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Future of Work

Wolfgang Dick (dc)January 13, 2009

Germany's population is noticeably shrinking. By the year 2050, there will be 10 million fewer people in the country then there are today -- with dramatic consequences for the working world.

Employers will have to make office environments more attractive in futureImage: AP

In the future, the classic office swivel chair will be something of a rarity. Instead, those reclining television lounge chairs will be everywhere. And among the other novelties in the office of the future: more breaks where employees can nibble from fruit platters or have a massage in the company's own fitness center. Even blue-collar workers will find that their jobs offer more comforts.

The reason for these fantastic-sounding benefits isn't a sudden burst of benevolence on the part of employers, rather a necessary bit of calculation, says Werner Eichhorst from the Institute for the Study of Labor in Bonn.

"In the future, it'll be all about making the work load easier -- on a daily, weekly, and yearly basis -- because with fewer Germans, there are fewer employees on the market, and those that are available are growing older," he said. "Employers can no longer afford to wear out their workforce, and that's why they have to take better care of them."

Tomorrow's working world

If the current estimates from the Federal Statistics Office come to pass, then in the next 30 years, Germany will have six million fewer workers. And the average age of an employee will increase from 42 to 48.

"Fewer, older employees means that we won't be able to stick to the legal retirement age," say experts at the Bonn-based institute. They're predicting a retirement age close to 69.

blonde Frau im Büro, Laptop
Experts predict more German women will enter full-time workImage: picture-alliance/chromorange

Fewer people in Germany and therefore fewer employees will be able to shoulder more of the daily workload. The classic "nine to five" shift will no longer be possible, especially in the service sector. The culture of presence in the workplace will fall away and even in manufacturing, more flexibility will be required. Eichhorst is convinced that more and more employees will work flexi-hours and be compensated according to their output or performance.

"In a sense, the employee will become the employer," he said.

Germany's dwindling, ageing population will have other effects too, according to the Institute for the Study of Labor. Until now, employees over the age of 45 have been considered too expensive by most employers.

"The pay scales are going to change," said Eichhorst. "It will no longer be the case that your salary automatically goes up the older you get."

New reality, new opportunities

The lack of skilled workers will also make itself increasingly felt, especially as it's not something that can be combated by the current rates of immigration. Labor researchers therefore expect policy in this area to undergo much improvement. Work conditions in Germany have so far shown themselves to be less than attractive among sought-after skilled workers.

The institute predicts two developments as a result: increased training opportunities for low-skilled workers and a jump in the number of women in full-time jobs.

"Germany has a lot to catch up on in this respect -- a lot of improvement is needed," Eichhorst said.