Purpose: If you can’t show your employees the meaning of their work and their career paths, i.e. if you don’t offer an authentic, honest environment that makes the world a better place, you will be less attractive, especially to the younger generations, and you will only worsen your starting position in the war for talent.

When it comes to designing the future of work, one size fits none. Discovering success isn’t about a hybrid model or offering remote work options. Individuals and organizations are looking for more freedom. The freedom to choose the work model that makes the most sense. The freedom to choose their own values. And the freedom to pursue what matters most. We reached out to successful leaders and thought leaders across all industries to glean their insights and predictions about how to create a future that works.

As a part of our interview series called “How Employers and Employees are Reworking Work Together,” we had the pleasure to interview Thomas Bergen.

Thomas Bergen is the Co-Founder and CEO of getAbstract, the world’s leading provider of compressed knowledge. Today, Thomas manages operations from headquarters in Lucerne, Switzerland.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today.

The story of my father and mother shaped who I am today. My father, who came from a family of entrepreneurs, fled from East Germany to Switzerland after WW2, to the impoverished and Catholic region of Entlebuch, where he met my mother, a baker’s daughter, who ran the business after her mother’s early death. Since birth, I have lived in a combination of two religions, two cultures, and two opposed lives that came together only by insane coincidence. That meant: Daily open discussions at the breakfast table and supper. Every day, processing and discussing the evening news together. I learned early on that there is not just one “right” way of looking at most issues. I loved those discussions, and I still love them today. And speaking of love: The first time I met my wife, after ten minutes, I knew I wanted to spend my life with her. A year later, we got married.

Let’s zoom out. What do you predict will be the same about work, the workforce and the workplace 10–15 years from now? What do you predict will be different?

We will be dealing with talent shortages for the foreseeable future, and it will become increasingly important to be concerned about the qualities and skills of your people. If you don’t invest in corporate learning initiatives, you will lose a lot of money on recruiting. And those who continue to think in terms of job profiles instead of skill profiles will fail. Because the best employees are now at the longer levers, and they have a right to demand the highest standards from their employer, colleagues, and the company culture. The rapid progress in artificial intelligence makes constant learning even more important. But: I believe we will finally see development breakthroughs we have long been waiting for organizationally and socially — in better work arrangements and more freedom on the job, as well as in solving long-standing problems like climate change and the lack of clean energy.

What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?

Learn! Learn for yourself, and make your people learn. There hasn’t been stagnation in 200 years, but the speed at which we need to keep up today is faster than ever. To support this process, we at getAbstract have published over 25,000 summaries of the best business content in seven languages over the last few years and made them usable by new learning tools for different audiences — from our Actionable to “Meetings in a Box.” I am more convinced than ever: Companies with rigid hierarchies that don’t demand initiative and don’t encourage curiosity in their employees will run out of people in five to ten years. On the other hand, for those that put their money on the creative collaboration card, the right combination of AI skills and human capabilities will extend their lead. In this sense: invest in human skills, focus on empathy, diversity, and creativity instead of command & control, silo thinking, and mindless task processing — and see that machines finally do all the stupid stuff we never wanted to spend time with anyway.

What do you predict will be the biggest gaps between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect as we move forward? And what strategies would you offer about how to reconcile those gaps?

There is already a gap between change willingness and change requirements. This affects C-level, and here we all have much catching up to do to set a good example. But it mainly affects middle and senior management, where people will have to constantly learn new things at shorter intervals to adapt their profile and teams to the requirements. For example, suppose I realize that getAbstract is no longer a pure summary library, as it was ten years ago, but must become a learning offering and knowledge coaching company to meet tomorrow’s customer demands. In that case, our employee profile will move a bit toward mediation. And, of course, our employees must want to be part of that. To achieve this, two things are necessary. First, I must give them trust and confidence, i.e., make people offers to improve — and then strengthen their initiative. We have fantastic people, but adaptability is something where everyone always has room for improvement, regardless of the company. And secondly, I must focus on transparency in communication. It’s not enough to pat people on the back and say, “It’ll work out!” I must clearly explain where we are headed together. That’s the only way to receive honest feedback back — be it positive or negative. Where there is trust, there is movement and iteration toward a shared goal.

We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?

It won’t stop there. Last year we may have taken the first steps, and we will remember those steps forever. But there are many more to go! getAbstract not only became more productive with the changes the pandemic forced — hybrid working, simplified communication, and better collaboration tools — it also created many new opportunities for employees and the organization. We’re not going to turn that wheel back. For decades, people talked about agility, and we nodded wearily. Finally, the pandemic forced us to adopt more agile working methods, which paid off. It was one of those moments when many CEOs realized their assumption that people were best off in the office from nine to five was wrong. And, of course, we maintain many other false assumptions about our collaborations today that reality will put a stop to in the future — whether we like it or not. Ultimately, this is an instructive process, and I wish us all to stop waiting for the “black swans” to do our work.

We’ve all read the headlines about how the pandemic reshaped the workforce. What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support a future of work that works for everyone?

