Photo: Thorben Albrecht

Photo: Thorben Albrecht

A podcast interview with Thorben Albrecht

In a one of a kind process, the German Federal government involved its 80 million citizens in co-creating the future of work. The process, which started in late 2014, involved experts, citizens, business, trade unions and artists, and culminated in a policy White paper at the end of 2016. Taking us into the details of Arbeiten 4.0, or Work 4.0 is Thorben Albrecht, Permanent State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs in Germany.

Anyone who followed the process since the beginning, perhaps at the annual Zukunft Personal HR exhibition in Cologne, where the Ministry and the stakeholders regularly presented the progress of the Work 4.0 dialogue, surely gets a sense of the forward-looking and innovative nature of this initiative. Perhaps one of the key aspects worth mentioning is the underlying motivating factor, namely not to let technological change shape the way people work and live, but to be more in control of these changes and trends, and find out first how do people want to live and work, and then ensure that technological change is an enabler for that.

The process started with a kick-off conference early 2015, and was followed by meetings of the expert group, stakeholder consultations, a cinema festival in 25 cities and also online public consultations.

Asking questions

The State Secretary in our podcast conversation explains, that instead of getting involved in the issues of digitalisation, demographic change and labour market trends with a policy proposal, they decided to ask questions. As there is a lot of uncertainty about what is going on, and what will happen in the future, this was a much more appropriate approach.

The idea for the dialogue in all its forms was to understand what is going on in people’s lives and on the shop-floor and also understand what are the real preoccupations of citizens, and then move to policy recommendations. Hence the Green paper set the scene for the dialogue by outlining the greatest challenges and opportunities.

Instead of getting involved in certain issues with policy proposals, #arbeitenviernull decided to ask questions Click To Tweet

Values – different and universal

One of the most fascinating aspects of this process for me was the study on values. By conducting deep interviews with a representative sample of 1200 people living and working in Germany about their values and relationship to work, the Ministry and the stakeholders gained really valuable insight into some of the main drivers and also preoccupations of people.

Work-Life balance remains a very important preoccupation as well as priority for people, but what Mr. Albrecht explains makes the policy formulation so difficult, is the diversity of preferences people express in relation to organising their lives. Regardless of age or socio-demographic background, two distinct groups of approximately the same size appears. One group prefers to have a clear boundary between their work and private/family life, and the other group is happy to embrace flexibility in both directions, and organise their work around family obligations. There is also a difference in terms of prioritising security, as one group really values social protection, a stable wage and high-level of security, whereas others are more of an independent high-performer relying on themselves and enjoying a high degree of flexibility and self-determination. This can be fairly easily taken into account in regulating working time and place – however it is much more difficult to manage on the organisational level.

Social and employment policy agility and room for experimentation

As the dynamic process is coming to an end, with the presentation of the White paper at the end of 2016, the question is: what next? How to keep the momentum going, engage further with employers, citizens, trade unions and the media, to ensure that the future of work remains collaborative and serves as many interests as possible?

Among others, the Ministry put in place so-called Innovation spaces, which encourages companies and organisations to carry out pilot experiments in the new world of work, with working arrangement, skills training and transfer, digitalisation as well, and then openly share their learning, failures and successes, to ensure the collective benefit from experimentation.

For more information, and to stay up-to date, you can sign up to the newsletter of the Ministry on Arbeiten 4.0, follow the State Secretary on Twitter, as well as the Ministry, and join the HR Expo Zukunft Personal in Cologne, Germany on the 19-21 September 2017 to learn more about this initiative.


Meet Thorben Albrecht at Zukunft Personal 2017, 21. September 2017, 09:30 – 12:00 am, Keynote Arena


About the author


Agnes Uhereczky is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the WorkLife HUB, a research and consultancy company dedicated to work-life integration, exploring the intersection of work and life from the point of view of policy, legislation, organisational culture and leadership. She is producing the WorkLife podcast and is a regular speaker and Blogger on the topic.



Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Email this to someone