October 01, 2014

The Progression of the “Employee”

Over the past decade, the definition and image of employees has changed. With the influence of social media, mobile apps, and constant connectivity, technology is seamlessly woven into workers’ everyday reality, blurring the distinction between traditional hours of work, school, and personal life.

And employers have shifted their view of workforces as well - workers were once considered disposable cogs and now have become the most important asset that a company has. Both companies and workers are focused on the 3 Cs: connectivity, communication, and collaboration.

Drivers of Change

The global economy has an impact on the evolution of workers and how we work. Rapidly advancing technology, constantly shifting competitive pressures, and destabilizing events around the world occur so frequently that employers have difficulty predicting what will happen in the short-term and long-term future. This uncertainty is causing more organizations to seek out flexibility.

Technology has been a tremendous driver in the changing nature of work. Technologies such as mobile devices, cloud computing, and web conferencing have impacted connectivity across the globe. Workers can now work from anywhere and still be able to collaborate and share information 24/7 with their peers.

Who are “Employees” Today?

In the past, workers were full- time employees of a company who worked fixed hours in the corporate office, whereas today work has become truly flexible. Companies are relying more and more on temporary work arrangements to bring in the talent they need for specific projects. And there is no longer a need for most of these workers to work from an office or to work from 9 to 5. Leading companies, such as Unilever, Aetna, and American Express, are rolling out flexible work arrangements for their workers across the globe.

Many years ago, employees would stay employed with companies from the time they began their career to retirement. Even ten years ago, employment advisors would tell people to expect to have approximately seven or eight jobs over a 30-year career. Now the tenure of employment positions is shorter than it has ever been before. According to experts, the average tenure of a Fortune 500 CEO is now down to less than four years. And most people will likely go through 15 or 20 job changes over a 50-year career.

While contingent, subcontracted employment has always existed, the share of jobs that are temporary is increasing, especially in positions that were historically full-time and salary-based. For example, in the world of academia, where full-time professors are on track for tenure, many college campuses now are hiring adjunct faculty who are part-time and contingent. Since 1975, the percentage of faculty that was adjunct has risen from 30 percent to over 50 percent.

The Changing Workplace

There’s been much talk in the news and media recently about the design of the workplace. Organizations are trying to optimize costs by reducing unneeded office space, especially when workers can effectively work from anywhere, and prefer to do so. The “office” in many companies is becoming a collaboration hub, where workers can meet face-to-face and spend time connecting with each other. Individual work, however, is increasingly occurring outside the office altogether.

In the past, workers often carried two devices – their work device and their personal device. With many companies implementing Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) policies, company provisioned phones and computers are being phased out.

The Nature of Work is Different

Ten years ago, most positions had a career path. Generally, when starting a career, a worker entered a new company at the bottom of the corporate ladder and then steadily climbed his or her way up to a higher position. For example, in the world of sales, one began as a sales coordinator, then a sales manager, senior sales manager, sales director, to a vice-president of sales, and so on. However, due to the growing freelance economy, collaboration platforms, and new management approaches, workers are starting to shape their own career ladders. Some forward-thinking companies now offer programs where workers can change work preferences twice a year. And other companies even allow workers to have complete autonomy in which projects they want to work on and who they want to work with.

Collaboration technologies have also played a role in giving workers at any level throughout the organization the opportunity to share ideas, thoughts, and concepts. Leadership does not come simply by job title alone anymore, but rather by the content and knowledge that is shared, and the following that is gathered from it.

The Worker: Past vs. Future

The Worker: Past vs. Future