People no longer work just to put food on the table. In addition to funding basic needs, they work with a vision of self-fulfilment, purpose, and growth. They expect their jobs to foster identity, meaning, and belonging—existential needs that used to be met in the realm of religious and traditional structures. This is precisely why many people who lost their jobs over the last year didn’t just experience it as a loss of income and security, but also as a loss of self. What we do is often conflated with who we are.
This year showed us how much work is a core part of identity. But this past year also revealed more broadly how much identity has always been a core part of the American work experience—how race, ethnicity, gender, and class contribute to who “belongs,” “deserves,” or advances. The future of work recognises that a corporation’s mission to “change the world” means nothing if leadership is not willing to change the workplace first.