Josh Bersin HR Tech World about the future of work
Josh Bersin speaking at HR Tech World. Image: HR Tech World

Josh Bersin: Are you able to adapt for the future of work?

2 Nov 2017

Global HR thought leader Josh Bersin discusses automation, work-life balance and what the future of work really holds for us.

The arrival of the future of work is certainly not a secret. Indeed, many thought leaders have been warning us about it for a while now and it has become one of the hottest topics, especially when it comes to automation and jobs.

While some of it is starting to sound familiar – such as whether or not robots will take our jobs, or the soft skills we might need to adapt – the future is and always will be largely unknown.

This element of the unknown will always be a hot topic and, for those that deal heavily in the world of work, such as HR professionals, knowing what to expect in the future is essential.

So, it’s no surprise that the future of work was strongly discussed and debated at HR Tech World, now known as Unleash, in Amsterdam in October. sat down with one of its headline speakers, HR expert and global thought leader Josh Bersin, to discuss not only the well-known trends of the future of work, but also the ones to which we haven’t given enough thought.

“We’re living longer, so we’re going to have a workforce that’s going to span in ages from 18 to 80 within the next decade,” he said.

“That will, to some degree, alleviate the problem of a reduced birth rate in some countries, but it also means that organisations are going to have to figure out how to build jobs and career models that allow people to transition through different phases of their career.”

Bersin is the principal and founder of Bersin by Deloitte, a leading provider of research-based membership programmes in human resources. He said that while most of us are aware of the automation trend, many don’t think about the implications of an older workforce.

“Let’s say you work for 70 years. Most companies don’t survive on the S&P 500 for more than 15 years. So, there’s a very high probability that the company you’re in is going to change, the career you’re in is going to change and the job you’re in is going to change,” he said.

How automation will change jobs

Bersin addressed one of the most common topics around the future of work: will automation put me out of work? “Automation is, in most cases, not doing away with job; it is changing jobs, and I think most people know that now.”

He said automation will reduce the value of certain jobs and raise the value of others. “The jobs that are being reduced in value are the jobs that are more routine,” he said. “Jobs that can be automated on a routine basis are getting automated so they’re being replaced with what we call hybrid jobs: jobs where your role is more complex.”

Giving recruiters as an example, Bersin said that the work that goes into contacting candidates, screening people and talking to them on the phone can be done by a chatbot.

“What the recruiter does now is get candidates that are much more qualified and then sells them on the company. So now, you’ve gone from a relatively routine screening job to a sales job,” he said. “A sales job is a different set of skills, it pays more, but you have to be trained to be in a different role.”

Future jobs will not only be in tech

“If you look at the economy globally, only eight to 10pc of jobs are actually programming software, building machines and engineering,” said Bersin.

“Everybody thinks that all the jobs of the future are going to be software engineering. That’s only eight to 10pc of the workforce. The rest of the workforce uses the stuff that all those guys built.”

He said preparing for the future of work and for tomorrow’s jobs is about learning to adapt, not simply going back to retrain in a technology discipline.

‘There’s research that shows that women are going to be more successful in the jobs of the future than men’

“Most of the trends show that the jobs of the future are more human and less routine,” he said. “All of the jobs that are going up in value are jobs where you’re relating to people as human beings.”

Bersin also indicated that, despite current gender inequality, the skills and roles that will go up in value will be the ones that play to the strengths of women.

“There’s research that shows that women are going to be more successful in the jobs of the future than men because a lot of these jobs are traditionally roles where women outperform men,” he explained.

Another major trend in the future of work is the rise of the freelance workforce. “Most companies are going to have to let go of their traditional thinking that everybody has to be a full-time employee,” said Bersin.

He also said that while companies are starting to realise the importance of the gig economy, he doesn’t believe they have successfully come up with a model. “Even for a company like Deloitte, we don’t really outsource consulting, which is a problem,” he said. “We can’t take five years to train people all the time.”

The battle for work-life balance

During his presentation in Amsterdam, Bersin revealed a worrying statistic: 40pc of Americans have accepted that they can’t have both a successful career and a good work-life balance.

That means that almost half of the workforce believe that they must sacrifice a healthy work-life balance to be successful at work and, unfortunately, trends thus far have yet to prove them wrong.

“One of the unfortunate things is that work has not gotten easier,” said Bersin. “You would have hoped that with all these tools, things would have been easier. Actually, the opposite is true: people are spending more time working, they’re distracted, they’re getting more messages in more places.”

 ‘I think people in their 20s and 30s are basically saying, “I’m not putting up with this”’

However, Bersin was optimistic about the future of work, saying that the younger generations are rebelling against this notion and putting more focus on their own wellbeing.

“I think there’s a pushback; I think people in their 20s and 30s are basically saying, ‘I’m not putting up with this.’”

Another somewhat grim statistic was from a Deloitte study that surveyed 70,000 millennials, which revealed that 65-70pc of respondents believe their economic life will be less fortunate than their parents.

“[Millennials] grew up in an environment where their parents went through the 2008 recession; they grew up in an environment where income inequality and global warming and energy were topics. They grew up with social media, so they expect transparency. They’re not being selfish, they just expect it because that’s the life they lived.”

He mentioned that one of the companies he spoke to at the conference said it was giving its employees half-promotions twice as often. “At least then they feel like they’re getting ahead instead of waiting a year or two years. Most millennials aren’t going to wait that long.”

The future of work salaries

When it comes to those promotions and salary increases, be it in annual reviews or otherwise, there are plenty of different models out there at the moment.

Some operate on scales, while others are based on years at the company combined with experience. One model that I found particularly interesting belongs to Reddit, which has set salaries and a no-negotiation policy.

“I don’t think that’s going to work over the long run,” said Bersin when I asked him about it. “If I’m delivering twice as much value as the person sitting next to me, I’m not going to stick around if we’re both making the same amount of money.”

When asked which way he thinks salary models will go, Bersin said it will lean away from the idea of set salary scales and more towards specific, individual salaries.

“I think we’re going to reach a world where everybody’s compensation is exclusive to them and you’re going to get paid what you’re worth.”

‘If you’re in a role that has a declining value, deal with it’

In a world where negotiating your own salary is the key to a bigger bonus and everyone’s salary is exclusive and perhaps private to them, will this worsen the gender pay gap? Bersin doesn’t think so, due to the volume of data that will be out there.

“If you’re a woman in a job where a man is making more than you are, you’re going to have the data to go to your boss and say, ‘I don’t accept this. And if you don’t fix it, I’m going to write an article and put it on my blog.’”

He also said that compensation will become less about the pay cheque alone and more about other benefits that complement a strong work-life balance.

“Some people don’t want as much money, they want more time off. Some people want less time off and more money,” he said. “Those are going to become more configurable benefits than just the standard salary that everyone gets.”

The key takeaway Bersin wants everyone to know is to be aware of the value of their skills, and to upskill if necessary. “If you’re in a role that has a declining value, deal with it.”

Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the editor of Silicon Republic in 2023, having worked as the deputy editor since February 2020. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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