and extract the most from people and make them work as efficiently as possible… we’ll just let the software do it!’”

Kate: The acceleration of this style of management is a big part of the driver pushing people to question our assumptions about work and begin to demand more agency. If you’ve been following my work for a while, you’ve heard me say, “the economy is people”, and that means we can’t talk about the future of work without talking about the future of the worker. The idea that people, especially those doing what is considered ‘unskilled’ labor, have little agency over how they work isn’t new. AI may have exacerbated the issue, but the problem goes back as far as labor itself. Labor unions arose in the early 19th century in an attempt to level the playing field and allow workers to express their needs and concerns, but as we’ve seen with the recent Starbucks and Amazon unionization stories, the battle for human rights and agency in the workplace is far from decided.

And it isn’t just factories and assembly lines—it’s happening in every industry. In the tech industry, there’s a subset of people known as “Ghost Workers,” a term created by anthropologist Mary L. Gray and computer scientist Siddharth Suri to describe the usually underpaid and unseen workers doing contract work or content moderation. They frequently work alone, don’t interact with one another, and often aren’t even aware who they’re working for, so the idea of collective bargaining feels farther out of reach.

Dorothea Baur, a leading expert & advisor in Europe on ethics, responsibility, and sustainability across industries such as finance, technology, and beyond, explains some of the human rights issues at play in this phenomenon.

Dorothea: “If you look at heavily industrialized contexts or like, heavy manufacturing, or like, textile industry, the rights we talk about first are like the human rights of labor, health and safety, etc. But I mean, trade unions have come out of fashion awhile ago, a lot of companies don’t really like to talk about trade unions anymore. So when we switch to AI you think, ‘oh, we’re in the service industry, it’s not labor intensive,’ but the human factor is still there. Certainly not blue collar employees, at least not within the own operations of tech companies, and also maybe not as many white collar employees, in relation to their turnover as in other contexts, but there’s a lot of people linked to tech companies or to AI, often invisible. We have those Ghost Workers, gig economy, or people doing low-payed work of tagging pictures to train algo—uh, data sets, etc., so there is a labor issue, a classical one, that’s really a straightforward human rights case there.”

Kate: Algorithms have worked their way into the systems that manage most of our industries, from factory workers to police to judges. It’s more than just “work faster,” too. These algorithms are making decisions as important as where and how many police should be deployed, as well as whether bail should be set, and at what amount. The logical (but not necessarily inevitable) extreme of this way of thinking is that all decisions will be relegated to algorithms and machines. But if people with the ability to make decisions continue to give these types of decisions to machines, we continue to lose sight of the human in the equation. What little decision making power the workers had before is being taken away and given to AI; little by little, human agency is being stripped away. The question then becomes, what if an algorithm tells a worker to do something they think is wrong? Will they have the freedom to question the algorithm, or is the output absolute?

Dr. Rumman Chowdhury, Director of the Machine Learning Ethics, Transparency, and Accountability team at Twitter, elaborates.

Rumman: “So if we’re talking about, for example, a recommendation system to help judges decide if certain prisoners should get bail or not get bail, what’s really interesting is not just how this affects the prisoner, but also the role of the judge in sort of the structure of the judicial system, and whether or not they feel the need to be subject to the output of this model, whether they have the agency to say, ‘I disagree with this.’ A judge is a position of high social standing, they’re considered to be highly educated… if there’s an algorithm and it’s telling them something that they think is wrong, they may be in a better position to say, ‘I disagree, I’m not going to do this,’ versus somebody who is let’s say an employee, like a warehouse employee, at Amazon, or somebody who works in retail at a store where your job is not necessarily considered to be high prestige, and you may feel like your job is replaceable, or worse, you may get in trouble if you’re not agreeing with the output of this model. So, thinking about this system that surrounds these models that could actually be a sort of identically structured model, but because of the individual’s place in society, they can or cannot take action on it.”