We need to listen to each other more. Leaders must finally understand that they alone can never fix things. As a Swiss, I know that the people are not always right, but listening to them regularly and involving them in decisions, as in a direct democracy, is a great opportunity: It makes for civic-mindedness, satisfaction, balancing, and more pleasant coexistence. The same is true for companies: If you’ve been looking for the best to work with you for decades, why wouldn’t you let them participate on an equal footing? My rule is: Hire and engage people who are better than you! And then, when they have ideas and suggestions for improvement, listen carefully! The same applies when they report fears and problems: Advocate for solutions! Give freedom and opportunities, and reward those who raise the red flags so that your decisions become better and better with theirs.

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?

I am an optimist by nature. I believe that together we can always get better — and frankly, history shows us that, with some ridiculous exceptions, we have always gotten better. We know much more and are better-equipped skills-wise than we were 10, 20, or 100 years ago. We are achieving unprecedented prosperity. And never before has the collective wealth of ideas been so well networked as it is today. But, in addition, there are always new needs that cannot be read correctly with a 1980s management mindset. If we take each other seriously and approach each other with radical openness, we will have a golden future.

Our collective mental health and well-being are now considered collateral as we consider the future of work. What innovative strategies do you see employers offering to help improve and optimize their employee’s mental health and well-being?

Too few. There is a lack of trust, a lack of leaders with an overview, and a lack of contextual understanding in general. Many mental health and employee well-being initiatives I hear about are just lip service. My tip is to create a position in the company to make sure that company points of contact and appropriate help and support services exist and are used. Give people a budget so that they can also learn to help and inform themselves. And don’t be too petty if they use it for things that may seem foreign to you but, in the eyes of the employee, make for more satisfaction.

It seems like there’s a new headline every day. ‘The Great Resignation’. ‘The Great Reconfiguration’. And now the ‘Great Reevaluation’. What are the most important messages leaders need to hear from these headlines? How do company cultures need to evolve?

I don’t think much of these supposed trend deductions. “Great” here, “great” there. Often these hypes lead to actionist initiatives that cost much more than they bring. It is worthwhile not to get carried away by these headlines but to look behind their curtains: The truth is that there is a widespread problem with reaching, motivating, and retaining good people. These people have different opportunities today than they did five years ago, and it’s perfectly okay for them to learn to use them. As I said above, if you communicate clearly, share a common goal, trust people, take them seriously and treat them accordingly, these people will stay with you and your enabling work culture. If you produce junk, communicate junk, are dishonest, or measure with different yardsticks, they will not. I firmly believe that a culture of learning, psychological safety and shared progress can offer everyone more for the future than actionist bonus packages, faked promotions or other “carrots” held out to your people.

Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”

I’ll give you four examples and one where they all come together to form a perfect storm:

1) Digital Transformation: The ongoing development of new AI models will accelerate this trend that has been going on for some time. Many companies have not yet done their homework: those that have not yet collected and structured the data sets vital to their organization, have not digitized their operations or business models, will not learn to take advantage of new opportunities, and will fall further and further behind. ChatGPT, which everyone is talking about right now, is just the easy-to-exploit tip of the iceberg.

2) Scarce talent: Demographically, there will be fewer and fewer skilled workers in the developed world for the foreseeable future, and competition around the world is getting tougher. Those who don’t have good people now — and don’t keep upskilling them — will have to make do with the second guard tomorrow.

3) Climate change: A great example of a megatrend that will have social and economic impacts we’ve never seen before and yet is ignored by too many leaders in everyday business. Economic shifts, new geopolitical tensions, and health and infrastructure challenges will come with it. We will see vast movements of people moving from uninhabitable or dangerous areas to the cooler regions — meaning new social adaptations, more stress, and colossal training tasks. If you don’t have a learning culture, you won’t be able to integrate people or offer them other opportunities.

4) Purpose: If you can’t show your employees the meaning of their work and their career paths, i.e. if you don’t offer an authentic, honest environment that makes the world a better place, you will be less attractive, especially to the younger generations, and you will only worsen your starting position in the war for talent.

All the above trends currently add up beautifully in talent management to a monster problem that digitized “talent marketplaces” are trying to solve. These are digital platforms, i.e., HR software solutions that can match internal and external talents and “jobs to be done,” simultaneously show purposeful career paths and make re-skilling offers or identify existing skills and knowledge gaps. You won’t get those jobs done if you don’t have good people. If you don’t have data on skills that exist internally, you won’t be able to use them properly and will waste money on recruiting. If you don’t listen to your people, you won’t even have a chance to collect that data in the first place. So, there’s still time to make amends with L&D and modern HR solutions. But it is running out.

I keep quotes on my desk and on scraps of paper to stay inspired. What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? And how has this quote shaped your perspective?

“Haste makes waste.” That’s self-explanatory.

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, she, or they might just see this if we tag them.

I would love to have breakfast with Bill Gates and discuss our chances to stop the progress of artificial climate change.

Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?

They can connect with me via LinkedIn or follow our getAbstract Journal, where I write occasionally.

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to experience a leadership master at work. We wish you continued success and good health!