In a study by the Bertelsmann Foundation, two thirds of respondents from companies of all sizes stated they were struggling with a shortage of skilled workers. This raises the question of how to attract talented, “high-potential” employees to one’s own company, and even more importantly, how to retain and develop them. New Work should be able to provide answers here.

Many people associate the term New Work with office yoga, the overstressed and underused ping pong table, pets running around in the office, and the Chief Happiness Officer. However, to equate it with these symbols would be an oversimplification of a valuable concept. In addition, it often provokes – not entirely unjustifiably – defensive reactions from experienced executives, who see it as contradictory to dedication, hard work and responsibility. In management training, we often hear comments like “Life is not a bed of roses” and “Not everyone can be first” as a reaction to methods and tools that allow more freedom. But New Work does not mean »No Work«.

New Work enables everyone to develop their full potential

On the contrary: While the term is used in many different ways and is therefore somewhat unclear, oftentimes it includes self-determined work, personal responsibility and result orientation. It includes those ways of working and working conditions – as well as office space concepts – that enable particularly younger generations (but not only them) to realise their full potential. We are no longer just talking about millennials, but also about the following Generation Z.

People born after 1995 are already an essential part of the world of work. In order to understand New Work, it is therefore also important to be able to empathize with this generation. Based on Simon Sinek, one might ask: How was this generation socialized? On what principles were previous generations like the Boomers and X raised? Reflections on one’s own childhood or the childhood of one’s own children can provide context here. At the same time, it is essential not to understand New Work as a rigid concept, but to determine what it is supposed to be an answer and a solution to.

How do these generations think?

Generation Z is the first generation that has grown up fully “digital” and puts special demands on their workplace: While previous generations were taught to “bite the bullet”, this one asks “Why should we?” or “Isn’t there a better and easier way?”

Generation Z cares less about pay than any other generation – the job needs to be interesting and fulfilling. They expect companies to make a positive contribution to society. 38 percent also consider work-life balance to be a top priority when choosing an employer. 60 percent would like to receive feedback from their managers several times a week. Just like Millennials before them, this generation again brings completely new priorities, values and needs with it. Employers who do not respond to this risk losing their attractiveness.

But what exactly is behind the symbols of New Work?

What idea of man do we assume? The assumption at the centre of the New Work goes back to McGregor’s “Theory X / Y”: Every person has the potential to work creatively, self-determined and in an entrepreneurial way. socialization determines whether someone has stronger X or Y characteristics. However, with the right set of influences (managers, colleagues, family, friends, etc.), everyone can develop characteristics corresponding to Theory Y.

The Negative Cycle of Theory X
The Negative Cycle of Theory X


Different leadership or parenting styles thus reinforce the X or Y characteristics of people.

The Positive Cycle of Theory Y
The Positive Cycle of Theory Y


So what principles should organisations and their leaders follow in order to set in motion or strengthen the positive cycle of Theory Y?

Daniel Pink gives a good answer with his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us: Purpose, Mastery and Autonomy, which was a helpful concept for us as well as many of our customers.

People also manage to make important decisions independently in their private lives, to drive processes forward and to carry out cost/benefit calculations. And they do so without anyone telling them how to: What car do I/we buy? How do I finance my flat? How do I/we raise my/our children?

Purpose, Mastery and Autonomy

In order for self-determined work to work well together in a large organization, a common purpose is an important prerequisite. A purpose can give everyone energy and orientation. However, the common purpose (why we do this…) that connects everyone must be well balanced with self-determination (how we work…).

Scientific studies show that short-term financial incentives can have a negative impact on the performance of creative and demanding intellectual work. The principle of Mastery also supports our striving for improvement at work. Why do people spend hours on end playing musical instruments, puzzles, crafts, arts, and other hobbies with no prospect of financial or social reward? Because they enjoy getting better at something – and preferably in a self-determined environment.

When Purpose, Mastery and Autonomy come together, this not only leads to increased performance but also to value creation for the company. The breeding ground for this is Recognition – the esteem shown to the individual- which is particularly important to younger generations.

If these principles are not supported by organisations and leaders, New Work will just remain an empty shell of hollow artefacts and symbols. Therefore, it would be pointless to try to introduce New Work inspired features of working into organisations without asking ourselves the question: Do we as leaders want to engage with these principles and live them ourselves? The following elements can hereby serve as a starting point:

  • Open, flat hierarchies where everyone can approach each other to talk about challenges, goals and purpose, and everyone is shown respect, recognition and interest.
  • Integrated decision-making and innovative collaboration processes: Collaborative, structured brainstorming, the use of different decision-making modes and many other tools allow individuals and teams to playfully achieve creative and innovative excellence.
  • Multidirectional leadership and self-leadership: Leadership should not only be top-down, but everyone in the organization has the responsibility to lead and can make a leadership contribution. Leadership includes everything that contributes to directing an organization and promoting people.

It is important to realise that such changes can only take the shape of a process and that overly high demands from the beginning may have an inhibiting effect.

How can we start this process?

With the “New Work Canvas” developed by ICG (see graphic), we try to give structure to this overused and under-defined term in order to make it more tangible. In four quadrants, it presents examples of concepts, methods and tools on the topic of New Work without claiming completeness since as previously mentioned rigid definitions are out of place here. We are talking about ways of working and collaboration, technology and spaces, leadership, organisation and skills, and mindset and culture.

The canvas is certainly not to be understood as a suggested plan for action, but rather as a menu that can be constantly expanded and that gives organisations an overview, pointing out different possibilities.

New Work(shop)

In order to select those elements from the New Work Canvas that are valuable for one’s own organization and to even define New Work for the organization, there needs to be a dialogue between managers and employees. This includes especially the employees of the next generation. Their ideas about working methods have to be established in a dialogue-oriented setting – in line with the tasks and goals of the organization. These notions can be categorized (based on Herzberg) into hygiene factors and motivators: It is important to recognize that surrounding conditions such as salary, vacation days and home office regulations only have the potential to reduce dissatisfaction, while actual motivation can only be intrinsic and must come from the job itself. Here it is important to clearly articulate and refine an organization’s purpose for example with leadership tools that appreciate performance and hand over responsibility. Another important aspect may be to rethink tasks and roles in the sense of “job crafting”.

New Work Canvas
New Work Canvas


After an initial review, it is important not to want to reinvent the entire organization: In consultation with your team, try out one or two easy going tools and observe the change it brings about. Engage in self-reflection on your understanding of leadership. Seek feedback from team members, including feedback on your own leadership (do I support the New Work principles and ways of working) and build on the positive momentum to start a process of thinking through and eventually setting up more in depth changes. You will be surprised how much self-confidence and individual responsibility employees show as soon as the manager “leaves the room”.