Kate: The jury — if you’ll pardon the expression — is still out on these questions, but we do know that in the past, worker agency was a key element in the success of our early systems. In fact, in the early days of creating the assembly line, human agency was fundamental to the success of those systems.

Christopher Mims again.

Christopher: “The Toyota production system was developed in a context of extreme worker agency, of complete loyalty between employer and employee, lifelong employment in Japan, and workers who had the ability to stop the assembly line the instant they noticed that something was not working, and were consulted on all changes to the way that they work. Honestly, most companies in the US cannot imagine functioning in this way, and they find it incredibly threatening to imagine their hourly workers operating this way, and that’s why they all—even ‘employee-friendly’ Starbucks—uses all these union busting measures, and Amazon loves them… because they just think, ‘oh, god, the worst thing in the world would be if our ‘lazy’ employees have some say over how they work. It’s nonsense, right? There’s an entire continent called Europe where worker counsels dictate how innovations are incorporated. You know, that’s how these things work in Germany, but we have just so destroyed the ability of workers to organize, to have any agency… Frankly, it is just disrespectful, it’s this idea that all this labor is “unskilled,” that what you learn in this jobs has no real value… I think companies, they’re just in this short term quarter-to-quarter mentality, and they’re not thinking like, ‘how are we building a legacy? How do we retain employees, and how do we make productivity compatible with their thriving and happiness?’ They all give lip service to this, but if you push as hard as Starbucks for instance against a labor union, honestly you’re just lying.”

Kate: Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, Unions were an imperfect but necessary solution to ensuring workers had access to rights, freedoms, and safety in certain workplaces. According to a 2020 report from the Economic Policy Institute, Unionized workers earn on average 11.2% more in wages than nonunionized peers, and Black and Hispanic workers get an even larger boost from unionization. However, it looks like the changing nature of work is changing unionization as well. Unlike the Great Depression, which expanded the reach of labor unions, the Great Recession may have ushered in a period of de-unionization in the public sector. From the 1970s to today, the percentage of U.S. workers in a union has fallen from 25 to just 11.7 percent. In a piece of good news for Amazon employees in New York, they successfully voted for a union in their workplace on April 4th of this year, marking the first victory in a years-long battle for Amazon employee rights and agency.

Looking forward, it’s hard to say whether unions will be the best solution to worker woes. As more jobs become automated and fewer humans are needed in the workplace, there may be a time when there are only a few employees in a given department, which makes it harder to organize and empower collective bargaining. At the same time, being the only person working in your department may in fact give you more power to influence decisions in your workplace, as Christopher Mims explains.

Christopher: “If you reduce the number of humans that work in a facility, it’s like a tautology—the ones that remain are more important! Because in the old days, you could hire thousands of longshoreman to unload a ship, if one of them didn’t show up, like, who cares? But if you’re talking about a professional, today, longshoreman who’s making in excess of 6 figures, has these incredibly specialized skills, knows how to operate a crane that can lift an 80,000 lb. shipping container off of a building-size ship, and safely put it on the back of a truck without killing anybody—that person doesn’t show up to work, you just lost, y’know, a tenth of your productivity for that whole terminal that day. This is also an example of this tension between, like, it’s great that these are good-paying blue-collar jobs, there aren’t that many left in America, however, their negotiating power is also why the automation of ports has really been slowed. So that is a real genuine tension that has to be resolved.”

Kate: So far in this episode, we’ve talked a lot about factory workers and the types of jobs that frequently unionize, but the future of work encompasses everyone on the work ladder. In the past, all of the problems regarding lack of worker agency has applied to ‘white collar’ jobs as well. The modern office workplace evolved in tandem with factories, and the assumptions about how work should be organized are just as present there.

Vanessa: “Our work environments, with who was involved with it and how they were constructed, is something that has been done over a long period of time. And the people who have been involved in that who are not White men, who are not sort of property owners, who are not otherwise wealthy, is a really short timeline.”

