Davos Returned As A Microcosm Of Workplace Changes Everywhere

From buzzwords like “Acting your Wage” to “Algorithm Management,” the World Economic Forum called time on outdated leadership styles.

People pass through a pavilion ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 16. Photographer: Stefan Wermuth/Bloomberg
People pass through a pavilion ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 16. Photographer: Stefan Wermuth/Bloomberg

Davos in 2023 was in more ways than one a microcosm of exactly the debates going on everywhere else about how work is working out. Only a small set of the hundreds of sessions that are held publicly and privately addressed the topic of work directly and yet the issue pervaded everything from economics to culture. The takeaway? Work continues to be at an inflexion point.

As Gilbert Houngbo, director general of the International Labour Organization, pointed out: “We will never go back in terms of how we organize industrial relations and work-life balance,” and US Labor Secretary Marty Walsh went further: “The workplace is not going back to what it was pre-pandemic.”  

Hybrid, Reskilling,  AI, Talent, Diversity and Inclusion are all changing so fast that in addition to bluntly titled sessions like AI and White Collar Jobs, a running joke was that “this session will be chaired by ChatGPT next year.” Demographically, the preoccupation with flexibility wasn’t just for “millennials in Brooklyn” as Ben Smith, the co-founder of Semafor who chaired the session entitled Quiet Quitting and the Meaning of Work, put it, but everyone. Karien van Gennip, minister of social affairs and employment of the Netherlands described much of the discussion about flexible work  as “very much for the upper class. Because if you look at many of the jobs they're still in person service jobs. Also, if you go to a four day workweek, you have to be quite serious about what it means for pay per hour.”

Davos is also a good place to launch initiatives and make some noise. The Human Rights Campaign presented a white paper on LGBTQ+ inclusion at work, while Valuable 500, an advocate for disabled people, launched a white paper calling for standardized measures and targets for disability inclusion.

Generational workplace issues were also on display. A 10-country study of Gen Z was unveiled over breakfast by management consultancy Oliver Wyman and Gen Z media group The News Movement. It emphasizes that of the cohort which will make up 27% of the workforce by 2025, 85% prefer hybrid or remote work, and cites buzzwords like “acting their wage” to describe how values now align with work and workplace choices. Some 80% also said they are more likely to be less engaged at work if their employers aren’t engaged in social issues.

All of which shows that leaders have to wake up. “It's on leaders and companies to change,” Anjali Sud, chief executive officer of video platform Vimeo, said at a Davos event. “How are we going to communicate and engage with distributed teams, and how are we going to align people and connect with them in a digital world? Actually it is a bit of a house on fire. Because I don't think most leaders feel equipped to do that.”

Touche. The fact is that we are about to enter yet another phase of turbulence, which will test all but the most open-minded and skilled of leaders. Some will rely on economic headwinds to gain the upper hand over employees, but the smart money will be on those who use this moment to reset and have their own internal talking shops more. It's all about impact, isn't it?

More stories like this are available on

©2023 Bloomberg L.P.