Predictions for 2010: Five Changes in the Way We Work
I predict this year will be marked by five changes in the evolving relationship between those who work and those who pay to have work done. Most of these trends have been percolating for some time — many stemming back to the 1981 recession, and its then-startling lay-offs. The most recent recession accelerated and intensified the changing nature of the employee-employer relationship.
Recessions unquestionably leave a mark on the way we work. The approaches companies use to respond to difficult business conditions don’t only affect the company — they leave a lasting impression on the workers (and the workers’ teen-age children, who draw conclusions for their career strategy based on their parents’ experience).
The recession of 2008/09 was significantly different from previous recessions in two important ways: the use of pay cuts and furloughs to reduce costs. From the headlines:
- Company Furloughs at 17-year High: unpaid days, or weeks, off trims bottom line, but at a cost to employees – Ellen Simon, Associated Press, December 31, 2008
- The new worker’s dilemma: take a pay cut or risk getting the sack – Gary Duncan, Economics Editor, The Times, January 22, 2009
- More Companies Force Workers to Take Time Off: but not all welcome ‘banishment,’ especially when they don’t get paid – Eve Tahmincioglu, msnbc.com, January 29, 2009
- The Recession Ripple Effect: A little pay cut goes a long way – Lynette Chiang, Fast Company Blog, February 17, 2009
- Employers Hit Salaried Staff With Furloughs – The Wall Street Journal, February 24, 2009
- Recession Finds Even Those with Jobs Losing Pay – Christopher Leonard, The Huffington Post, March 8, 2009
As smart as these two approaches may have been from a corporate standpoint, and even as kind as they might seem in terms of total workforce impact (fewer layoffs), they nonetheless further loosen individuals’ trust in an employer to care for them — or even to reward their hard work with the agreed-upon pay. The experiences of the past two years imprinted the workforce with a new understanding: even a “full-time job” does not (necessarily) equate to the equivalent full-time pay.
As a result, expect to see these five characteristics of the way we work becoming even more prominent throughout 2010:
- Two-job norm — More people will maintain two sources of income than ever before. Instead of relying on the onetime holy grail of employment — a salaried job with full benefits — workers will create a series of backup options. For many, especially those in creative or knowledge-based work, this is likely to include becoming entrepreneurs. A second job or even a small entrepreneurial venture provides a safety net, giving workers a small measure of control over their fate in an increasingly unstable environment.
- Less “off hours” work — Recession-management approaches that made full-time employees take a day a week “off” planted some new questions in the minds of employees who had been working virtually 24×7. What is a “day?” Eight hours? Twenty percent of the time I normally work each week? For many, these questions lead inevitably to: If they only want me to work four days a week, why am I working more than 32 hours? Many companies have come to rely on very long work weeks as staffing cuts lead to more work for the remaining individuals and technology facilitated round-the-clock work. I expect to see more push back this year — in part because many individuals will be spending time advancing their second work option.
- Competition for discretionary energy — Engagement has been a hot topic in talent management circles for the past decade. But its benefits have focused primarily on attracting and retaining employees. Increasingly, managers’ focus will shift to competing for an employee’s discretionary energy — competing with other priorities in the employee’s life, including other options for work — but also competing against employees who are only “going through the motions.” More and more of the work in today’s economy cannot be done rotely — success requires a spark of extra effort, creativity, collaboration, and innovation.
- More diverse arrangements — By now, most companies have put a variety of flex work options on the books. In 2010, I believe these arrangements will begin to take hold in significant ways, driven by employee preferences, facilitated by new technologies, supported by new managers who themselves are more comfortable with virtual work.
- Transparent, “adult” arrangements — My favorite change is the growth in what I like to call “communities of adults” — a philosophy of recasting the employment relationship from one of paternalistic care to adult choice. A simple example is offering a menu of benefit options and letting employees choose those that work best. Further along the spectrum would include encouraging employees to “own” their own feedback process or even set their own compensation levels. These sorts of changes won’t settle in this year, but they’re coming. I expect we’ll see more examples as the year progresses.
What are your thoughts? Are you ready for the changes ahead?
Original post here, by Tammy Erickson @ Harvard Business Publishing