This is not another horrid example of mixed metaphors but what sprung to mind when I read a recent contribution to the 100-Year Life website, which we created for Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott’s book The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity. We ask website visitors to submit their stories about either how their longer lives are panning out or how they expect to see them pan out.
The contribution that sparked my Dinosaur in the HR Room reaction was as follows:
“I am an IT Consultant. I have just been asked to go back to a client I worked for last year doing the same job with the same people. It took me four hours to complete the HR pre-employment questions and evidences.
I have worked for almost 40 years and have three degrees, completing my last one over five years ago.
I can now afford to retire and do not need to work just for the money. As well as taking time for holidays and family life I do some voluntary work.
For any gaps in my employment record of more than 2 weeks they want me to provide details of a friend that I have known for more than five years who can explain these gaps.
They also make it mandatory to provide at least one lecturer reference and one academic qualification from the last five years.
I am afraid they the corporate world in the UK certainly has no understanding of a flexible life so far.”
I thought this was a painfully clear illustration of why as organisations we need to do more than talk about engaging easily with new ways of working, from contractors to freelance workers. We would be wise to appreciate that it’s no longer ‘the future’ – it’s happening now, and by making engaging with our organisations cumbersome for freelance talent, we stand to lose out on great individuals, or at the very least, appear like dinosaurs and as such send the wrong signals.
Here at Hot Spots Movement we call these cumbersome approaches ‘sunset processes’ – that is, processes that were established possibly many years ago when the nature of work and workers was different, or perhaps came with an acquired company and were deemed too complicated to discontinue it at the time. These ‘sunset processes’ have reached the end of their valuable life and the challenge for HR is to remove them so that they do not end up constraining the business.
In short, people processes can be illustrated by showing an excavation site where you can see the different archaeological ages, layer by layer.
Removing sunset processes is just the start. As HR professionals we need to decide rather urgently if we want to lead how our organisations engage with freelance talent. If the answer is yes, then we need to design the engagement journey for freelancers with two important outcomes in mind: (1) ensure that freelancers want to work with our company (yes, you will want to be a freelance ‘employer’ of choice) and (2) ensure that the company benefits in all respects from engaging with freelance talent.
If HR doesn’t take the lead, line management will procure freelance talent directly, and our organisations won’t benefit from a signature ‘Freelance Experience’. Over the past years, HR functions have spent much time designing their Employee Experience, with the smartest companies appreciating that this experience begins well before the first working day and all the way through to how their people leave the company. I can’t think of any reason why you wouldn’t put as much effort into designing the Freelance Experience as you do for the Employee Experience. The reward – and the risk – is no less substantial.
Maybe now is the time to let the dinosaur move to the museum and say goodbye to processes that are not fit for purpose, or plainly unnecessary, for the age of agile working and longer careers.
Henrik Ibsen’s play, Master Builder, tells the story of a self-made architect, Halvard Solness, who is increasingly afraid of the young displacing him. As I was watching the piece in the Old Vic Theatre a few weeks ago, one of Halvard’s lines caught my attention: “The young are waiting. In all their power. Knocking on the door.” This made me wonder whether Halvard’s fear is actually real. Will older workers be made redundant by young upstarts? Does the mature workforce need to step out of the young’s way and give them space? And what are the implications – positive and negative – for organisations?
It turned out Halvard was worried about a myth. The reality is that your organisation will see teams in which employees like Halvard and the young will work together. The young were not knocking on Halvard’s door to take his job. Quite the contrary, the young showed up to take jobs his activity created. So how exactly can employing older workers help your organisation grow and create more jobs in the process?
Age diversity provides you with the opportunity to combine skills and characteristics unique to different groups and thus create an effective and efficient organisation:
- The equivalent to Halvard in your organisation has been building their network for more than 40 years. The young know well that they cannot compete with that. Instead, on one hand, their ambition and determination can keep Halvard motivated. On the other hand, Halvard can transfer his network to the young, so your organisation has access to it when he retires.
