A Changing Landscape: The Work Ecosystem, Disappearing Jobs, New Mindsets
A Potpourri of Changes
More and more employers are finding it necessary to negotiate the conditions of employment as employees are increasingly wary of accepting full-time jobs that compromise flexibility or do not fully utilize their skills. The record number of resignations over the past few months in the U.S. underlines the challenges employers face as they figure out how to thrive in this changing job market.
Individuals are finding new freedoms and exploring their capacity and taste for change and entrepreneurism. Some organizations are looking for ways to adapt to all of this without endangering their success, but it may be that these two different needs are not compatible. We will find out over the next few years.
For example, Bill Wall faced two choices: go back to the in-person office and a job he didn’t find challenging, although well-qualified to do it or continue to build up his fledgling Internet design company. The pandemic has allowed him to work virtually at his office job and also continue to build his own company. But will he be able to do this as employers require in-person work and demand that workers have no other employment?
Indeed, manufacturing firms and companies requiring hands-on work will not flex to these changes. Still, they may find themselves juggling multiple workforces – permanent, contract, and gig to meet their needs.
Firms whose jobs require cognitive skills will find it much easier to adapt. Many, including Salesforce, Twitter, Microsoft, and even Facebook and Google, offer flexible working arrangements and embrace either total virtual work or a hybrid version that requires only a few days in the office.
The employment market has become complicated, with multiple interests attempting to find a working balance. Successful recruiters will influence hiring managers, explain the job market, and negotiate complex offers with candidates. Success may require recruiters to be more persuasive than ever with hiring managers and candidates.
Complex Work Ecosystem
The standard workday and week are disappearing, and this transformation is already bringing up questions and issues that impact employers, employees, landlords, and entire cities.
Here are just a few of the questions that have already risen. What will fill office buildings if people work remotely? How will the thousands of small businesses that feed and take care of office workers survive? Where will tax dollars come from? How will employees get to know each other? Is this important for productivity and innovation? Will organizations still need many levels of managers? How will remote workers’ performance be measured?
Perhaps the most fundamental question of all is what is an employee? In Figure 1 below, which of these are employees? How do we define them?
It will be years before we have answers to these, but in the meantime, the workforce is splintering into a more complex form consisting of permanent workers, contractors, part-time employees, occasional workers, and consultants.
Recruiters will need the flexibility, acumen, influence, and skills to deal with this complexity.
It will be tough to convince people to work for organizations that do not allow flexible work. Some organizations allow flexibility within defined parameters or with prior approval. Only a few are genuinely open to a varied, unpredictable schedule even though work is done quickly, and all deadlines are met. 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.
More firms are offering flexible working times and slowly are focusing on results rather than time as the measure of performance. Most leaders still have a time and place mindset, but accepting flexible working times will become normal eventually.
Recruiters need to work with hiring managers to define positions where flexible work is acceptable and where it is not. Recruiting a diverse candidate pool will be difficult if your organization does not develop clear guidelines around who can work remotely, the conditions of flexible work, and flexible compensation plans.
Having employees working from home or remote work centers is now common. Due to the pandemic and the desire to save energy, decrease travel, and access rare skills, more employers are allowing this.
Technology has enabled complex virtual work, and many firms have decided to become completely virtual with no offices or fixed places of employment. Undoubtedly, this form of employment will grow rapidly and may make more than half the workforce within a decade.
Recruiters need to become adept at searching and hiring anywhere. The skills a candidate offers will become more critical than attitudes, appearance, culture fit, or personality. All of these become less critical as the workforce is dispersed.
Mindsets in Flux
As many have written, there are significant differences in attitudes about work and time between employees. Some of these differences are age or experience-related, but others are around the shift away from traditional ways of organization. They reject layers of hierarchy and reams of policies.
Even the idea of a job is slowly dying. Rather than codify a set of skills around a job title, the trend is to look for people who can offer a solution to a problem or perform a unique function. Work is beginning to look more like consulting, where a consultant is hired for their expertise without regard for traditional employment measures.
Organizations still expect and seek loyalty, but virtual and flexible work will strain that concept. Young workers often have more than one source of income, but they rarely make that public. Sometimes these multiple jobs are referred to as slash jobs. Examples are employee/musician or blogger/coder/food critic, or designer/consultant/writer
If you reject those you suspect of having multiple jobs, you will significantly reduce your candidate pool and the quality of that pool.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics defines multiple jobholders as hourly or salary workers who hold two or more jobs, self-employed workers who also have an hourly or salary job, or unpaid family workers who hold an hourly or salary job. Official figures indicate that about 5% of Americans fit this category, but it is growing rapidly.
Jobs Disappearing/Skills Are Center
Jobs are being atomized and deconstructed into the skills that make them up. Over the past 100 years skills have been grouped into bundles that we put a title on that we call a job. These become our identity and limit what we can do.
To deal with rapidly changing market conditions, the advent of artificial intelligence, and a remote workforce, many firms find it more effective to unbundle or atomize these jobs into their various skills.
By focusing on skills rather than jobs or titles, employees are free to use whatever skills they have wherever they are needed. This opens the door to using the gig workforce where a person can be hired to provide a specific skill and not worry as much about their culture fit or long-term development.
This is a new era for human resources, recruiting, and work. So many changes are occurring simultaneously that the systemic effect will be enormous. Our current thinking and employment institutions evolved from the end of the 19th century to the end of the 20th century. They were effective and valuable for the manufacturing era. They are woefully inadequate for this new century, and we are already beginning to evolve new practices and new work. HR and recruiting will experience a transforming decade.
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