5 Emerging Trends in the Way We Work

Tammy Erickson at Harvard Business Review is out with some thought provoking insights into emerging trends in the way we work:

  1. Two-job norm — More people will maintain two sources of income than ever before. Instead of relying on the onetime holy grail of employment — a salaried job with full benefits — workers will create a series of backup options. For many, especially those in creative or knowledge-based work, this is likely to include becoming entrepreneurs. A second job or even a small entrepreneurial venture provides a safety net, giving workers a small measure of control over their fate in an increasingly unstable environment.
  2. Less “off hours” work — Recession-management approaches that made full-time employees take a day a week “off” planted some new questions in the minds of employees who had been working virtually 24×7. What is a “day?” Eight hours? Twenty percent of the time I normally work each week? For many, these questions lead inevitably to: If they only want me to work four days a week, why am I working more than 32 hours? Many companies have come to rely on very long work weeks as staffing cuts lead to more work for the remaining individuals and technology facilitated round-the-clock work. I expect to see more push back this year — in part because many individuals will be spending time advancing their second work option.
  3. Competition for discretionary energy — Engagement has been a hot topic in talent management circles for the past decade. But its benefits have focused primarily on attracting and retaining employees. Increasingly, managers’ focus will shift to competing for an employee’s discretionary energy — competing with other priorities in the employee’s life, including other options for work — but also competing against employees who are only “going through the motions.” More and more of the work in today’s economy cannot be done rotely — success requires a spark of extra effort, creativity, collaboration, and innovation.
  4. More diverse arrangements — By now, most companies have put a variety of flex work options on the books. In 2010, I believe these arrangements will begin to take hold in significant ways, driven by employee preferences, facilitated by new technologies, supported by new managers who themselves are more comfortable with virtual work.
  5. Transparent, “adult” arrangements — My favorite change is the growth in what I like to call “communities of adults” — a philosophy of recasting the employment relationship from one of paternalistic care to adult choice. A simple example is offering a menu of benefit options and letting employees choose those that work best. Further along the spectrum would include encouraging employees to “own” their own feedback process or even set their own compensation levels. These sorts of changes won’t settle in this year, but they’re coming. I expect we’ll see more examples as the year progresses.

Since graduating college, I have lived through two incredible bubbles and busts. Most of my peers do not believe in stability at work because they’ve never experienced such a fairy tale. Instead, our attitudes toward employment have slowly transformed into those of Wall Street’s attitude towards stocks: get what you can while you can, then move to the next hot thing.

For example, five years ago I had several friends working at Google. Some departed for sexier jobs at the new hot thing Facebook. Now I am watching others hook up with Twitter. If our parents married their employers, we’re definitely more interested in hooking up.

I also think most people in my generation have some side business either going on or “in the works.” It’s hard to ignore the unprecedented opportunities provided by the internet. It’s also hard to watch your office colleague quit and go on to build some social media app worth millions. In this regard, I think business plans will continue to become more like screenplays: soon everyone will have one.

The world of intellectual labor is changing as fast as the information age progresses. With new software which can translate any language in your word processor, it won’t be long before cheaper labor drags down the wages of professions once thought to be safe from globalization. I, for one, and excited to see what happens even if the transition to the New World is a bumpy and sometimes uncomfortable ride.

Readers who liked this also enjoyed these posts:

The Edge: 7 Interesting Comments About Markets in 2010

Did the US Government Subsidize Holiday Purchases?