Kate: That’s Vanessa Mason, research director for the Institute for the Future’s Vantage Partnership. Here she’s explaining how workplace culture evolved from a factory mindset—and mostly by the mindset of a particular subgroup of people. Offices may feel like very different places from factories, but when you look at the big picture, the organizational structures are guided by many of the same ideas.

Vanessa: “I think that a lot of organizations and offices are fundamentally sort of command and control, kind of top-down hierarchies, unfortunately. You know, the sort of, ‘the manager does this! Accountability only goes one direction! There’s a low level of autonomy depending on what level you are in the chart!’ All of those treat humans like widgets. I think that we have to keep in mind that history and that experience, like I still bring that experience into the workplace—basically, I’m in a workplace that was not designed for me, it’s not meant for me to succeed, it’s not meant for me to even feel as socially safe and as comfortable. There’s a lot of research about psychological safety in teams. Like, our teams are not meant to be psychologically safe, they’re set up to basically be office factories for us to sort of churn out whatever it is that we’re doing in an increasingly efficient manner, productivity is off the charts, and then you receive a paycheck for said efforts. And it’s only right now (especially in the pandemic) that people are sort of realizing that organizational culture 1) is created, and 2) that there’s an organizational that people didn’t realize that they were kind of unintentionally creating. And then 3) if you want your organizational culture to be something other than what it is, you need to collectively decide, and then implement that culture. All of those steps require a sort of precondition of vulnerability and curiosity which people are really frightened to do, and they’re trying to escape the sort of harder longer work of negotiating for that to occur.”

Kate: And that’s what’s needed from our managers and leaders as we navigate to a brighter future of work: vulnerability and curiosity. The vulnerability to admit that things could be better, and the curiosity to explore new ways of structuring work to allow more room for agency and decision-making to bring out the best in everyone. If the idea of a union sounds scary or expensive, perhaps there are other ways to allow employees the have more agency over how they work. A world in flux means there’s still room to test new solutions.

Lately, one of the changes business leaders have tried to make to their organizations is to bring in more diversity of workers. Women, people of color, neurodivergent minds, and people with disabilities have all been given more opportunities than they have in the past, but as Giselle Mota explains, just bringing those people into the workplace isn’t enough.

Giselle: “I read a study recently that was talking about, even though a lot of diverse people have been hired and promoted into leadership roles, they’re leaving anyway. They don’t stick around an organization. Why is that? Because no matter what the pay was, no matter what the opportunity was, some of them are realizing, this was maybe just an effort to check off a box, but the culture doesn’t exist here where I truly belong, where I’m truly heard, where I want to bring something to the forefront and something’s really being done about it. And again it has nothing to do with technology or innovation, we have to go back to very human, basic elements. Create that culture first, let people see that they have a voice, that what they say matters, it helps influence the direction of the company, and then from there you can do all these neat things.”

Kate: If you’re managing a workplace that has functioned one way for a long time, it may not be intuitive to change it to a model that is more worker agency-driven. How can you change something you may not even be aware exists? Vanessa Mason has a few tips for employers on what they can do to help bring about a new workplace culture.

Vanessa: “And so what you can do, is really fundamentally listening! So, more spaces at all hands for employees to share what their experience has been, more experience to share what it is like to try to get to know co-workers. You know, anything that really just surfaces people’s opinions and experiences and allows themselves to be heard—by everyone, I would say, also, too. Not just have one team do that and then the senior leadership just isn’t involved in that at all. The second thing is to have some kind of spaces for shared imagination. Like all the sort of popular team retreats that are out there, but you certainly could do this asynchronously, at an event, as part of a celebration. Celebrating things like, y’know, someone has had a child, someone’s gotten married, someone’s bought a house—all of those things are sort of core to recognizing the pace and experience of being human in this world that aren’t just about work and productivity. And then some way of communicating how you’re going to act upon what you’re hearing and what people are imagining, too. There’s a bias towards inaction in most organizations, so that’s something that certainly senior leadership should talk about: ‘How do we think about making changes, knowing that we’re going to surface some changes from this process?’ Being transparent, being accountable… all of those sort of pieces that go along with good change management.”

