Shaping the Future of Work: An Activist Research Agenda

16 November 2022




Thankfully, most researchers have moved beyond the tired debates about how advancing technologies will determine the future of work.  Most (but unfortunately not all) now accept that technologies are shaped by humans, organizations, and institutions, not by some deterministic law of physics or market forces. The effects of the pandemic on work patterns and the recent upsurge in worker activism have reinforced the view that the future of work will be shaped by the interaction of market and technical forces and the relative power of workers and employers and the institutions and policies that support and govern them. This calls on researchers to take an activist role in studying how to best design and use technology for the common good and how to achieve a more equitable balance of power between employers and employees. In this talk I will summarize these developments and propose a research agenda aimed at shaping the future of work to achieve a more inclusive, equitable, productive and resilient economy and society.


Thomas A. Kochan is the Post-Tenure George Maverick Bunker Professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management and a faculty member in the MIT Institute for Work and Employment Research.

Kochan focuses on the need to update America’s work and employment policies, institutions, and practices to catch up with a changing workforce and economy. His recent work calls attention to the need for a new social contract at work, one that anticipates and engages current and future technological changes in ways that build a more inclusive economy and broadly shared prosperity. Through empirical research, he demonstrates that fundamental changes in the quality of employee and labor‐management relations are needed to address America’s critical problems in industries ranging from healthcare to airlines to manufacturing. His most recent book is Shaping the Future of Work:  A Handbook for Action and a New Social Contract (Routledge, 2021).

He is a member of the National Academy of Human Resources, the National Academy of Arbitrators, and past president of the International Industrial Relations Association and the Industrial Relations Research Association. Currently he is a member of the MIT Task Force on Work of the Future.

Kochan holds a BBA in personnel management as well as an MS and a PhD in industrial relations from the University of Wisconsin.

Further reading

Shaping the Future of Work: A Handbook for Action and a New Social Contract, Kochan, T. A, and Dyer, L. (2021)