The lexicon is evolving alongside our experiences of work. Here is a glossary of future of work terms you might like to learn.
My team and I built this glossary to help expand our understanding of how the future of work was playing out in the present. It’s a collection of lesser-known words and phrases that reflect the way in which work is changing.
These are terms that elevate some of the fundamental issues experienced by work’s most important contributors – workers.
Some terms may have multiple meanings or interpretations, and some terms we’ve created ourselves to capture yet-to-be-named emerging phenomena. The semantics and selections will no doubt be debated, but that’s not the conversation that’s intended here.
The more important takeaways come from the meaning derived from the entire assemblage of terms and the ‘shadow’ future of work story they are hinting at.
In part, the glossary is a subtle push-back against the industrial, technocentric and corporate ‘future of work’ sameness. It asks us to turn and face the strange future of work and to think more critically about whether these are the futures of work we want.
This is an edited version of Browne’s glossary. You can view the full version here.
A glossary for a new world of work
The use of computer algorithms and artificial intelligence techniques to remotely manage, track and govern workers. In algorithmic management practices, workers interact with a computer system which enables the automation or semi-automation of management decisions, such as performance evaluations, productivity and terminations.1
A psychological disorder that causes mental and physical illness (similar to burnout) as a result of a sustained ‘mental under-load’ in the workplace. Boreout typically consists of three elements: boredom, lack of challenge and lack of interest.2
Software that overtly gathers employee device information beyond what is often necessary and proportionate to manage a workforce. Bossware allows employers to track data such as working time, mouse clicks, keystrokes, location, device screen shots and web camera pictures.3
The compulsion and/or expectation workers feel to answer calls, texts, emails, etc, even if they are unwell, working longer than required or responding to messages outside of regular office hours (also known as ‘digital presenteeism’).4
Workers who abruptly quit their jobs as a result of a re-evaluation of personal and professional fulfilment and/or the desire for better life balance.5
Invisible working conditions that devalue or hide the human labour that is powering AI and AI-enabled consumer experiences. Ghost work includes high-tech and on-demand tasks such as flagging and removing inappropriate content, proofreading, captioning photos and labelling data to feed algorithms.5
The unbundling of secure jobs into task fragments that can then be outsourced to the on-demand economy at a lower cost.
The utilisation of flexitime, annual leave, rostered days off, etc, by employees to complete work that can’t be completed in normal working hours.6
A subcategory of ‘gig work’ where independent contractors engage in task-based work accessed via labour platforms. Micro-work typically includes a series of small outsourced tasks (15 minutes to a few hours) which together comprise a large unified project completed by a number of independent contractors sourced via labour platforms.7
An acronym used to classify the share of youth who are currently ‘not in employment, education or training’.8
A class of workers experiencing insecure work. Precariats move in and out of precarious work, have insecure incomes and, apart from receiving immediate payment for their labour, do not receive other social guarantees (e.g. superannuation or sick leave).9
A temporary job that is considered ‘low-skilled’ and ‘low-paid’. Survival jobs are often unrelated to a worker’s profession and are only taken as a last resort to avoid financial turmoil, bankruptcy or other hardship.10
The beliefs or opinions held by workers on the levels of surveillance undertaken by organisations. Organisations with more pervasive surveillance are likely to have a poor surveillance reputation.
The process by which people are transformed into workers and nothing else. Work becomes ‘total’ when it centres life; when leisure, festivity and play become work; and when humans believe they were born only to work. Life before ‘total work’ disappears completely from someone’s memory.11
Retirees (or those close to retiring) re-entering the workforce as a result of a number of factors, such as: increasing economic insecurity, healthcare costs, increasing life expectancy and social isolation.12
The belief that work is not only necessary to economic production, but also the centrepiece of one’s identity and life’s purpose.
Read HRM’s article on the dangers of enmeshment.
An employment contract which does not oblige the employer to provide or guarantee the employee a minimum number of hours, but requires the employee to be on call in the event that work becomes available.13
Reanna Browne is the founder and Principal Futurist at Work Futures and a member of AHRI’s Future of Work Advisory Panel. This article first appeared in the August 2022 edition of HRM magazine.
1. Mateescu, J & Nguyen, A. (2019). Algorithmic Management in the Workplace.
2.Urban Dictionary. (2018). Boreout. Wikipedia. (2022). Boreout.
3. Electronic Frontier Foundation. (2020). Inside the Invasive, Secretive “Bossware” Tracking Workers.
4. Inspiring Workplaces (2018) Are we on a digital leash? What are the solutions?
5. Gray & Suri. (2019). Ghost Work.
6. Hesketh & Cooper. (2014). Leaveism at Work.
7. The Engine room. (n.d.). Microtasking.
8. ILO. (2015). What does NEETs mean and why is the concept so easily misinterpreted?
9.Guy Standing. (2011). The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class.
10.Backstage. (2020). An actor’s guide to survival jobs.
11.Taggart. (2017). If work dominated your every moment would life be worth living?
12. BBC. (2019). Unretirement.
13. HarperCollins Publishers. (n.d.). Zero-hour contract.