New Work: New Work in the Age of Digitalization

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Kai Gondlach

What is actually behind the concept of “New Work“? What does new work mean to you as a recruiter, entrepreneur or employee? A quick ride through the beautiful new world of work.


As it should be for a pseudo-scientific contribution, I would first like to define the term. Because I want to bet that your idea of New Work is different from mine and probably also than that of your employees or colleagues.

After all: The search term “New Work” provides more than 100,000 results on Amazon, with you will find 39 German-language books and 3522 English. Buckle up: We enter #Neuland!

Origin: New Work by Miner

The concept of New Work has its roots in the USA and was developed by the American-Born Frithjof Bergmann in Saxony as early as the 1980s. Bergmann viewed the developments of capitalist and communist economies critically. When a severe recession hit the automotive city of Flint, Michigan, he founded the first Center for New Labor there. Its aim was to prepare people for the expected collapse of the traditional economic world. It was not until 2004 that Bergmann published his ideas in the book “New Work, New Culture“.

Bergmann’s three central theses are based on increasing automation and globalization. He projected these two megatrends into the future and came to the conclusion that traditional wage labour was not a viable concept for the economy.

  1. As a result, bergmann felt it obvious to significantly reduce working time, because after all, not enough work would be available for all people in a geographical area.
  2. These people would produce their own goods for everyday use in high-tech production and make them freely available to everyone in networks.
  3. A strong normative component criticized the abundance of the consumer society, which is why a large part of the goods and goods of daily life are anyway superfluous, according to Bergmann’s reasoning. The approach was, of course, revolutionary at the time and was scuttled as anarchic. In the end, however, this also sounds very nice, if not utopian, because the freed-up time should fill people in the beautiful, new world of work with what they like to do and do best. Many more people would be artistic or sporty or musical or floristic or, or, or… to be active. Voluntarily.

German Adaptation: New Work by Markus Väth

Although the first signs of a change in the world of work became increasingly apparent at the latest since the turn of the millennium, it took until 2016 for a comparable standard work for the new world of work to appear. The psychologist and computer scientist Markus Väth called his extended and updated concept “work – the most beautiful side thing in the world“. Väth defined five dimensions of New Work:

  1. Psychological dimension: Similar to Bergmann, for Väth, work serves a purpose for man, not the other way around. The development of the individual should be at the heart of the world of work.
  2. Social dimension: In the profession, more or less intentional interpersonal relationships inevitably arise. In the new world of work, more and more teamwork is taking place, modern management concepts in turn distribute the decision-making power quasi-democraticly on several shoulders of the employees.
  3. Technological dimension: After the great wave of automation in the 20th In the 19th century, digitization is now on the way. The aim of this change is, of course, to increase the efficiency of companies or to Organisations that inevitably lead to changes in personnel requirements planning (maximum objectively formulated).
  4. Organizational dimension: In times of Taylorism, the rigid hierarchical forms of organization prevailed with clear lines and top-down decision-making logic. This type of organization gives way to an increasingly agile, network-like organizational organization, which also leaves room for (partially) autonomous teams and “unconventional” bottom-up decision-making paths.
  5. Political dimension: This dimension finally includes external policy, which must adapt the framework conditions for health, social justice, wage levels and health and safety more quickly to current circumstances. This requirement naturally addresses the political executive, in particular the Federal Government and the Federal Ministries (in particular the Ministries of Economic Affairs, Labour and Social Affairs, Justice and Finance).
    Markus Väth blogs about New Work and, in an entertaining article at the end of May 2019, confirmed to German politics that New Work is also #neuland for them.

New Definition New Work

In a bachelor’s thesis (see sources) i.m., the author has developed what I believe to be a good new definition of new work based on a qualitative expert survey in 2019:

“New Work is a new form of work that focuses on the self-realization of the individual in the work process and whose [!]designation of origin goes back to the philosopher Frithjof Bergmann. Thus, New Work is a counter-example to the classical, linear, hierarchical form of organization and work in which man is perceived as a means of production. New Work is more than just a way of working, but has an impact on the form of organization. However, New Work is not a uniform school of thought, but can be individually applied to companies and employees in terms of fields of work, coexistence and work results – both in terms of their usefulness and their social added value. be aligned.”

