Over this Christmas break, I had the good fortune to recharge the batteries and spend some time with my family. I have to admit that I was really holding out for the break this year; by the end of 2014 I was getting a bit tired and grumpy so the break truly was a God send for me. However, my mind quickly flicked back into work mode on Christmas Day when I was speaking with one of my brothers. He was telling me that he had just clocked up 25 years at his business and he could not believe how rare it was now days. He was very proud, as he should be, of his achievement and wondered why people didn’t seem to stay in jobs for as long in this day and age as they once did. It got me thinking as to how work has changed in recent times.
For me, the most obvious change is in the actual dynamic between employer and employee. Once upon a time, not so long ago, it was a relationship based on fear combined with a grudging respect. I referred to my first boss as Mr and would never dream of approaching him directly. If he asked for anything, I went out of my way to ensure that he received it and I wasn’t alone with this approach. Today, the relationship is totally different. I laughed recently when a graduate I hired came into my office on day one of his employment and plonked himself down on my desk and gave me a “high five”…….fair to say that his tenure was relatively short lived however it gave me a real insight into the changing dynamic between employer and employee.
For me, work was once a location as well as a group of tasks and activities. A significant part of what I considered work was the geography of where I worked, namely the office. My desk was once an extension of my home and I could control my geographic environment without too much stress. When the company changed office plans it tended to be highly controversial; emotions ran high with regards to where you were going to sit. God forbid that the office actually moved suburbs!!! Advances in technology have changed this concept at a rapid rate. Technology has given businesses the ability to bring everyone together when required; you can be in Manilla, Perth or just sitting on a beach, as long as the work is being delivered. We are now contactable 24/7 in a world that demands 24/7 connectivity and this brings further challenges and demands. Mobile devices of all kinds mean that we can choose to respond to important issues when we are on leave or, we may choose not to. It has changed the whole equation of what are reasonable expectations of an employee but that is a discussion for another day.
Flexibility in working arrangements has certainly enabled recent changes at work. However, flexibility certainly does have its limitations. Some jobs are easily transitioned into a “flexible work arrangements” while some are not. Outcome based jobs are certainly more transitioned into flexible arrangements. These roles are often accompanied with a management statement like “I don’t care what you do or how you do it, as long as you achieve the results”. Other roles are more difficult to be flexible with – these generally need you to be in a location for a set amount of time delivering a set service. An emergency doctor comes to mind.
The mere nature of temporary or casual workers was once very rare. After a while, fixed term contracts and project work became common. Remote staffing was the next big wave where call centres and back offices were outsourced as businesses sought an advantage with the push to productivity. Employees realised their power and advantage in this new paradigm at this stage as well. Employees with skills in short demand were able to sell their skills to the highest bidder who gave them the greatest flexibility with the highest reward. System implementation skills or specific project related skills allowed employees the ability to sell themselves as a gun for hire and this was a further change to the way work was completed.
The nature of work has certainly changed over the past 25 years. I applaud my brother for his 25 years of service. However, tenure like this is becoming very rare. The nature of work is changing – the geography and the social factors are leading the charge of this change. However, above all, technology is certainly the key driver. With technology changing at such a rapid rate, one wonders what work will be like in the next ten years.
Brad McMahon – Managing Director