Josh Bersin: “Environment becomes core”

Environment becomes core. More and more companies are going to realize that they must (and will soon likely be mandated to) adapt to a low carbon business model. So we need to be getting set for lower energy production and consumption, less business travel, and moving offices out of low-lying high risk flood areas. To take just one example of many, Chevron’s entire business model is now “more profit less carbon” with a big focus on lower growth combined with higher long-term sustainability.

There have been major disruptions in recent years that promise to change the very nature of work. From the ongoing shifts caused by the COVID19 pandemic, the impacts caused by automation, and other possible disruptions to the status quo, many wonder what the future holds in terms of employment. For example, a report by the McKinsey Global Institute that estimated automation will eliminate 73 million jobs by 2030.

To address this open question, we reached out to successful leaders in business, government, and labor, as well as thought leaders about the future of work to glean their insights and predictions on the future of work and the workplace.

As a part of this interview series called “Preparing For The Future Of Work”, we had the pleasure to interview Josh Bersin, a prolific thinker and speaker on the future of the workplace and of HR.

Josh is an analyst and thought leader specializing in the global talent market and the challenges and trends affecting business workforces around the world.

He founded Bersin & Associates in 2001 to provide associated research and advisory services — a business he later sold to Deloitte when it became known as Bersin by Deloitte. In 2019, he launched The Josh Bersin Academy, the world’s first global development academy for HR and talent professionals, and he is currently the CEO of its sister research advisory firm, The Josh Bersin Company.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers like to get an idea of who you are and where you came from. Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where do you come from? What are the life experiences that most shaped your current self?

I am an industry analyst, educator, and consultant and have worked in the areas of HR, tech enabled learning, and talent management and recruiting since 1998. Prior to this I was an engineer, marketing exec, and sales leader in a variety of technology companies. The life experiences that made me were my 10 years at IBM in the 1980s, my fast-growth career years at Sybase, and my years as an entrepreneur since. I also sold our first company to Deloitte so I spent 7 years as a partner in a global consulting environment. My most valuable educational experience was being on the debate team in high school!

What do you expect to be the major disruptions for employers in the next 10–15 years? How should employers pivot to adapt to these disruptions?

Definitely the big disruption over time is the “pixelation” of work, where every job has more automation and tech, and we as workers become less “owned” by our employers and more free agents. The last two years of the pandemic added remote work to this puzzle, and upwards of 2/3 of employees now have side hustles. Within companies, the traditional hierarchical job structure is breaking down to become agile, and, over time, most companies will have more and more “talent marketplace” and “gig work” types of arrangements internally.

In HR tech terms, always-on communications and web apps are making this easier by the minute. Most companies are becoming more agile day by day, but this trend will continue until many workers will have multiple employers in the future.

The choice as to whether or not a young person should pursue a college degree was once a “no-brainer”. But with the existence of many high profile millionaires (and billionaires) who did not earn degrees, as well as the fact that many graduates are saddled with crushing student loan debt and unable to find jobs it has become a much more complex question. What advice would you give to young adults considering whether or not to go to college?

Degrees will always be a signal and credential that employers can rely on. They tell employers that a candidate has taken the time to go to school, and learn something of value. Above and beyond that they’re not worth a lot unless the employer knows the college, and maybe alumni want to hire alumni/what they know. Most of the new tech and assessments for jobs are based on 2nd generation AI that don’t look so much at what your long-ago BA was in but look at work history, personal achievements, credentials, relationships, skills, as well as what we call “power skills” like communication and empathy and problem solving, which are assessed through interviews and pre-hire job assignments.

But if you can go to college, go! It’s still the #1 determinant of career success. Do not pass it up!

Despite the doom and gloom predictions, there are, and likely still will be, jobs available. How do you see job seekers having to change their approaches to finding not only employment, but employment that fits their talents and interests?

Despite all the job sites, relationships are still the best way to find a job. The best way to find a great job is through a friend, peer, or more senior associate who can recommend you. Beyond this, tools like LinkedIn are amazingly powerful, and you can find jobs there in a myriad of ways. I would also remember that every person you meet is a potential employer — so even if you’re just meeting other business people or friends, remember how they relate to you could become a vector into another great opportunity.

