Are We Seeing The End Of Employees?

What does the employee of the future look like?

There’s been a recent article in The Wall Street Journal which I tweeted out to my followers the other day about the future of employees.

I thought was an interesting article because I’ve said since 2002 that the nature of employment is changing from the old industrial complex of working for these medium to large corporations as employees, providing us with a basket of benefits, such as health insurance, stock options, etc.

Basically, the typical “old school” 9-5, Monday-Friday employee (although we all know that we work much more than 9-5 for these companies).

There’s still this perception that a full-time job with a large company or medium sized large company or any set company for that matter is better than being an entrepreneur or contractor.

The nature of work is shifting. We’re no longer going to be doing this monolithic work for one company, work 9-5, M-F and take weekends off. Getting a full-time job with a company like Google or Facebook is not going to “set you for life” like it used to be able to.

In my experience, regular employees are asked to do increasingly more work. The productivity gains from technology are being used to squeeze jobs which used to be done by multiple people into one role. These individuals in these roles must expand their skill sets to complete the new work.

The article revealed that fully half of the employees who work at Google (or Alphabet, more precisely) are contractors. Officially termed either temps, vendors, or contractors, they do a lot of the work involved in keeping the operations humming along smoothly. In earlier years, these people would have been hired. Nowadays, it’s much more effective and efficient for them to hire them as contractors. The trend is to hire more, not less of these. More of these large businesses are becoming collections of contractors, with a small core group of employees, ever shrinking.

Why? Many factors: it’s tough, and expensive, to hire employees. It’s difficult to fire underperforming ones. The nature of work is becoming more transient – why staff up a huge team of employees if you aren’t sure that this project will last? Having contractors hired through agencies protects the employer from all sorts of unhappiness – legal issues, insurance issues, liabilities etc. There is a huge burden on businesses over a certain size. There’s so much more work that needs to be done to support a full-time employee, so there will be less and less of those.

So, what does this mean? It means that increasingly we will either choose or be forced into, the role of a contractor. Being a contractor requires a completely different skill set than an employee. There are many things a contractor needs to take care of on their own, which would typically be something that the employer takes care of. Contractors and employees are different beasts.

People will need to become solopreneurs of their careers, self-managing where they go and what they do. In fact, it’s very likely that they will have more than one job at a time, spending 25% time in one role, 20% in another, and 50% in a third or more. Some companies are even offering half and quarter time jobs right now to meet this trend.

I predicted that soon the person who has five part-time jobs will be held as the desirable norm, as opposed to the person who has the full-time job with company X. Where the person with the single job at Company X must work with the same people all the time on the same projects, and not have the variety of work and is not able to grow new skill sets, the person with five jobs will have a much richer work and life balance.

Employees will transform to networked distributed solopreneurs working for any size company. In that article, we are finally seeing some real evidence that not only this is happening, but that it’s accelerating, and it’s happening at some large companies.

With luck, many of those out there who are looking for full-time work will understand that the freedom and the flexibility and the beauty of being able to set your own hours, set your own times is a good thing.

If you think about it, this is a sea change in something that started happening around the time of the industrial revolution. Prior to that, work was craft based – and most workers were craftsmen. They were the original solopreneurs, working multiple jobs and projects, managing their own time and work. In some ways, they were more human.

We then became drones in a corporate machine. How many times, in your work life, as an employee, described yourself as a “cog-in-the-machine”. Luckily for us humans, the future of being an employee will likely revert to that pre-industrial revolution time when we could enjoy our life and our craft without feeling like a machine within a machine.

This hearkens back to my post on automation. If your job disappears due to automation, then you probably shouldn’t have been doing that job anyway. There are many better, more human jobs out there for you. Or at least we should be attempting to create those jobs by encouraging a movement back to the craftsmanship of old.

In the end, the end of employees may help us to envision a new age of work, where humans perform actions that humans can do best, managing their own work-life balance among many employers, leaving the “cog” work to the robots. It might just make work more human again.

It might just make work more human again.