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5 Myths of the Evolution of Work

The publication of i4cp's latest study, Beyond Uber: Driving the Evolution of Work, which highlights conversations we had with over 80 senior leaders on the topic of the changing nature of work, has sparked a lot of conversation across our membership and beyond. Some of those conversations have brought up commonly held ideas (some may say myths) about the evolution of work.

Here's our take on some of those:

1. Millennials are driving the push for a mobilized, non-traditional work model.

Sorry--can't blame this one on the Millennials--they clearly prize mobility, but they aren't the only generational group seeking more latitude. Worker demand for control and flexibility is not exclusive to younger workers. Seasoned workers (Boomers and Gen X) want the same. While nearly every executive interviewed for the study cited Millennials (those born between 1981 and 1997) as driving the trend toward a new relationship between employers and workers, they also cited Baby Boomers (born between 1946 to 1964) as pushing for flexibility too.

Skilled Boomers want work situations that take them away from the grind of office politics and daily commutes, allowing them to focus more intently on projects that are meaningful to them. And those who may want to continue working beyond retirement want to do so on their terms. And remember--the youngest among the Boomers will be in the workforce for another 15 years or more.

Beyond generational concerns, other factors, such as sweeping technological advances and globalization have combined to fuel the movement, along with economic concerns, social, demographic and lifestyle changes, skill shortages, and government regulations.

2. It's mostly unskilled workers who find temp gigs appealing.

Nope--highly skilled workers can afford to be choosy, and they are increasingly doing so. Our research has found that a cohort of skilled workers who expect more control and flexibility in the work they do, to include when they work, where they work, and for whom they work is growing quickly. As we noted in the study, this group, commonly referred to as the "digital workforce," is prompting employers to rethink how they organize their workforces.

In the past, the use of contingent, contract, or other nontraditional workers was largely reserved for tactical purposes, centering primarily on cost savings. But the shift is more strategic than tactical, focusing more on the creative utilization and retention of talent. The objective is simple: to increase organizational capability, capacity, and agility by loosening up the traditional model.

3. All this hype about the new world of work is just that--hype. Most professionals don't want to give up the security of a steady paycheck and benefits.

Don't fool yourself--disruption is already here. A nine-to-five job with a set salary and benefits is not as broadly appealing as it once was. Look around--people are increasingly becoming used to and expecting the opportunity to customize their experiences, from ordering lunch to booking their own travel and everything in between--we want freedom of choice in every aspect of our lives, work included (or especially).

As we noted in the study, nearly all (95%) of the 80 executives interviewed by i4cp told us that their companies are already using more nontraditional (and non-employee) skilled workers. Further, they told us that they anticipate that their organizations are in various stages of planning to or are already moving toward a model in which 30 to 50% of their workforces will be non-traditional (i.e., not employees) in the coming few years. "Uberfication" might not yet dominate the world economy, but personalization and customization of work and the workplace to include elements such as development and career paths, benefits, rewards, and incentives is increasingly the expectation. The Affordable Healthcare Act in part helped pave the way for employees to begin to feel less tethered to their employers because of health insurance. And mobile access to banking and online bill-paying makes mobility more possible than ever before in our history. Not only are people feeling less tied to brick and mortar office spaces, they can be more mobile in terms of where and how they choose to live too.

4. If this evolution of work idea becomes widely accepted reality, that means HR will soon become obsolete.

Au contraire--now more than ever, HR professionals will be on the front lines and absolutely integral to leading and managing this change through their collaborative capabilities. Be it oversight of vendors providing the contingent workers to forming internal partnerships or centers of excellence that join professionals from HR, marketing, talent acquisition, finance, procurement, and other appropriate functions to source, attract, vet, and manage relationships with talent worldwide, HR will have a much more complex role in the years ahead. This will require HR to become expert workforce planners and to continue to build their technical skills, business acumen, and fine-tune their abilities to partner with the business effectively and be tied into strategic planning. We may well be witnessing the early stages of the rise of the uber HR professional.

5. Less control in terms of who does the work, where it gets done and how will place productivity and quality of work at risk.

Probably not--study after study has shown that workers who feel empowered and in control of when, where, why, and how the work gets done are more likely to have higher levels of engagement, productivity and innovation. And they consistently outperform their office-bound colleagues.

Lorrie Lykins
is i4cp's managing editor & director of research services.

Lorrie Lykins
Lorrie is i4cp's Vice President of Research. A thought leader, speaker, and researcher on the topic of gender equity, Lorrie has decades of experience in human capital research. Lorrie’s work has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and other renowned publications.