Excursus: Industrial Revolution(s)

We all agree that technological progress has an impact on our understanding of work. After all, most workers in Germany will still carry a faster computer in their pocket with their smartphones in 2019 and use more accessible offers than would be possible or allowed in their work PC. In the world of work, digitalization or the fourth industrial revolution casts its shadows ahead. A brief overview of the industrial revolutions:

  • 1. Industrial Revolution: The transition from agricultural to industrial society and the beginning of urbanization has mainly displaced agricultural workers, adopting feudalism as the predominant social system. Start from approx. 1780, epicentre: British cotton industry.
  • 2. Industrial Revolution: Increasing mechanization and electrification is causing many assembly line workers to lose their jobs and consolidating the capitalist economic system. Start from approx. 1870, the most prominent example is the mass automobile production of Henry Ford (USA) in the 1910s.
  • 3. Industrial Revolution: The microelectronic revolution replaces simple aid work and sets economic globalization in motion. Beginning in the 1970s with the triumph of commercial computers and the first industrial robots – you guess where the origin lies. Correct: In Silicon Valley (also USA).
  • 4th. Industrial Revolution: New basic technologies have not been added in this revolution, but networking through the global and, above all, increasingly mobile Internet has been developing its potential since the 2010s. Start: 2007 with the introduction of the iPhone and 2010 with the introduction of the 3G standard for mobile Internet connections, starting from the USA, but soon (almost) globally available. The world is growing together. But: Not least because of the term “Industry 4.0” coined by the German government, the actual existence of the revolutionary character is controversially discussed; some people speak at most of a second phase of the 3rd industrial revolution.
  • A brief outlook: With the imminent breakthrough in quantum computers and artificial intelligence at the latest, digitalization and globalization will reach a new level. Homo sapiens is thus anthropologically based on a new foundation (cf. Yuval Noah Harari). Even in everyday office life, it will soon be perfectly normal that some colleagues consist only of program code; they are learning algorithms that will increasingly make decisions in the coming decade. This starts with simple things such as appointments (cf. Amy AI), but it doesn’t stop at today’s expert tasks. NDALynn or Lawgeex software already checks confidentiality agreements (NDAs) more precisely and much faster than specialist lawyers who have done nothing else in their lifetimes. The more decision-making power on the artificial colleagues (robots or algorithms), the more they are able to articulate themselves and their interests, the more urgent the need for legal framework conditions and operational participation becomes. In Switzerland, a robot was added to the traditional union “Association of Employees Switzerland” in December 2018 after a robo-colleague was dismissed in the UK. Of course, the artificial colleagues also make mistakes. And as a corrective to this, the prevailing legal system still has to be used; Companies are liable for their children, uh, AIs. It is becoming more and more difficult to determine on what basis an AI makes decisions or has behaved in one way or another. By 2030, however, childhood diseases will be a thing of the past. On the one hand, the impact on human workers is still unclear, but on the other hand, it is primarily the responsibility of employers and politicians.
    It is undoubtedly one of the characteristics of such revolutions that existing ones are being replaced by new patterns of action at all levels of society. Likewise, it is one of the bitter truths that in the capitalist system the leitmotif “profit maximization” does not always decide in favour of the employees. Thus, in all industrial revolutions, there were mainly mass redundancies (“rationalizations”) and, at least in Europe, historical mass demonstrations (e.g. the Weaver Uprising of 1844, resistance to the railways in the 19th century. Century, taxi driver uprisings 2019, soon automotive supplier uprising…). We can see it the same way at the moment. And there will be many more reports of mass redundancies, not least because employers and employee organisations are blocking “disruptive” technologies for understandable but unreasonable reasons.

We stick to the following formula: technological leap + capitalism = industrial revolution.

Back to the guiding theme, or rather: the subject of suffering?

Welcome back in 2019.

Industrial revolution or not, that is what the historians of the next generation can judge. The world of work is changing, but this time more factors are involved. In addition to technological leaps and capitalism, two other important factors play an important role in the debate about New Work: demographic change and change in values.

Demographic change

The term itself is actually shy. Demographics are always changing, every second even. In the Western industrialized countries, however, we all know what this means: the impending ageing of society(s).

Where does this come from? The very birth-strong post-war generations, also called baby boomers, are on the verge of retirement or retirement. Retirement age. (I once investigated what this will mean for business followings as co-author of a scientific study of the future.) The generation after that is not without reason also called the “Pillenknick generation”: After the launch of the anti-baby pill, significantly fewer people were born, as well as other contraceptives and the more open discourse on pregnancy prevention as well. HIV prevention plays a role in the statistics. The phenomenon has persisted to this day.

Last but not least, the Western states experienced an economic upswing in the 1950s (golden 50s) and, paradoxically, prosperity leads to fewer births, even in developing countries such as India or Bangladesh (to the sociologists: of course, this is no monocausal connection, I know).

