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These Are the 3 Biggest Trends in Workforce Innovation

Keeping up with the changing world requires constant innovation — and this includes hiring. Evolving technology, the shifting generational makeup of the workforce, and a candidate-centric market[...]

February 18, 2020

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Serenity Now! In The Contingent Lifestyle

Serenity now!

In the final season of the iconic comedy series “Seinfeld,” the episode “The Serenity Now” ingrained a catchphrase into the pop culture lexicon that you can still hear shouted across busy streets and bustling office complexes. Frank Costanza, the oftentimes belligerent father of Jerry’s neurotic friend George, receives a relaxation tape from his doctor to help combat his stress. According to the technique, whenever Frank feels his blood pressure about to spike, he’s to utter the words “serenity now.” However, Frank shouts them instead, especially when arguing with his wife, and subsequently drives everyone around him nuts.

“The doctor gave me a relaxation cassette,” Frank explains to George after startling him by screaming the phrase. “When my blood pressure gets too high, the man on the tape tells me to say ‘serenity now!’”

“Are you supposed to yell it?” asks George.

“The man on the tape wasn’t specific.”

Sure, Frank Costanza is probably the “psychopath” Jerry describes him to be, yet his strange battle cry for tranquility echoes the frustrations that are plaguing employees across the nation. Workplace stress and unhappiness are serious problems today, and their tolls continue to climb. Although barking “serenity now!” in the faces of strangers won’t solve the problem -- and may land you in a police station -- choosing contingent work just might do the trick.

“Starting tonight, we’re having a little sales contest. The loser gets fired. The winner gets a Waterpik.”

That’s the business proposition Frank presents to his two employees when he opens a computer sales startup. It also perfectly captures the essence of so much workplace stress: uncertain job security, lack of control, unreasonable demands, a sense of hostility, no team structure or support, and all for a reward that fails to impress -- or at least justifies the efforts of attaining it.

According to an examination of 228 studies, conducted jointly by professors at Stanford and Harvard business schools, work-related stress contributes to at least 120,000 deaths each year, accounting for $190 billion in U.S. healthcare costs.

  • Concerns about job security drove up the odds of reporting poor health by 50 percent.
  • Long work hours led to a 20-percent increase in mortality rates.
  • Physician-diagnosed illnesses rose by 35 percent for those with overly demanding jobs.

“The deaths are comparable to the fourth- and fifth-largest causes of death in the country: heart disease and accidents,” said Stefanos A. Zenios, a professor of operations, information and technology at Stanford Graduate School of Business. “It’s more than deaths from diabetes, Alzheimer’s or influenza.”

The biggest contributing factors, the researchers discovered, were economic insecurity, unemployment, layoffs, no job control, the absence of health benefits and poor work-life balance. For instance, employees who felt their managers’ demands prevented them from attending to important family matters afterhours were 90 percent more likely to seek medical care. Those in hostile or unfair business environments were 50 percent more likely. And the troubling figures don’t end there. According to reports compiled by the American Institute of Stress:

  • 80 percent of workers feel stress on the job, and nearly half say they need help in learning to manage stress; 42 percent say their co-workers need such help.
  • 14 percent of respondents confessed an urge to strike a coworker, although they didn’t act on those impulses.
  • 25 percent admit that they feel like screaming or shouting because of job stress.
  • 10 percent are concerned about an individual at work whom they fear could become violent.
  • 9 percent are aware of an assault or violent act in their workplace, and 18 percent have experienced some sort of threat or verbal intimidation in the past year.

That’s a lot of scary data. For recruiters trying to fill the glut of vacancies for their clients, or shore up an enterprise-wide MSP program, these situations can complicate sourcing efforts. Business cultures must be carefully vetted. The employees’ needs must be discovered, articulated and perfectly matched to ensure strong fits and retention. It can make the prospect of selling a job opening quite difficult, particularly when courting in-demand passive candidates who are standing at uncertain crossroads in their careers.

So instead of trying to sell salaries and perks and bonus packages, why not sell happiness? New studies are proving that switching to contingent work is not only relieving stress, it’s emotionally fulfilling. And happy workers are productive workers. More than that, they’re healthy workers.

