The Changing Nature of Work, Employment, and Recruiting

Aug 17, 2011
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

Negotiating the conditions of employment, hedging one job with another, being wary of accepting full-time jobs that put at risk other work or that compromise skill — those are becoming the normal patterns for accomplished professionals.

Individuals are finding new freedoms and exploring their own capacity and taste for change and entrepreneurism. Some organizations are looking for ways to adapt to all of this without endangering their own success, but it may be that these two different needs are not compatible. We will find out over the next 10 years or less. Certainly manufacturing firms and companies where hands-on work is required will not be able to be flexible enough to these changes. They will face friction between the workers whose jobs allow them to be virtual or part-time or flex-time and those whose work does not.

Here are some of the issues, paradoxes, and changes that employers, candidates, recruiters, and human resources are faced with.

These have already complicated the employment market and created confusion as work itself is being redefined and re-calibrated.

Flexible Working Times

Everyone wants to work when they want to, whether that is at night, weekends, or during what we call a “normal” working day. Mothers want time with their children and would like to work when the kids are sleeping or in school. Others are more productive in the wee hours and want to sleep in the daytime. And still others want to vary their schedules depending on their mood or family needs.

Individual contributors who can work alone are most likely to be able to find work with flexible schedules. People who might enjoy such flexibility include data-input people, researchers, web developers, programmers, and others whose work spans time and is done individually.

Some organizations allow flexibility within defined parameters or with prior approval. Only a few are truly open to a varied, unpredictable schedule even if work is done in a timely way and all deadlines are met. My own website is coded and maintained by a person who has a full-time job that gives her flexibility and control over her time and allows her to take on additional work.

More firms are offering flexible working times and slowly are focusing on results rather than time as the measures of performance.

It will be tough to convince very good people to work for organizations that do not allow flexible work. Employment branding and messaging should be clear about the time requirements, and you should target an audience where flexibility might not be a critical consideration, such as younger men and single folks who do not have children or other responsibilities. You can also target baby boomers who have grown up in a business world without flexibility and are comfortable with that.

Multiple Jobs

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics defines multiple jobholders as people who are either hourly or salary workers who hold two or more jobs; self-employed workers who also hold an hourly or salary job; or unpaid family workers who hold an hourly or salary job as well. Currently official figures indicate that about 5% of Americans fit this category.

Organizations still expect and seek loyalty, even though they have shown their employees little of that when times get tough. Young workers, especially Gen Ys, often do have more than one source of income. They rarely make that public. They know it would be frowned on or even be the reason for getting them fired. There is very little a recruiter can do about this, but if you reject those who you suspect of having multiple jobs, you will significantly reduce your candidate pool and the quality of that pool.

Virtual Work

Having employees working from home or from remote work centers is common, and more employers are allowing this due to a variety of converging reasons, including the desire to save energy, increased travel times, skill shortages, and a global workforce.

Over the past decade so many companies have encouraged virtual work that it is almost expected. People are comfortable working with their laptops and smart phones, and have access to Skype accounts and collaborative workspaces. All of these tools make working away from a physical place practical, convenient, and cheap.

There is no doubt that this form of employment will grow rapidly and, in my opinion, may make up as much as half the U.S. workforce within a decade as most employers recognize the benefit of allowing workers to be located remotely.

Temporary Work

More employers are looking for temporary employees. This used to signal the beginning of a recovery as employers hired temps and then converted them to regular employment as the economy improved. We have seen a significant surge in temporary hiring, but very few are likely to be converted to regular employees.

Both sides are wary of commitment. Employers are not convinced that the economic recovery is sustainable and are reluctant to take on labor that may not be needed. Potential employees are not sure they will have a job that lasts and may be happier with one or two temporary jobs that spread out their risk. This article in the Huffington Post seems to bear this out and is only one of many similar ones.

Generational Mindset

As many have written, there are large differences in attitudes about work and time, between the three major generations in the workplace. Baby Boomers (those over 45) are generally traditional and are comfortable with being physically at work, in an organization, and working an 8-hour or longer day.

Gen X (those between 30-45) is also comfortable working in traditional ways, but they are more open to virtual work, and demand flexibility for their family.

But Gen Ys (those under 30) are the change agents. They do not really want to work for any organization, but especially don’t want to work for those with layers of hierarchy and reams of policies and procedures. They want flexible, virtual work, and are more likely to have multiple jobs. They are the hardest to recruit and the hardest to retain. Yet, finding ways to attract and accommodate them will be crucial because they are the future of most organizations as Baby Boomers age and move out.

Long-term unemployment will likely be the new normal, and employers, recruiters, and candidates will find a host of ways to engage people outside of “regular” employment. In fact, the term “regular employment” is becoming meaningless.

As the recession continues, many people will find ways to earn a living without relying on traditional jobs. Many of the best will find greater satisfaction in working as consultants or contractors and, while they may technically be unemployed, they may actually live and feel better while earning less. This will be a challenge to our consumer society and its associated economy.

Recruiting in this morphing environment will likewise be more and more challenging and require adaptation to recruiting people with different work and pay patterns. Recruiting the regular employee will become a smaller segment of hiring and be more of a challenge than ever before.

This article is part of a series called News & Trends.
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