The concept of New Work was born with the work of the austro-American Frithjof Bergmann, theorized in his book New Work, New Culture published in the 1980s. The philosopher develops a radically new vision of wage-earning and work.
Bergmann's thinking began during the employment crisis that hit the United States in the late 1970s. As the unemployment rate increased, with increasing job losses over the course of major restructurings, Bergamnn seized the opportunity to declare the obsolescence of the wage system as it was conceived in the developed countries. The difficulties faced by workers during this crisis represented for him the opportunity to reconsider the importance of work with the notion of personal fulfilment.
The philosopher's reflection derives from his conviction of how the notion of freedom in society should be translated. According to him, freedom is not the ability to make choices. The existence of alternatives has no value per se. The ability to choose is an illusion of freedom, without any value of its own, as long as among these alternatives there is no possibility for everyone to self-realize. It is this last condition alone that characterizes freedom in the American philosophy.
On the basis of these observations and convictions, Bergmann campaigns for the emergence of a radical new concept of work. According to him, traditional employment must give a way to New Work, in which the organization of everyone's working time is completely redesigned. New Work reallocates the available time of each individual in three thirds.
The first third must be devoted to work as traditionally designed. Since the employment crisis is structural according to Bergmann, with an increasing automation reducing the labour supply, this supply will soon correspond to one third of the available human resources. Hence, to compensate this structural decline, the allocation - according to New Work theory – of only one-third of the time of workers to a regular paid job.
According to Bergmann, the second third of an individual's working life must be devoted to intelligent consumption (e.g. reduction of consumption needs by optimising consumption), or to autarkic production (that is to say by the individual on his own behalf, and not on behalf of an employer).
Finally, and this is the essential element of the New Work concept, the last third of the remaining time available must be dedicated to the personal fulfilment of individuals, to the realization of projects that are truly close to their hearts. Thus encouraging their commitment to the company.