Future of work: Will monthly salaries exist in 2040?

Safety will emerge as a key sector while new jobs will include future nostalgists and 100-year counsellors

Guests are entertained by a robot at the Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence. Robots could feature prominently in the future of work. Khushnum Bhandari / The National
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When you imagine the future of work, what do you see?

Many might be influenced by movies and TV shows depicting a dystopian future of the workplace, a world in which robots do everything and humans are left by the wayside, struggling to survive financially without jobs or a purpose in life.

For others, it could be akin to work-life purgatory in a job at Lumon Industries, the fictitious company at the centre of Apple TV’s Severance, where workers have undergone surgery to insert a microchip in their brains to separate home from work.

Known as “innies” at the office, Lumon’s employees have no memory of their home life and spend their days searching for “scary” numbers in the Macrodata Refinement division, where they are occasionally rewarded with waffles and music dance experiences.

Once they leave for the day, they become “outties” and have no recollection of work (perhaps thankfully after those waffle and dance employee bonding sessions).

Watch: Hungry for risotto? Just ask this robot chef

Hungry for risotto? Just ask this robot chef

Hungry for risotto? Just ask this robot chef

But back to the real world. The Covid-19 pandemic is often credited as the turning point for disruption in the workplace, as millions of employees switched to working from home during lockdowns and started understanding the importance of a better work-life balance – though, hopefully, not to the same degree as Severance.

While work-life balance may have been the main priority for workers from 2020 to 2023, many have shifted their concerns to job security and the role artificial intelligence will play in the future thanks to a surge in popularity of natural language processing tools such as ChatGPT, Google’s Bard (now known as Gemini) and others.

A survey by analytics advisory company Gallup last September found 22 per cent of Americans now fear that technology will make their jobs obsolete.

“Fear of becoming obsolete, or Fobo, remains uncommon among US workers, but it has grown more in the past two years than at any time in Gallup's trend since 2017,” Gallup said at the time.

“Twenty-two per cent now say they worry that technology will make their job obsolete, up seven percentage points from the prior reading in 2021.”

In the UAE, 72 per cent of employees believe that AI will significantly affect their work in the next five years, research conducted by professional network LinkedIn revealed last September.

Meanwhile, in a study published in December on the future of work, Virgin Media O2 Business found that 52 per cent of UK workers under the age of 50 are unsure what job they will be doing in 20 years’ time based on how quickly their industry is changing.

However, UK-based futurist Tracey Follows, who worked with Virgin Media Business O2 on its study, believes that large-scale job displacement should not be feared, as emerging technology is set to create new sectors and roles.

This includes new policies and initiatives in the safety sector that take into account changing workplaces, such as automation in factories, Ms Follows says.

“I think when any new technologies come along – we saw it with the car when it replaced horses – over time, you develop lots of new health and safety regulations, policies and initiatives,” Ms Follows said during The National’s Pocketful of Dirhams podcast on the future of work.

“With all of the robotics and automation that's coming into factories and services and products … I think there's going to be a whole new sector around training for safety, which happens in virtual reality and in very immersive simulated environments.”

Here, we look at four trends set to shape the world of work in the 2040s and beyond.

1. The end of the monthly salary transfer

It wasn’t so long ago that salaries were paid weekly in cash – although that’s more of a memory for older Generation X and baby boomer employees, when they’d line up at their company’s cashier office to sign for their pay packets.

These days, of course, the majority of workers worldwide receive their salaries through electronic transfers, either once a fortnight or (more likely) once a month, as the world moves towards a cashless society.

Fast forward to 2040 and that monthly salary transfer may no longer exist thanks to the widespread adoption of blockchain and cryptocurrencies, Ms Follows says in the Virgin Media O2 Business Future of Work study.

“Employees will be able to choose how they are paid, driven by their own politics and ethics, their purposeful life plan, their social and environmental values and their desires around work-life balance,” she says.

“Widespread adoption of cryptocurrencies and blockchain payroll will enable less centralised payment methods allowing for faster, secure payments. This will enable payments to be made on a daily or even hourly basis.”

Workers could also receive real-time bonuses rather than waiting an entire year, as they do today, Ms Follows says.

While instant payments exist on some platforms today, it will become more mainstream in about 20 years, she adds.

“Why shouldn't you receive a bonus payment in that moment, a kind of commission for doing your job particularly well?” she says.

“It might be that that's how we see some of the productivity come back into the economy and into the idea of work that actually people can be more productive when they're paid in the instant moment.”

2. Employees will have their own AI coaches

Within 10 years, the majority of employees will have an AI coach, Ms Follows says. But by 2040, more than half of workers in developed regions will be using AI agents in some capacity, she adds.

AI coaches will keep employees on their “path to purpose” as they integrate the technology into learning and the goals they want to achieve, she says in the report.

“In this way, the AI [coach] will continuously monitor and assess their performance against their life-work purpose and suggest any blind spots or areas that might need attention.”

“[This will] help improve any weaknesses in their skill sets and build on their inherent talents and traits, so they can fulfil their purpose in a way that is personalised to them.”

The AI [coach] will continuously monitor and assess their performance against their life-work purpose and suggest any blind spots or areas that might need attention
Tracey Follows, futurist

3. Emerging sectors in the 2040s

As already mentioned, safety will emerge as a key sector of the future, as many of the current warehousing and logistics roles that exist today will be replaced by AI, Ms Follows says.

Before you start worrying about your job, Ms Follows adds that many employees currently working in these roles are expected to transition to safety maintenance roles.

Meanwhile, five to 10 per cent of jobs in industries such as manufacturing, health care, retail and transport are likely to be transitioned to bespoke professional safety, mental health safety and regulatory training roles.

“Much of this will be done in immersive virtual and augmented reality training environments – purpose-built 3D spaces where digital technologies alter the environment and create any simulated environment possible,” she says.

“This could be a nightclub, a factory warehouse, medical centre or a hotel kitchen.”

4. New jobs of the future

The world of work is constantly evolving as technology continues to disrupt many sectors, say the authors of the 100 Jobs of the Future report, published by Australia’s Deakin University.

However, some jobs will not change much in the future, particularly for employees working in skilled manual roles that machines will be unable to duplicate or jobs that make economic sense to continue as they are, the report authors say.

“Some of the 100 jobs of the future are variations of those that already exist, possibly with more technology enablement that delivers instantaneous outcomes where currently processes are protracted, or more personalisation that modifies the role to become mainstream in a different form,” they add.

UAE jobs in the metaverse – in pictures

However, future job roles include a future nostalgist – a person who recreates remembered experiences for the elderly – and a 100-year counsellor, who helps “centurions enjoy a third age” as medical advances extend the lifespan of humans, the Deakin University study found.

Then there is a health shaper (basically tech-savvy wellness consultants or nutritionists), a biomimicry innovator (apparently a person who will “seek sustainable solutions to human challenges by emulating nature's engineering processes”) and the cool sounding child assistant bot programmer, whose job it will be to design humanoid robots, known as “kiddobots”, that will support children to play safely.

Perhaps becoming a robot ethicist is more in line with your interests, or if you are interested in protecting the environment and helping to solve crimes, you could aim to become a smart dust wrangler.

Unsurprisingly, the space sector features in the list, including a role as an offworld habitat designer, otherwise known as somebody who can design liveable buildings for colonies on other planets.

However, it is worth noting that the authors of the report say the aim of their research was to “interrogate these work futures … that go beyond generalities of trends and skills and offer a grounded, but complex and imaginative projection of future work”.

Updated: February 15, 2024, 5:00 AM