The statistics of artificial intelligence and automation eliminating millions of jobs, appears frightening to some. For example, Walmart aims to eliminate cashiers altogether and Dominos is instituting pizza delivery via driverless vehicles. How should people plan their careers such that they can hedge their bets against being replaced by automation or robots?

Stop thinking it’s automatically a bad thing! Just as the PC and mobile phone automated typing, all these other tools automate routine work. So two pieces of advice: one, make sure you feel comfortable with newer tech and learn to use new tools; second, focus on your power skills. What I mean by that is all your important and non-automatable communication, persuasion, teamwork, leadership, problem solving, time management, conflict resolution, and in-built human creativity. These aptitudes will always be in demand even as jobs evolve as tech automates every job we have.

And bear in mind that new jobs are always created when tech automates older jobs.

Technological advances and pandemic restrictions hastened the move to working from home, for example.

Technological advances and pandemic restrictions hastened the move to working from home. Do you see this trend continuing? Why or why not?

Yes, we’ve moved to a new era where remote work is now acceptable, and will continue. Companies will want workers back into offices, but working remotely or in a hybrid model will always be “okay” and many companies will continue to embrace it. Video and AR/VR tech is making that a lot easier.

What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support the fundamental changes to work?

Many things are changing. People want bigger homes to have space to work; they want health and mental wellness benefits to handle the stress of working longer hours; and they want better video and VR tools. They also want more and more cloud apps for productivity, project management, and collaboration — and they desperately want more learning, training, online education, and skills development platforms. And some day we’ll have zero-carbon transportation that makes commuting easier.

What changes do you think will be the most difficult for employers to accept? What changes do you think will be the most difficult for employees to accept?

Right now, moving to a hybrid work model is stressing out most employers. They’re not yet sure how to accommodate remote work in a sustainable way, and new, changed roles of managers and leaders in cross-functional teams is vexing most companies. Teaching senior leaders how to be more empathetic and caring is also a big topic. Creating enterprise-wide employee experience and wellbeing strategies is another big focus of interest at board level right now. And of course, automating work, making HR and workplace tools easier to use, and giving employees an integrated new platform is up there too.

Of this set of challenges, I think this idea of pixelating work is probably the toughest. Managers feel they don’t “own” their teams as much, and everyone is now starting to own their own career, even inside a company. That impacts leaders, managers, succession plans, performance management, pay practices, everything: to make it even more complicated, it’s all happening in pieces.

By the way, pay is a really complicated topic right now: how do we compensate fairly when some employees are located in Montana and others in Manhattan? Do we pay based on experience, level, output, reputation? Local cost of living? None of this is clear at the moment, and it all needs to be worked out.

The COVID-19 pandemic helped highlight the inadequate social safety net that many workers at all pay levels have. Is this something that you think should be addressed? In your opinion how should this be addressed?

Absolutely. Whatever happens in the public sector, employers should pay their people enough to make them feel safe and well paid in their lives. Raising wages almost always results in higher productivity, retention, and employee satisfaction. And now employers offer education benefits, long periods off for childbearing, and lots of career and wellbeing programs. The public sector in the U.S. is such a mess we will never see this problem covered by our government, so employers are going to have to pick up the slack. Today 32% of all wage and employee spending is on these kinds of insurance, healthcare, vacation, and other benefits — and it keeps going up. I have no confidence that the U.S. federal or state governments will ever address this issue beyond social security.

Despite all that we have said earlier, what is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?

I think, every year, the world of work keeps getting better; more fair, more equitable, more skills-centric, and more forgiving. Companies are working hard on equity and diversity programs, new pay models, and all sorts of productivity and wellbeing tools. Now, internal use of AI can match you to “the right job” more easily than ever.

Individuals should remember that you will likely live into your 100s, so your career will change over time: you can now have multiple careers during your life, and you are not totally tied to your employer like in the past. If you stay educated and trained and continuously try new roles and projects, your career will be very dynamic. I know many hourly workers feel stuck in their jobs, so this particular time in the economy is a good time to try something new — you’ll be amazed at how adaptable you are.