In any case, more people have died in Germany since 1972 than are born, at the same time the elderly are getting older. It is not without reason that the security of the pension was called into question as early as the 1990s.

Demographic developments thus lead straight into a world of shortages of work and skilled workers and surplus age. If we combine these influencing factors, we recognize two key consequences of demographics for the topic of New Work:

  1. The value of human labour is increasing. It has never been so easy for qualified professionals to find a job (assuming personal mobility). What has been true for computer scientists and some engineering professions for a good decade – regular attempts by other employers to recruit on ever better terms – also applies to more and more social or humanities scientists. And, of course, for doctors. They choose their next employer on the day they take up a new job. Call for a sabbitical, more vacation days, better social benefits and so on. Many companies in Western industrialized countries, on the other hand, have grown at a time of abundance of skilled workers. They often do not know how to recruit professionals, if at all, by means other than their brand and a secure income. Employer branding can therefore now be studied. This now includes more than free water and fruit at work. Have you ever thought about housing subsidies for your employees’ parents? Or subsidies for temporary expat office stays in Bali? Or democratic elections of management?
  2. Economically active organizations, usually companies, need to automate work processes. This finding is now one of the key drivers of technological innovation, because when a company can no longer find a workforce through the best employer branding strategies, it must find new ways to maximize profit. According to a Prognos study, three million skilled workers will be missing by 2030. Professionals! Not “only” workers. This only refers to the specialists or Experts! And today, Deutsche Bahn trains are already regularly shut down because of the lack of staff for the signal boxes or locomotives. I know from a certain source that the DB Group in particular started taking countermeasures quite early…

Change of values: Generation X, Generation Y, Generation Porridge…

Thank you, Prof. Dr. Martin Schröder!

In October 2018 I came across his article in the Cologne journal of sociology and social psychology (that’s what Spiegel Online came across). Finally, there are empirical results that make the common assumptions about “Generation X”, “Generation Y”, “Generation Z” etc. to refute. Of course, there is a changing zeitgeist, of course a change of values is accelerated by generational change. And, of course, the youth is brutal and disrespectful, as Socrates already knew. But it is wrong to say that a birth cohort has solidified values in itself or always makes decisions in the same way. Now finally scientifically proven.

The change in social values is therefore taking place dynamically and relatively independently of the year of birth, but is oriented towards the current overall social, political and economic situation. My generation, for example, is credited with a shorter attention span and post-material ideals – which does not explain inflation of mindfulness training and tablet sales for over-45s.

But what we can capture is an increasing urge for subjectivation, also called individualism. At the same time, a break with determinism, i.e. the worldview, takes place that one or more divine creators determines/determine the fate of each living being. More and more people are taking their CVs into their own hands, taking higher risks, especially in welfare states, and seeing work no more as the central element of their lives. After all, you want to experience something! Finally, we enjoy increasing equality between the sexes, cultures, religions and other categories. (I may write about the further, exciting excesses of the change in values elsewhere, but that was essentially the topic of New Work.)

Concrete consequences for the labour market:

  • Fewer and fewer people want to spend their working life with only one employer.
  • More and more people see lifelong learning with sometimes obscure changes of direction as fulfillment.
  • More and more people are self-employed (statistics, more start-ups). more start-ups by older people) or, as freelancers, their flexible existence.
  • More and more women are moving into management positions or starting companies – the same applies to homosexual, trans and intersex people, as well as people with a migrant background. Slowly, but at least.

Mini-Fazit Demography and Change of Values

The world of work is subject to significant exogenous and endogenous drivers of change. If you haven’t started working on New Work, you should start right now. But you’re probably reading these lines because you’re already in the topic… the eternal paradox continues. If you know someone who hasn’t connected to New Work yet, please use the share feature of this post for Xing, Linkedin, Mail or a format of your choice. Thank you! And now: continue in the text.

Interim conclusion: Why New Work? Why now?

Gainful employment, a historically relatively young construct, is subject to major upheavals. This constant change has so far been triggered mainly by technological and political upheavals. The strongest current influences or Trends are:

  • Digitization is slowly unfolding its full potential. This does not only mean the electrification and automation of formerly mechanical (working) processes. The networking of the growing world community (Globalization 2.0) and the global labour market only started a few years ago.
  • Demographic change is forcing employers into the situation of having to automate. Employees benefit from the ageing of society, so that more and more qualifications or professions are sought under high pressure – and employees are increasingly knitting their employment biography in a mature and self-determined manner.
  • The change in values in liberal, democratic states enables the active participation of formerly oppressed population groups. At the same time, the conditions for professional self-fulfilment are becoming increasingly favourable. Finally, the relative maturity of the New Work discussion shows that we are far from developing a unified definition of new work. At most, they are the thrusts of transformation; the result will be different for each organization.