Kate: A 2021 paper in the Journal of Management echoes these ideas, stating that communication between employers and their workers need to be authentic, ongoing, and two-directional, meaning that on top of listening to employee concerns, managers also needed to effectively communicate their understanding of those concerns as well as what they intended to do about them. A professional services firm analyzing a company’s internal messaging metadata was able to predict highly successful managers by finding people who communicated often, responded quickly, and were action-oriented. Of course another thing many workplaces have been trying, especially in the wake of the COVID pandemic, is allowing employees to work remotely.

Giselle Mota again.

Giselle: “I think all we’re seeing is we’re just reimagining work, the worker, and workplace. Now that the pandemic happened, we learned from like Zoom, ‘wait a minute, I can actually work remotely, and still learn and produce and be productive, on a video!’ But now, we can add layers of experience to it, and if you so choose to, you can now work in a virtual environment… people are flattening out the playing field. Companies that used to be die-hard ‘you have to work here in our office, you have to be here located right next door to our vicinity,’ now they’ve opened it up and they’re getting talent from across the pond, across the globe, from wherever! And it’s creating new opportunities for people to get into new roles.”

Kate: Although COVID and Zoom accelerated a lot of things, the idea of people working from home instead of the office isn’t actually a new one. AT&T experimented with employees working from home back in 1994, exploring how far an organization could transform the workplace by moving the work to the worker instead of the other way around. Ultimately, they freed up around $550M in cash flow by eliminating no longer needed office space. AT&T also reported increases in worker productivity, ability to retain talent, and the ability to avoid sanctions like zoning rules while also meeting Clear Air Act requirements.

As remote work on a massive scale is a relatively new phenomenon, the research is still ongoing as to how this will affect long-term work processes and human happiness. It is notable that working remotely is far less likely to be an option the farther you drop down the income ladder. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 9.2% of workers in the bottom quartile of wage-earners have the ability to work remotely. The availability also varies depending on the job you’re doing, with education, healthcare, hospitality, agriculture, retail, and transportation among the least-able to work remotely, and finance and knowledge workers among the most-able.

Because we aren’t entirely sure whether remote work is the best long-term solution, it’s worth looking at other ways to attract high-value workers—and keep them around. One idea? Invest in career planning. Technology is making it easier than ever for employers to work with their employees to plan for a future within the company. AI has made it possible to forecast roles that the company will need in the future, so rather than scramble to fill that role when the time comes, employers can work with a current or prospective employee to help prepare them for the job.

In my conversation with Giselle Mota, she explored this idea further.

Giselle: “A lot of companies are now able to start applying analytics and forecast and plan, ‘okay, if this is a role for the future, maybe it doesn’t exist today, and maybe this person doesn’t yet have all the qualifications for this other role. But, they expressed to us an interest in this area, they expressed certain qualifications that they do have today, and now AI can help, and data can help to match and help a human, you know, talent acquisition person, career developer, or manager, to help guide that user to say, ‘this is where you are today, this is where you want to be, so let’s map out a career plan to help you get to where you should be’.”

Kate: She went on to explain that employers don’t need to think about jobs so rigidly, and rather than looking for one perfect person to fill a role, you can spread the tasks around to help prepare for the future.

Giselle: “I was talking to someone the other day who was saying, ‘y’know, we have trouble finding diverse leadership within our organization and bringing them up,’ and I was talking to them and saying, ‘break down a job! Let people be able to work on projects to be able to build up their skillset. Maybe they don’t have what it takes today, fully, on paper to be what you might be looking for, but maybe you can give them exposure to that, and help them from the inside of your organization to take on those roles.”

Kate: All of these changes to work and the workplace mean that a lot of office workers can demand more from their jobs. Rather than settle for something nearby with a rigid schedule, people can choose a job that fits their lifestyle.

