PWC’s Future of Work Report: Where does Sustainability Fit in?


Susan Camberis offers 5 key takeaways from the recently released PwC Report, The Future of Work — A Journey to 2022.

I like thinking about the future.

Ever since hearing Jennifer James discuss her book Thinking in the Future Tense at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) conference years ago, I’ve been fascinated by how mega-trends affect the world of work.

I also like thinking about sustainability.

A little more than five years ago, I had a catalyzing moment that piqued my interest in sustainability and I’ve been hooked ever since. I’m particularly interested in how organizations are aligning their business, sustainability, and human capital strategies, and the resulting impact on HR’s role in the enterprise.

Given these interests, I was intrigued when an acquaintance (TY Lory Antonucci) shared a recent PWC report, The Future of Work — A Journey to 2022.

Using data from a specially commissioned survey of 10,000 people in China, India, Germany, the U.K., and the U.S., the report looks at how work and organizations are changing and how HR leaders will need to shift their focus and skill sets in the years ahead.

Business and HR leaders charged with long-range strategic planning will benefit from reading this report.

Here are five of my key takeaways:

1. The World Is Green…and Blue and Orange

pwc-future-of-work-report-infographic-three-worlds-of-work-440x1810The report organizes the future “worlds” of work into three broad, color-coded categories: blue, orange, and green.

  • Blue: In this world, “corporate is king.” It represents the continued rise of capitalism and organizational projects that grow in size, scope, and complexity.
  • Orange: In this world, “small is beautiful.” It recognizes the continuing trend where work is broken down and distributed into specialized parts. Think Fiverr and Mechanical Turk, along with the continuing rise of solo and entrepreneurs.
  • Green: In this world, “companies care.” Social responsibility dominates the corporate agenda, with demographic changes, climate, and sustainability as key business drivers.

While the report uses the color-coding as an organizing framework, it acknowledges that future (as well as today’s) organizations contain elements of each “world”. While helpful and descriptive, the worlds are not mutually exclusive. This makes sense, as global trends such as technology and resource scarcity should be concerns for all organizations.

2. Natural Tension

The report recognizes and discusses the tension that exists between these different “worlds” of work, along the dimensions of integration, fragmentation, collectivism, and individualism.

For example, the Orange world represents the highest degree of fragmentation, Green the highest degree of collectivism, and Blue, the highest degree of individualism.

It is interesting and not surprising that the report projects the gap between “haves” and “have-nots” (from an economic perspective) will continue and accelerate, as corporate jobs within Blue World remain lucrative and harder to secure.

3. Different Goals, Different Employee Value Propositions (EVPs)

One of the things I love about the report is how it highlights the differences between the three worlds, in terms of goals, EVPs, and how each competes for talent.

In Blue World, the EVP will be about job security and long-term service, in exchange for commitment and flexibility. Scale and innovation will be the differentiators.

Consistent with “small is beautiful”, in Orange World, the EVP will be about flexibility, in return for contract work. Appealing to those who desire portfolio careers (careers where income is generated from a combination of part-time, freelance, temporary and other ventures) will be the way to compete for talent.

Green World organizations will attract talent through their social and environmental responsibility efforts. Ethics and work-life balance will be exchanged for employee loyalty.

Green World organizations will attract talent through their social and environmental responsibility efforts. Ethics and work-life balance will be exchanged for employee loyalty.

The report also includes “A summary of people management characteristics in 2022”, which highlights differences in the roles of HR, learning and development, and technology, across the three worlds.

One of the most interesting predictions relates to technology. The report suggests that Blue World companies will increasingly use “Sensors and data analytics to measure and optimize performance.” As iWatch and related devices become more prevalent, this prediction could be realized much sooner than 2022.

4. HR’s Role in a “Greener” World

I’ve thought a lot about HR’s role in building the sustainable enterprise, and was encouraged to read the PWC predictions.

There is evidence of greater Green World activity already, with growing numbers of B Corps, and more public companies make sustainability an organizing platform for growth and innovation (see GE’s Ecomagination initiative)

With the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate launching their New Climate Economy Report earlier this week (which outlines 10 transformative actions for moving toward a low carbon future), it’s easy to imagine even more in activity in Green World between now and 2022.

Even more encouraging is that some of the projections are already becoming reality. For example, the report suggests that Green World organizations will align personal and professional development through strategic volunteerism programs. For examples of how organizations are doing this today, check out some of the great work being done in Global Pro Bono through PYXERA Global.

One of the exciting future opportunities for HR professionals will be to serve as “guardians of the brand” – the next extension of the cultural stewardship. I expect we’ll see closer partnership between HR and Marketing organizations in the years ahead, as both groups focus on aligning consumer and employment branding and messaging.

5. HR’s Opportunity in these Future Worlds

The most important takeaway might be that, regardless of the type of organization, HR will continue to play an important and strategic role. Specific skills may need refining or adjusting, based on the organization, but the trends affecting the workplace are ones that will affect all of us. To be successful, HR practitioners will want to understand these trends and what they mean for their respective organizations. They will be called upon to be the change agents…as they always are.

Next Steps

Read, share, and discuss the report with your colleagues, and identify one action you can take in 2015 to address the implications for your organization.

As shared in the report, 66 percent of respondents “…see the future of work as a world full of possibility and believe they will be successful.” Do you see it the same way?

Embrace the future as an opportunity.
Susan Camberis is the Vice President of Learning & Organizational Development for Executive Coaching Connections, and is a thought-leader and educator in the emerging Talent Sustainability area. Follow Susan on twitter @susancamberis.



One Response

  1. Clare Feeney

    Susan, this is a wonderful report. The potential of HR practitioners (and from my environmental training point of view, learning and development personnel in particular, has long been undervalued. Great to see them moving to the fore! Congratulations and I’ll be moving forward with some actions on this front. All the best for this great work of yours – Clare Feeney