The Highest Value Currency in a Hybrid, On Demand Work World:

Employee Engagement

Workin’ 9 to 5, what a way to make a livn’

Barely gettin’ by, it’s all takn’ and no givin…

Thirty-five years ago those words sure rang true. The 1980 hit song “Nine to Five” and comedy film of the same name, starring singer-songwriter Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin grabbed popular culture by the tail. The title alone, resonated. Today, though? Meh, not so much.  Well, to clarify, not so much among a burgeoning number of people engaged in the virtual employee, on demand economy.

Rapidly fading are the days of full-time, nine to five, 40-hour work weeks. It’s an antiquated notion, really, that originated in the early 20th century with the advent of assembly line manufacturing and an unprecedented labor demand to keep systems running.

Fast forward a century later to a dramatically changed labor landscape. According to a Forbes article citing the Freelancers Union, some 53 million Americans, representing 34 per cent of the total workforce, are working as self-reliant, on demand hires.  By 2020 the U.S. contingent and contract workforce will likely mushroom to 50 per cent.¹

on demand work

What makes this new solopreneur economy so attractive?  “Who Wins in the Labor Economy, and Who Loses” a compelling read by Diane Malcahy for Harvard Business Review, sums it up best: “Workers with specialized skills, deep expertise, or in-demand experience win in the gig economy. They can command attractive compensation, garner challenging and interesting work, and secure the ability to structure their own working lives. Workers who possess strong technical, management, leadership, or creative abilities are best positioned to take advantage of the opportunity to create a working life that incorporates flexibility, autonomy, and meaning.”²

Funny thing though, even as more and more organizations turn to on demand talent for one-off projects or longer term contracts, a clear majority grapple with traditional mindsets and conventional operational structures. Take teleworking as a prime example. “How do I manage my team when they’re not physically around? How can I be sure they’re putting in a full day’s work? What about social isolation?” – classic 101 management objections. But as millennials begin to occupy more management and leadership roles, we can expect the old paradigm of “you’re not working unless I see you working” will die out.  Given that much work is done from different places as a result of mobile technology, astute managers will have no choice but to assess performance not through presence or absence, but by actual delivered results.  It follows that those who hold on to the old fashioned perception of 40 hour, on site work environments will increasingly be marginalized.

HR concerns around the “open talent economy” can be even more perplexing. How do you assimilate virtual employees into the corporate culture? What are the organization’s compensation and tax implications? How to manage the rapid and drastically changing composition of this labor force?

Millennials’ are excited about what they can offer and open to opportunities that bolster their expertise and value.  New graduates are especially receptive to contract work and on demand assignments. That gusto, combined with many having witnessed their parents being “down-sized” during the recessions of the 1980s and 1990s, has led to a generation considerably more mobile – some would say “disloyal” than generations past. TalentMap benchmark data clearly shows that millennials have a greater penchant to change jobs more frequently.

Of course, the potential impact of baby boomers is also considerable. With improving living standards, improved health, and unfortunately for many, a debt burden, many boomers are likely to remain in the workforce.  Most boomers feel they’ve “made their mark” and are less likely to believe they must prove their worth. Consequently, they’re less interested in working long hours, they’re less defined by their careers, and, most of all, they’re much more interested in part-time, contract work or by-project.

With older workers on the cusp of retirement, and millennials seeking challenging meaningful work – (willing to change jobs frequently to achieve these things), the onus lies with organizations to balance such competing demands. Add in the pressure to achieve fiscal efficiencies such as reduced employment, benefit and overhead costs, through scalability and other means, and bam! on demand flexibility becomes crucial.

Employee engagement is predicted to be the highest value currency when it comes to recruiting and most of all, retaining talent in this hybrid work world. To engage millennials (and hopefully retain them a little longer – they’ll still leave after 4-5 years anyway), professional growth, learning and development is key. To engage baby boomers, a flexible work environment, work-life balance and quality of life, speak volumes.

Where nine to five was a once-upon-a-time dream job, these days rewarding work has different definitions. Find out what those definitions mean to your workforce. Solicit input from the widest representation of voices possible, including on demand talent. Earn a reputation for your engaging leadership. Use this status to open doors to a wealth of talent that by 2020 in the U.S. will be nearly 168 millions strong.³

2 Comments on “On Demand Work World Employee Engagement

  1. We call it “Simply Irresistible,” and it’s a modern and updated way of thinking through the entire landscape of employee engagement.

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