Future of Work Initiative

“The future is not predestined; it is influenced by the choices we make today.

No one knows for certain what the future holds for occupational safety and health. What is exceedingly clear, however, is that we must take proactive steps to safeguard the safety, health, and well-being of the workforce.

Now is the time to evaluate the risks and seize the opportunities presented by future of work advances by developing evidence-based research solutions around new industries, technologies, organizational designs, job arrangements, and ways to control risks that affect the future workforce.

There is no launch date for the future; it starts now.”

– John Howard MD, Director of NIOSH

Venn Diagrams

Trends related to the future of work

The graphics below demonstrate some of the many ways that work is changing as well as issues for consideration as we look towards the future of work.

In today’s modern world, technological innovations, digital transformation, and globalization accelerate the speed at which we live and work. Indeed, the nature of work is changing more rapidly than ever before. Workers and jobs are impacted by the combined pace of automation and globalization, requiring a forward-thinking approach to occupational safety and health. These forces have an impact on workers and organizations in the U.S. and around the world as they confront complex, emerging workforce issues, such as shifting employment relationships, recruiting and retaining workers in highly competitive labor markets, an aging workforce, gender pay and employment disparities, and the uncertainty of how best to manage new technologies entering into the workplace.

While progress has been made, some existing work-related challenges will likely continue to subsist. However, shaping processes that address these challenges can promote new and positive changes so that the workplace and work are better able to meet the needs of the workforce. The careful balancing of all these issues has the potential to favorably impact the safety and health of workers, their families, communities, employers, and society as a whole.

Future of Work at NIOSH

Because of these new realities, NIOSH launched the Future of Work (FOW) Initiative. To more broadly address future worker safety, health, and well-being, the FOW Initiative applies the Total Worker Health® framework by encouraging collaboration across the spectrum of organizational policies, programs, and practices. The Initiative is a collaborative effort of multidisciplinary research, communication, and partnerships throughout NIOSH, other agencies, and organizations that aims to identify novel research solutions, practical approaches, and partnership opportunities to address the future of work.

The goals of the NIOSH FOW Initiative are to 1) compile studies on the future of work; 2) feature current research projects related to the Initiative; 3) promote research among new industries, technologies, organizational designs, job arrangements, risk profiles, and ways to control risks; and 4) connect trends in workplace, work, and workforce changes to prepare for what the future holds for occupational safety and health.

The categories below represent NIOSH’s current FOW priority topics and sub-topics for the workplace, work, and workforce. This list of topics and sub-topics is not meant to be exhaustive, imply a hierarchy, or be mutually exclusive. Note: issues that impact all three categories include emergency and disaster preparedness and response, exposures and hazards, extreme weather conditions, globalization, industry 4.0, OSH 4.0, policies, politics, resources, and social disruption.

Organizational Design

  • Autonomy • Burnout and Stress Prevention • Healthy Leadership • Job Flexibility • Leave Systems • Scheduling • Social and Corporate Responsibility • Workplace Built Environment • Workspace • Work-Life Fit

Technological Job Displacement

  • Automation • Digitalization • Job Quantity and Quality • Occupational Polarization • Productivity Enhancement and Quality Improvement through Automated Manufacturing • Stable, New, and Redundant Work

Work Arrangements

  • Alternative • App-Based • Contingent • Contractual • Direct Hire • Distributed • Free-Lancer • Job Sharing • Non-Standard • On-Call • On-Demand • Part-Time • Platform • Precarious • Seasonal • Single vs. Multi-Employers • Temporary

Artificial Intelligence

  • Deep Learning • Machine Learning • Neural Networks


  • Autonomous, Collaborative, Industrial, Managerial, Service, and Social Robots • Autonomous Vehicles • Human-Machine Interaction • Unmanned Aerial Systems • Wearable Exoskeletons and Exosuits


  • Additive and Smart Manufacturing, and 3D Printing • Advanced, Cloud, and Quantum Computing • Bio-Manufacturing • Bio-Technology • Clean and Green Technologies • Digitalization • Information and Communication Technologies • Internet-of-Things • Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials • Sensors • Sensor Surveillance • Smart Personal Protective Equipment


  • Diversity and Inclusivity • Multi-Generational • Productive Aging • Vulnerable

Economic Security

  • Adequate Wages • Equitable and Commensurate Compensation and Benefits • Minimum Guaranteed Hours


  • Continual Education, Learning, and Training • Re-Skilling and Up-Skilling

View a graphic version of the FOW priority topics and sub-topics at link.

Related NIOSH Resources

The NIOSH FOW Initiative serves as an overarching structure to coordinate activities related to the changing nature of work carried out by several NIOSH programs.

The following select NIOSH resources provide further information on the future of work. This information will be updated regularly, so please check back.

Additional Resources

Page last reviewed: April 2, 2020, 12:40 PM