Finally, the world now realizes that work does not require you to be conformist as much as in the past. You can “be yourself” in the work environment a lot more than in the past. Employers are realizing that each individual should be able to bring their “whole selves” to work. So on the whole, I see lots and lots of positives about the future of work.

Historically, major disruptions to the status quo in employment, particularly disruptions that result in fewer jobs, are temporary with new jobs replacing the jobs lost. Unfortunately, there has often been a gap between the job losses and the growth of new jobs. What do you think we can do to reduce the length of this gap?

This economy is showing how fast people can transform themselves. We’ve gone from almost 20% unemployment to 5% unemployment in less than a year, with one in four Americans changing jobs or roles in the last twelve months. The job market is becoming far more dynamic, and tools to find new jobs are easier than ever. A real economic recession (we can’t class where we are at the moment as one as the disruption is a demand recession caused by the pandemic) definitely hurts people: companies just let people go because there is no business. Even in that scenario, which will inevitably come round again sooner or later, people can work on the side, do gig work, and be part of the creator economy.

We’re also seeing some great new flexible employment and career-making ideas, including the OneTen initiative, veterans hiring programs, and all sorts of new job sharing programs that employers are investing in to help people move from role to role during these transitional times. Education, training, and lots of low cost online learning is vital here, so tools like LinkedIn and various gig marketplaces are huge aids to people looking for new positions.

The government should continue to invest in these things to help, and unemployment insurance and support is critical. When someone first loses their job it’s a huge shock, so I am a big fan of 3–6 month unemployment insurance as a standard benefit.

Okay, wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Watch In the Future of Work?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

1) Hybrid work. People will be working “anywhere” and “anytime”. Life now means that you expect to find yourself working (and more importantly, collaborating) on a project from another country, another city — basically anywhere. This will be common, and fully accepted: leaders like Uber, Google, and Apple all have work at home policies and this trend will continue, despite the call to come back to the office for meetings.

2) A view of employees as asset, not overhead. Your teams are becoming the service delivery and creative engine of your organization. Over time, companies will see benefits and employee experience programs as investments, not expenses. Allstate has been doing this for years; 30% of all its employees change roles every year, for instance.

3) Leadership via trust. Companies like Unilever, Microsoft — even Google — look at employee and customer trust as their biggest brand value. They’re also now leveraging this to make decisions, invest in diversity and equity programs, and help develop and maintain overall enterprise focus on sustainability and social justice.

4) Environment becomes core. More and more companies are going to realize that they must (and will soon likely be mandated to) adapt to a low carbon business model. So we need to be getting set for lower energy production and consumption, less business travel, and moving offices out of low-lying high risk flood areas. To take just one example of many, Chevron’s entire business model is now “more profit less carbon” with a big focus on lower growth combined with higher long-term sustainability.

5) The robots will end up informing, not replacing, us at work. Despite all the worries about tech taking over jobs, the opposite is true: your job is getting a little bit better every day. That includes in HR. Bayer Pharmaceuticals, for example, uses an AI platform for recruitment with the HR team now focusing on assessing great candidates, not looking for people all day.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how this quote has shaped your perspective?

The quote I live by is “Life is one big adventure.” Every day brings new ideas, new challenges, and new opportunities, Every day you can learn, help others, and contribute to society through your daily activities, work, and communications.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

There are so many people I respect and read every day. I just finished reading Jonathan Sack’s book Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times. He died recently; I would love to have had a chance to have lunch with him and debate the role of morality and religion in modern day politics and economics.

I also am a big fan of Robert Putnam, the author of Bowling Alone: Revised and Updated: The Collapse and Revival of American Community and The Upswing: How America Came Together a Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again. He’s another guy I’d love to sit down and talk with.

Our readers often like to follow our interview subjects’ careers. How can they further follow your work online?

My main writing and work is on I also publish on LinkedIn and on Twitter. The Josh Bersin Academy is also where you’ll find a lot of my thinking.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.

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