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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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True Contingent Talent: The New Workforce Prototype

Busting the myth of permanent employment

American humorist Demetri Martin posted this gem on his Facebook wall today: “Research suggests that your chances of dying at some point are 100%.” In the 1950s and 1960s, this joke may have provoked a silly chuckle and some head shaking. The comments in response to the post today, however, took a decidedly more existential tone.

The ideals of stability and permanence were hallmarks of the Greatest Generation. During that era, more families owned homes. The marriage rate was higher. And jobs were careers, considered as permanent as marital bonds and the family homestead. The world today exists in a more transitory state. The old notions of security and permanence don’t fit as neatly into this century’s rapid and fluctuating dynamic. “The traditional model of lifetime employment, so well-suited to periods of relative stability, is too rigid for today’s networked age,” writes LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman in his latest book The Alliance. “Few American companies can provide the traditional career ladder for their employees anymore; the model is in varying degrees of disarray globally.”

Most workers, whether they realize it or not, are contingent

The careers our grandparents described to us no longer seem difficult to attain -- they now appear illusory. Trying to secure a lifelong job with a single employer could be viewed, by contemporary standards, as forcing a square peg into a round hole. Consider the results of the current Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) tenure data report:

• The median for workers age 55 to 64 is 10.3 years.

• The median for workers age 25 to 34 is 3.2 years.

In 2010, the Wall Street Journal published the results of a BLS study conducted by economist Chuck Pierret. Approximately 10,000 individuals were interviewed, “first surveyed in 1979, when group members were between 14 and 22 years old. So far, members of the group have held 10.8 jobs, on average, between ages 18 and 42.”

From the Boomers to the Millennials, employment data paint the same picture: the modern workforce is defined by change, multiple employers and a declining length of time at any given job. Based on the BLS figures, the average tenure for Millennials is three times shorter than for Boomers. And that likely means they’ll support an ever greater number of employers in their career lifetimes.

“What conclusions can be drawn from this data?” DCR Workforce asked. “A contingent workforce is defined as ‘a provisional group of workers who work for an organization on a non-permanent basis.’That describes all of us!” 

“Loyalty to a company? It’s nonsense.” -- Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch

When Jack Welch uttered those now infamous words in the 1990s, he both anticipated and helped set the tone for a new era of employment predicated on an unpredictable, kinetic and less permanent “at will” environment. Welch not only marked a fascinating shift in the nature of full-time employment, he completely reversed GE’s longstanding philosophy as articulated in 1962 by Earl Willis, then manager of employee benefits: “Maximizing employee security is a prime company goal.”

In the 1980s, nearly 60 percent of executives polled in a Conference Board survey believed that loyal employees drove business goals and deserved the assurance of an ongoing career. A decade later, that figure had dropped to 6 percent.

In Hoffman’s view, this sea change in modern full-time employment has become a confusing paradox for job seekers, plagued by a fundamental disconnect created by the “at will” nature of “permanent” positions. In a sample scenario, Hoffman explains how hiring managers enthusiastically greet their new hires, instilling in them a strong sense of community, family and longevity. And then?

“She hands you off to the HR department, who sits you down in a conference room and spends thirty minutes explaining that you’re on a ninety-day probation period, and that even after that, you’ll be an ‘at will’ employee. At any moment, you can be fired. For any reason, you can be fired. Even if your boss has no reason at all, you can be fired.”

The shaky foundations of the modern employer-employee relationship rests on a “dishonest conversation.” As a result, both parties engage in contradictory dialog and actions, which Hoffman describes as “reciprocal self-deception.” While employers underscore their encouraging discussions of career paths with insinuations of at will consequences, employees share their grand visions of a committed future with the company while planning to jump ship the minute a better opportunity comes along.

Is work-life balance more choice than balance?

This detrimental dynamic has particularly affected working parents. In Bright Horizons’ latest national analysis of work-life policies and parental stress, included in its Modern Family Index, nearly 50 percent of working parents expressed fears about being terminated over family obligations. Additionally:

• 39 percent fear being denied a raise

• 37 percent fear they will no longer receive promotions

• 26 percent worry about a demotion

Because of these concerns, 51 percent of working parents reported using paid time-off to handle family obligations instead of taking vacations or much needed rest days. A quarter of the parents in the study further confessed to lying about family responsibilities that could be perceived as interfering with work.

• 31 percent of working parents have faked an illness to meet family obligations.

• 39 percent admit being nervous about missing a work event for a family commitment.

• 56 percent hesitate to ask their employers about reducing hours, working remotely or responding to family related calls or emails on company time.

Once again, the “at will” nature of employment -- which supplants a sense of impermanence in permanent positions -- is influencing a culture of dishonesty, distrust and disloyalty.

If we’re already functioning as temporary workers, let’s consider becoming temporary workers “In the at-will era,” Hoffman asserts, “employees have been encouraged to think of themselves as ‘free agents,’ seeking out the best opportunities for growth and changing jobs whenever better offers beckoned.”

Hoffman urges the business world to develop a new employment framework conducive to mutual trust, benefit and investment in the objectives of the company and the workers: “An ideal framework encourages employees to develop their personal networks and act entrepreneurially without becoming mercenary job-hoppers.”

And yet, this model already exists in contingent talent. Actual “free agents” currently make up one-third of the American workforce in varying iterations of indirect workers, contractors and freelancers. Today’s talent, especially those in the millennial generation, have embraced contingent work, finding the freedom and independence more appealing options than full-time employment.

• Innovation and opportunity drive them.

• They don’t harbor expectations that employers will take care of them; they instead seek to contribute their expertise to the growth and success of the organizations they support.

• When invited to participate in opportunities, they commit themselves fully to helping companies realize and attain their goals.

• Contingent workers contracts, tenure and assignments are established with clients upfront. The process is honest: workers and hiring managers understand the durations and terms of the employment agreement, and contingent workers boast high completion rates for their assignments, allaying managers’ fears of employees leaving for other opportunities unexpectedly.

• They cherish the flexibility of contingent work, which puts them in control of their schedules, assignments and family responsibilities.

• They have more leverage in negotiating their rates.

• As contractors, the can serve a variety of clients, which provides them with consistent and full-time work.

• While working for various organizations and industries, contingent professionals learn new skills, making them more valuable, qualified and marketable with each new experience.

Embracing this new workforce paradigm as true contingent talent -- not merely permanent employees functioning as such -- could prove to enhance work-life balance, continuing career development and marketability, while fostering a greater sense of honesty, loyalty and success with employers.

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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