Selling happiness

Passive candidates, because of their abilities and experience, are sought-after talent in a job market short on critical skills. According to LinkedIn research, 45 percent of these candidates have expressed their willingness to speak with recruiters about new opportunities. The challenge, industry experts declare, is in mastering a method for persuading established talent to switch employers. However, a more interesting approach may come from convincing them to consider contingent work. An ever-growing number of U.S. professionals are choosing assignment-based work over full-time employment, and not just for clerical positions. Today’s non-employee supertemps are adding tremendous value to organizations in professional, technical and managerial roles. One of the reasons stems from moving to a happier situation.

Happiness at work affects happiness overall, and vice versa. In the Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor Poll of 1,000 working U.S. adults, 76 percent placed a higher priority on personal life than on their jobs. And 67 percent of those surveyed said they would choose scheduling flexibility, telecommuting and compressed work weeks over salary hikes. Temporary professionals appreciate the flexibility of contingent work; they remain in control of their schedules, their assignments, the companies they choose, and have more leverage in negotiating their rates.

Research has found that talent who suffer high levels of anxiety and discontent from their current jobs are 76-percent more likely to choose contingent work. And 81-percent of those who switched said they were happy in their new roles. Let’s look at the advantages of contingent lifestyles and how clever recruiters can sell top talent on happiness.

  • Serious stress reduction: Let’s start with the obvious. Most employees link their sources of work stress to office politics, non-existent career paths, stagnating opportunities, low glass ceilings, constant states of flux and turmoil (from leadership shakeups, mergers, acquisitions, restructuring, etc.), and daily fears of being terminated or laid off. Contingent workers face few, if any, of these obstacles.
  • Test driving: Cultural fit is the hot recruiting trend right now, and it’s vitally important to younger generations of talent. Contingent assignments can remove the guesswork from determining a good match between candidates and the companies in which they’re placed. Complementary work exposes talent to a variety of industries, team structures, office dynamics and business environments, which allows them to find their ideal homes. For recruiters, the feedback generated from these candidates may prove instrumental in creating a more precise methodology for matching workers to specific cultures.
  • Skills enhancement: To remain engaged in a company and relevant in the marketplace, savvy workers are always exploring different avenues for acquiring new skills or expanding on existing capabilities. Every assignment creates the potential for talent to develop new work methods, learn new traits, become familiar with new industries and continue to grow as innovators and producers. In a fixed role with a single employer, talent rarely or easily have the opportunity to try different directions.
  • Focus on the family: One of the biggest advantages to being a member of the complementary workforce is setting one’s own schedule, hours, assignments, locations and time off after breaks in tenure. The adverse effects imposed on families by the rigors of demanding business cultures is a leading impediment to health and wellbeing. The flexibility of contingent work substantially alleviates those stresses.
  • Better incomes: Believe it or not, studies show that complementary workers can enjoy greater earning potential than their full-time counterparts. Average employees in the United States report no increase in compensation during their first three years on the job. Those who do receive pay raises tend to collect less than three percent annually over the same time period. Contingent talent, able to negotiate their salaries with every new assignment, can boost their earnings by eight to 10 percent.

Serenity now, insanity later

We laugh at the dysfunctional dystopia the Costanzas often create with their various schemes. The garage-based business venture Frank sets up in “The Serenity Now” is a hilarious yet uncomfortable microcosm representing the real strife many full-time employees feel -- their toil and long hours getting them a reward that sometimes has all the allure of a Waterpik. Money can’t buy happiness, the old saying goes. Yet through contingent work, dedicated professionals can achieve happiness, control their destinies and earn the money to secure their futures and their serenity. 

Sunil Bagai
Sunil Bagai
Sunil is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, thought leader and influencer who is transforming the way companies think about and acquire talent. Blending vision, technology and business skills honed in the most innovative corporate environments, he has launched a new model for recruitment called Crowdstaffing which is being tapped successfully top global brands. Sunil is passionate about building a company that provides value to the complete staffing ecosystem including clients, candidates and recruiters.
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