What does New Work mean for organization and management?

Of course, we are still at the beginning of the transformation. Or are in the middle of it. That depends on your point of view and the rhetoric. It is important that New Work cannot be a lockable process by definition – not a change process with a specific goal.

Mindset shifts for organization transformation (new work)Aaron Sachs and Anupam Kundu have developed a beautiful pictorial representation that represents the fundamental change of direction. I always like to try to explain myself in my keynotes. Now also here:

  • Corporate purpose: Of course, companies have to generate profit. In reality, however, they have to orientthemselves much more towards a purpose – this also makes personnel work easier. In the next step, the strict formulation of processes is less needed, because each individual employee has internalized the mind so much that the goal can be achieved with his own resources. Often also unconventional, individually tailored to the needs and strengths of the personality.
  • Organizational: Say goodbye to rigid hierarchies and make room for networks. Agile project teams, in which the management is sometimes subordinated to a project manager as a simple team player – no longer a novelty in companies at the top of the New Work movement. In 2017, a Kienbaum/StepStone study showed that with increasing permeability of the hierarchy levels, the company’s success increases measurably (from functional to matrix to no departments to divisional and ultimately agile).
  • Personnel management: Under the Taylorist system, managers have to closely manage and control their employees, because after all, they themselves are not able to act independently. Check your process, which accurately defines these and those steps for the simplest activities – this will make people wean away from thinking independently. Much more important in the New World of Work is the empowerment of employees: through an open, fair feedback culture, intrinsic incentives, a healthy culture of error and concessions in decision-making.
  • Product development: The German innovation culture is characterized by a perfectionist tinkering drive. The metaphor is the Swabian tinkerer who develops an idea in his garage for years up to the perfect, marketable product – in between registers a patent and commissions a market research institute with a representative study of his target group. With ever-shorter innovation cycles in increasingly diffuse markets, this tactic can no longer work. At this point, inventors and developers have to cut off a silicon valley disc and experiment more. And in reality. A prototype or Pretotype (or MVP, minimum viable product) is not for which idea (except perhaps high-security solutions) quickly develops, is then introduced to a limited test group to receive feedback, then implement it and use a revised version. Even Tesla’s first vehicles pursued this goal; there was so much unfunctional sensor technology in the vehicles, which served only the purpose of collecting data on usage behavior and, with a massive support offensive, keeping the often dissatisfied, often unconscious test drivers happy.
  • Data: The vexed topic of data protection and trade secrets. The “old world” operates according to strict competition rules, in which companies hermetically shielded their internal development. Again, I’m trying to counter-argument the increasing speed of innovation: in a globalized world, you can be sure that a developer somewhere on the globe has thought of exactly the same idea, we your development team has already thought. Ideas only grow through discourse and experimentation. Especially in heterogeneous groups, these thrive all the better – an explanation for the growing number of alliances, some of which are internal to the industry, such as between BMW and Daimler or cooperations between TÜV NORD and TÜV SÜD, which I was able to lead. In addition, more and more exchanges of ideas and innovations take place at often still informal meetings, while elsewhere innovation is still measured by the number of patents applied for. If the application for a patent approx. it takes two years, but the competitor puts the same solution on the market in between, the postcard format in the hallway is of no use to the best inventor.

Closing line and outlook: Digitalization leads to New Work

The pressure on the labour market is great. Digitisation, demography, worker awareness, globalisation… As a result, optimists expect that new work will not be a change for the individual, but will be much more closely geared to the needs. Flexible working hours and locations (such as home office), BYOD (bring your own device), interest- and strength-based purposes and much more. In a few decades, historians will speak about our epoch of Taylorist gainful employment and organizational structure with a similar distance and incomprehensibility as we judge today on slavery or feudalism.

There’s a lot of work to be done. Let’s get on with it! … and if you want help with implementation or inspiration for your employees (or superiors): contact me.

Selected sources

Dittrich, Bob (2019): New Work. A qualitative expert survey (bachelor’s thesis, unpublished).

Eilers, Frank (ongoing): Work Philosopher Podcast:

Mason, Paul (2015): Post-capitalism.

Schroeder, Martin (2018): The generational myth. online.

Photo by James Pond on Unsplash

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