It wasn’t so long ago when employer and employees committed to each other for a lifetime. Companies offered workers career-long employment — including the traditional career ladder, pension plans and gold watches — in exchange for their hard work, loyalty and tenure.
That traditional employment relationship served well back in the Industrial Era, a more stable time when organizations grew ever larger to leverage economies of scale, quality and process improvement. According to The Economist, “the idea that having a good job means being an employee of a particular company is a legacy of a period that stretched from about 1880 to 1980.” That era, however, is long gone.
Fast forward to today: the world’s business environment is evolving rapidly, and nearly every industry faces disruption, volatility and continuous reinvention. Automation, innovation and just about everything else is accelerating as businesses strive to create new value and meet strategic objectives.
Work is on-demand. And it’s no longer a place workers go to process widgets. Instead, it allows contributors to express their creativity and collaboration. Technology now allows the modern worker to connect from anywhere or at anytime, and for companies, it makes available a broader range of skill sets, experiences and styles from freelancers, resource partners and consultants. Previously unaffiliated workers and companies can connect through online resources such as Elance-oDesk. [See: Online Workplaces: The Real Impact of Online Work]
These advances bring forth a full range of global resourcing options for employers, managers and workers alike, and everybody’s finding advantages in this new kind of work relationship. Elance-oDesk’s Online Work Report for 2014 showed:
- Businesses in the U.S. alone spent $604 million hiring freelancers online – a 30 percent year-over-year increase from 2013.
- By the close of 2014, Elance-oDesk’s community crossed the 13.5 million mark (with 3.8 million businesses and 9.7 million freelancers).
- Technology continues as the largest category of online work (at 50 percent, by spending). The four fastest-growing categories are, from the top, mobile, sales and marketing, administrative support and writing and translation.
An Unspoken Truth
These advancements reveal an unspoken truth – that as more people than ever are connecting through the vast (and still growing) network available today, new paradigms about work, location and geography have changed the relationship between employer and worker.
All too many workers have seen traditional employment practices like probationary periods, at-will employment status, layoffs and the possibility of being released from a position or company at any time and for any (or no) reason. Those same workers, after being welcomed during the initial hiring and on-boarding process, might invest enough to meet performance expectations while keeping one eye on the horizon for additional opportunities, because they see that there are no guarantees.
Management also recognizes flaws in the traditional model. Managers work diligently to help make their teams more productive and efficient, but rather than facilitating organizational growth and regularly conducting career conversations, they all too often find their energies invested in trying to keep up with the pace of relentless change as they track projects and try to avoid jolts that come from the loss of valuable team members. This can leave managers staring into the rearview mirror and taking a reactive approach to retention efforts. As a result, the traditional employment model often diminishes the relationship between employers and workers, slowly eroding organizational trust rather than strengthening the bonds and networks between them.
So, what can companies do to keep pace with these changing work relationships?
Start thinking boldly (very boldly) about your culture, organization and talent manifesto and forge a set of strategic goals.
Imagine what it would look like to:
- Go from transactional to relational employment ties in a networked era.
- Design and build an employer-contributor relationship model that facilitates a mutual investment and work mission.
The result will be renewed trust, loyalty, benefit and value to both parties.
- Develop explicit agreements and set clear expectations from the people who join your company and what each of you can expect in return in terms of business outcomes and professional growth; this will create a roadmap that allows the company and its workers to be even more dynamic and driven.
- Create smart rewards that recognize great performance and more, such as, cutting-edge policies for personal device usage, network development, idea spaces to enhance personal/team productivity and support a more mobile work style and learning designs.
While the era of lifetime employment arrangements are gone, as a leader of change, you can move forward with a new employment relationship model that fits in a new world of work.
These are a just a few thoughts to help broaden your thinking and spark dialogue within your workplace. Stay tuned for more as we explore how a new employment relationship model can positively impact engagement, culture, and business outcomes. Fasten your seatbelt: given the speed of business today, we believe that people management will evolve more in the next five years than it has in the last 30 years.
© 2015 All rights reserved. Judy White, SPHR, GPHR, HCS, SPHR-SCP™ is the founder and president of The Infusion Group™. A trusted partner in creating new possibilities in workplace culture design and talent management to have a meaningful impact on people, businesses, and society. For more information, please click here. or dm @InfusionGrpLLC