As more of these jobs are automated, we are hopefully heading for an age where people who were relegated to the so-called “unskilled” jobs will be able to find careers that work for them. Because it is more than the workplace that is changing, it’s also the work itself. I asked Giselle what types of jobs we might see in the future, and she had this to say.

Giselle: “As we continue to explore the workplace, the worker, and the work that’s being done, as digital transformation keeps occurring, we keep forming new roles. But we also see a resurgence and reemergence of certain roles taking more importance than even before. For example, leadership development is on the rise more than ever. Why? Because if you look at the last few years and the way that people have been leaving their workplaces, and going to others and jumping ship, there’s a need for leaders to lead well. Officers of diversity have been created in organizations that never had it before because the way the world was going, people had to start opening up roles like that when they didn’t even have a department before. As we move into more virtual experiences, we need creators. We’re seeing organizations, big technology organizations, people who enable virtual and video interactions are creating layers of experience that need those same designers and that same talent—gamers and all types of creators—to now come into their spaces to help them start shaping the future of what their next technology offerings are gonna look like. Before, if you used to be into photography or graphic design or gaming or whatever, now there’s space for you in these organizations that probably specialize in human capital management, social management… To give you a quick example, Subway! Subway opened up a virtual space and they allowed an employee to man a virtual store, so you could go virtually, into a Subway, order a subway sandwich down the line like you’re there in person, and there’s someone that’s actually manning that. That’s a job. And apart from all of that side of the world, we need people to manage, we need legal counsel, we need people who work on AI and ethics and governance—data scientists on the rise, roles that are about data analytics… When Postmates came out and they were delivering to people’s homes or wherever it was, college campuses, etc., with a robot, the person who was making sure that robot didn’t get hijacked, vandalized, or whatever the case is—it was a human person, a gamer, it was a young kid working from their apartment somewhere, they could virtually navigate that robot so that if it flipped over on its side or whatever, it would take manual control over it, set it right back up, and find it and do whatever it needed to do. So that’s an actual role that was created.”

Kate: While many people fear that as jobs disappear, people will have to survive without work — or rather, without the jobs that provide them with a livelihood, an income, a team to work with, and a sense of contribution — the more comforting truth is that we’ve always found jobs to replace the ones that went out of fashion. When cars were invented, the horse-and-buggy business became far less profitable, but those workers found something else to do. We shouldn’t be glib or dismissive about the need individual workers will have for help in making career transitions, but in the big picture, humans are adaptable, and that isn’t something that looks like it will be changing any time soon.

Giselle: “Where we’re seeing the direction of work going right now, people want to have more agency over how they work, where they work, themselves, etc. I think people want to own how they show up in the world, people want to own more of their financial abilities, they want to keep more of their pay… If you just wade through all of the buzzwords that are coming out lately, people want to imagine a different world of work. The future of work should be a place where people are encouraged to bring their true full selves to the table, and that they’re heard. I think we’ve had way too much of a focus on customer experience because we’re trying to drive profitability and revenue, but internally, behind the scenes, that’s another story that we really need to work on.”

Kate: The more aware we are of the way things are changing, the better able we are to prepare for the future we want. Even in the face of automation and constantly-evolving technologies, humans are adaptable. One thing that won’t be changing any time soon? Workers aren’t going to stop craving agency over their jobs and their lives, and employers aren’t going to stop needing to hire talented and high-value employees to help their businesses thrive. Hopefully you’ve heard a few ideas in this episode of ways to lean into the change and make your business, or your life, a little bit better.

Even more hopeful is the possibility that, after so much disruption and uncertainty, we may be entering a moment where more people at every stage of employment feel more empowered about their work: freer to express their whole selves in the workplace, and able to do work that is about more than paying the bills. That’s a trend worth working toward.

Thank you so much for joining me this week on The Tech Humanist Show. In our next episode, I’m talking about why it behooves businesses to focusing on the human experience of buying their product or service, rather than the customer experience. I’ll see you then.

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