flexible cellsIn a stimulating thought leadership infographic by Jobvite, they explored the idea of a new job relationship dynamic which is beginning to permeate the work-place and candidate market-place. They suggest that employees are becoming more like entrepreneurs than employees, who are ready and willing to change companies or roles in order to achieve career growth. They cite some compelling supporting statistics, that being that 61% of employed workers are open to or are looking for a new job and that workers will hold an average of 11.4 jobs in a lifetime with this figure rising to 14.3 jobs in a life time for graduates in California. They also found that half of college graduates surveyed believe that self-employment is more secure than a full-time job.

In many ways, there is nothing new about this, the idea of employees being a free agent was around when I started out in the late nineties, but the problem was none of us really believed it and we really had no options; there was no Elance, Guru, or oDesk and businesses were not quite as ready to accept entrepreneurial advances from innovative employees.

But, today it is different, thanks to cloud technology and the rise of on-line contingent labor marketplaces like the three mentioned above, entrepreneurial employees can engage with employers in a highly flexible way, be that freelance, contract, part-time, full-time, second job, remotely, internationally. It’s not a one way street of course, as employers benefit in the same way by being able to staff their entrepreneurial initiatives or simply being able to bring in extra resources at times of need and many  run entire businesses through this method.

However, what I find interesting is even in the climate of a changing work paradigm, where the forces that are acting on the workplace encourage worker flexibility and discourage loyalty – the central imperative of most HR strategies is based around increasing staff retention.

I wonder if it is a time for a paradigm shift  where employers should accept truly accept that staff loyalty is becoming increasingly less attainable and embrace the changes that are going on around them, by diversifying their approach to resourcing and developing deliberate resourcing strategies so they can engage with employees in a variety of flexible ways. This might be: full time, part-time, freelance, second job, contract, work from home, remote, international.

So, in many ways I suggest that companies begin to adapt and modernize their working and resourcing practices to allow today’s more mobile workforce to flow in and out of their organization as they wish – but while making sure they gain maximum benefit from those workers while they are there.

In today’s market-place much of the best, most precocious talent may be locked away in their happy world of freelancing – and if employers want access to this talent they must find a way to engage with this talent on their own terms, for mutual benefit naturally.

I am not suggesting chaos, but more of an organized and progressive approach for handling contingent labor which involves developing a strategy as well as an underlying pay, technology and administrative infrastructure which enables them to operate a fully integrated contingent labor force within their overall workforce. So, what would this mean in practice? It would mean things like:

  • Setting higher targets for use of contingent labor versus permanent labor
  • Training managers to engage with tools like Elance, Guru and oDesk to find contingent labor
  • Learn what makes contingent labor loyal, e.g. fast payment, regular work etc…
  • Developing your own contingent labor talent community
  • Formally invite all leaving employees to re-engage with you as contingent labor in the future
  • Develop a pay structure for contingent labor
  • Monitor ROI and performance on contingent labor versus rest of workforce.

So, there you have it; I feel it is the right time to acknowledge this new culture of worker flexibility and that much of the industry top talent will be residing in contingent labor pools with no intention of leaving.

If organizations want to access this premium talent, they must build equally flexible organizations that allow contingent labor to flow in and out of their organizations, and which can extract the most return from contingent labor while it is there.

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