Machines, Old Age and Finding Meaningful Work

Have you ever celebrated Christmas with another family? It's an odd experience to realize that not everyone celebrates it the way you do. When it comes to the topic of rethinking work so that more people can find purpose and joy while paying their mortgage, I worry there is a tendency to assume a world view that is similarly partial and incomplete.

I should say up front that I am lucky enough to have a job that allows me to be creative, fulfilled and authentically myself. I work in the kind of industry, environment and with the kind of people that are entranced by the working habits and physical environments nurtured in Silicon Valley and the many fens, roundabouts and deserts that imitate them.

In these worlds there is a sense that the question of meaningful work is something to wrestle with alongside high-end ideas, awesome creativity and intellectual playfulness. The salient concerns are overwork and stress. There are two trends, though, that remind us to question the universality of this picture.

Our future jobs

The first is that the most reliable forecasts we have available predict that developed economies will generate new jobs largely from sectors that are very different from the creative hub model. As economies get richer, and as life expectancy increases, we will spend more on managing our chronic conditions and looking after ourselves in our extended old age. Jobs like care workers, nutritionists, and nursing will see a boom. We will also spend more on experiences, and ones that are personalized to us -- more tailored adventures than mass tourism.

My ask is that we include care and service industry roles in the debate and endeavor to create jobs with purpose, status and acknowledgment. Too many of them, are treated as lowly roles and there is an urgent need to rectify that.

Humans & machines

The second dominant trend is that technology will only get smarter, and as it does so we will see the phenomenon of Digital Taylorism deepen its reach. Digital Taylorism is what happens when we race against the machine -- and lose. Machines, especially clever digital technologies, will become better at certain tasks than humans. A great example is how the old role of a bank manager, making lending decisions based on craft as well as local knowledge, is now being taken over by an algorithm. The end result is that many more human jobs will become either redundant, or dumber (and so less meaningful). We need to have plausible answers to this profound trend too.

If we want meaningful and joyful work to be available to all, rather than a minority, we're going to have to grapple with these trends. But in this challenge lies opportunity too -- happy and engaged people across all industry sectors and at different levels will benefit us all. The machines come second.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and Virgin Unite to explore ways we can all thrive at work.It's also the subject of a Google Hangout on March 31, moderated by Guy Kawasaki and featuring Arianna Huffington and Richard Sheridan. Instagram or tweet your ideas and comments by using the hashtag #workthrivejoy.

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