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We’re all just contractors, really.

Seen any long-term employees lately? Workers with over ten years tenure are becoming a rare breed. Many will never qualify for long service leave. Jobs for life? Unlikely for aspirational professionals in today’s workforce.

Traditional employment paradigms are slowly disappearing from the vernacular. They’re being replaced by concepts such as the agile work environment, activity based workplaces and a contingent workforce, which better describe the current landscape. Employee tenure is also decreasing over the years, with McCrindle Research finding that employees are changing their jobs as many as 17 times, with five career changes now the average.

What’s causing this shift? A challenge to the long held perception that retaining an employee in a permanent full-time role is imperative to protect the IP of an organisation.

So why wouldn’t workforce flexibility be attractive to employers? Engaging contractors provides many benefits: The ability to ‘right size’ your team, engage technical experts for specific projects, or inject fresh ideas from people with broader industry experience. Less can also bring more: Short-term specialist staff can help to refine best practice methodology in a company.

Despite performing well locally, some Australian multinationals faced a headcount freeze during the GFC. Contracting executives proved an effective solution. Mitigating long-term risk, while ensuring the required outputs were achieved, contractors gave these organisations the ability to engage mission critical staff, without the need to negotiate with their overseas parent for appointment approval.

Whilst the ratio of contractors to permanent employees varies across sectors and companies, generally we are seeing an increased willingness from organisations to consider a contractor as a worthwhile alternative to the traditional permanent employee, which is backed-up by an overall increase in contractor ratios.

What does this mean for employees? To succeed within this new paradigm, the ability to continuously improve, develop your skills and experience, while adapting to different working environments in all types of organisations will be the challenge. An attitudinal shift is already in play, with more recent entrants into the workforce already adopting a flexible, agile perspective to their career. For these individuals, a long-term role is not even a consideration and may not even be a preference.

Accompanying this agile workforce will be a greater emphasis on performance based management and key performance indicators (KPIs). Employees will need to collaborate and engage with an ever-changing team who may increasingly be based remotely and not be accessible within traditional office hours or a corporate environment. Similarly, employers will need to adjust their thinking and recognise that traditional ‘line of sight’ management is also a thing of the past.

For executives, cultural fit is always imperative. With contractors progressively performing roles that were previously held by staff under permanent employment arrangements, it’s more important now than ever before. Executive contractors are also being assessed for their contribution to the organisational culture, not just their skills and expertise, even for short term contracts.

When you’re recruiting, don’t place limitations on the talent available to you by thinking only in terms of engagement. A contemporary shift in workplace attitudes, ongoing technological advances that allow for flexible working practices and the reduced need for staff to be present in traditional workplaces means better options for employers and employees too. In the meantime it will be interesting to review workplace statistics in 2020 to see whether this trend continues on its current trajectory.

What workforce trends have you observed in your industry? How have contractors positively contributed to your organisation?

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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work