Why we care about the future of work
Impact Stories
June 3, 2024 – Future of Work

Why we care about the future of work


When people have the chance to discover, develop, and deploy their unique gifts, good things happen — not only for society, but for individuals as well. As people use their talents to benefit their communities, their employer’s customers, and even their own families, they experience meaning and fulfillment.  

That is why, for the last 50 years, the Charles Koch Foundation (CKF) has supported social entrepreneurs and organizations that provide people with opportunities to learn about themselves, grapple with the key challenges the United States faces, and acquire the skills to develop solutions. 

The classroom, from kindergarten to college, is traditionally thought of as the primary setting for this journey. It certainly is one venue where learning happens, but it is not the only one. Education does not stop once a high school diploma, or even an advanced degree, is earned. In fact, it is estimated 70 percent of learning happens on the job. People grow and find new ways to contribute to their employer’s mission when they are encouraged and trusted by their managers to discover and develop their gifts.

Because the labor market is changing rapidly, today, we hear more American workers vocalizing their desire for educational opportunities at work. Eight in 10 Americans say they believe professional development and training offerings are important when considering a new job. And this quest for growth is connected to their desire to live a life of meaning and contribution. Populace’s American Workforce Index has found workers are as concerned about things like making an impact as they are about compensation and commute time. 

Employers are starting to respond to this demand. They are finding educators, startups, and nonprofits who will help them build a future of work that empowers people to continually develop and find the meaning they are craving at work. Innovative collaborations between educators and employers are facilitating hands on learning and rewarding workers who seek to enhance their contribution by learning new skills. 

It is an exciting time, and CKF sees a clear opportunity to partner with employers, workers, and solution providers to elevate this important conversation. But to ensure a future of work that will benefit people and the organizations that employ them, we need to adhere to the principles that drive human progress and that have helped people navigate turbulent times and seismic shifts in the past.

Specifically, employers who want to realize a future of work that empowers every employee to contribute and to find meaning should use a principle-based approach rather than a rules-based one. Rules prescribe while principles guide. When employers foster such a culture, they create space for employees to unleash their creative energies and exercise their judgment, deepening their desire to contribute and generating a sense of fulfillment. Time tested principles to live by include:

  • Dignity, or the recognition that everyone has inherent worth. When employers respect each employee’s dignity, they are eager to help people find new ways to contribute and excel.
  • Self-actualization, or the idea that people live lives of meaning when they pursue their potential and discover, develop, and apply their unique gifts to benefit others. When employees self-actualize, they find creative ways to unleash their gifts to contribute value to the organization. 
  • Openness to new ideas and sources of talent. A dedication to the principle of openness will drive innovations that will lead to more success for workers, the companies they work for, and the customers they serve. 
  • Mutual benefit, or the recognition that employees in the right roles thrive and create more value for their employer and themselves. People want to work for organizations where they are treated with respect and have opportunities to grow and find new ways to contribute. 
  • Bottom up, or the idea that success comes from allowing all employees to develop new and better ways to do things — to use their gifts to solve problems. Employers who embrace this empowerment approach will unleash employees’ potential instead of stifling them.

These principles are not the only ones that should influence the future of work, of course, but they provide a proven framework that will help organizations succeed while giving more people the chance to continually discover, develop, and deploy their unique gifts.

From there, only good things will happen. 

CKF is proud to partner with innovators and social change entrepreneurs who are using these principles as a foundation from which to build a better future of work. Interested. Learn more about how you can partner with us.