- Younger workers are often still trying to define their mission and passion, which can translate into higher turnover. Indeed, according to one recent study, Millennials expect to change jobs every three years. Chances are Halvard has worked for you for a while and he has stayed with the organisation through thick and thin. This means he has a deep understanding of the history and culture of your company that cannot be easily emulated by new entrants.
- In the past decades, work became part of Halvard’s daily routine, and all of a sudden he has 8 hours on his hands to kill. Flexible working is a good way of helping people like Halvard transition to retirement. In fact, there has been a 140% increase in over-65s running their own business in the last decade, revealing the many new ways in which organisations can engage with more mature workers. It’s a win-win as the organisation retains Halvard’s critical skills at a reduced cost, and he gets some help with his pension too.
So what can you and your organisation do to avoid a Master Builder-like frustration?
- Help the Halvards in your organisations continually update their skills to stay relevant in a new day and age. Organisations such as GE and HP use reverse mentoring to help different generations learn from one another and to enhance generational cohesion.
- Sense check the signals you are sending to older workers. Do your people processes and practices signal that mature workers are valued? Or do pension arrangements, performance processes and training budgets signal that careers have a hard stop at 65 in your company?
- Break the perceived link between age and stage in your organisation. Retaining older workers will mean people may be managed by someone younger than them. This can create conflict in organisations in which progression and seniority are strongly linked to age and tenure. Creating more flexibility in career ladders is one way to ensure that age and seniority are no longer considered one and the same.
So, what’s the conclusion? Yes, the young are coming and knocking on the door in all their power. Halvard however still has a great deal to offer. As his good friend and counsel, Dr. Herdal, tells him, “You are not laid on the shelf yet, I should hope. Oh no—your position here is probably firmer now than it has ever been.”
Find out more about the challenges and opportunities of longevity by pre-ordering your copy of Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott’s upcoming book, The Hundred-Year Life at www.100yearlife.com or contact David at firstname.lastname@example.org
 As written on the Old Vic Theatre’s website.
 Milligan, B. Older workers create extra jobs for young people – report, BBC – British Broadcasting Corporation 2015
 Meister, J. Job Hopping is the ‘New Normal’ for Millennials, Forbes, 2012
 Trends and Drivers of Workforce Turnover. Mercer Workforce Metrics Survey, 2014
 Altman, Dr. R. A New Vision for Older Workers: Retain, Retrain, Recruit, A Report to Government 2015
 Steimle, J. Reverse Mentoring – Investing in Tomorrow’s Business Strategy, Forbes, 2015
Imagine you were looking forward to working into your 80s. What sort of working life would you want?
My guess is few of us would want a life of relentless 9 to 5 or more likely 8 to 6 with a couple of weeks off for holidays. We know implicitly that this is a regime that would see our intangible assets denuded. How would we keep abreast of rapidly changing skills with such little time to step out and learn? How could we keep our health and vitality at its peak with such little time for rejuvenation? Indeed, how could we find enough time with friends and family?
Perhaps that’s why the gig economy is seen as such a promising development. Imagine selling your resources – house, car, skills, or time in a seamless easy way. Imaging having the ability to step off the corporate ladder and change the way you work at anytime, providing a window of different and more flexible work. The benefits certainly look appealing. But of course, the gig economy also comes with its challenges. Our society is still not quite set up to support people who do not have a steady income stream and permanent contract. Try, for example, applying for a mortgage without proof of future income. Or saving for a pension with an irregular cash flow and no employer contribution. These drawbacks mean that few people see the gig economy as their main work activity or as a long term choice – but view it instead as part of a wider portfolio.
For those who plan to build this kind of portfolio in future, and benefit from the real value of the gig economy, they will need to take four important actions:
– work on transitional competencies. Moving from one type of work to another is not straightforward as it often means redesigning broader lifestyle choices and habits. These transitional competencies are developed through building a broad and diverse network – somewhere within that network will be people who have made the transition. Being surrounded by people who are similar to you will simply hold you back from changing. If you want to be part of the gig economy find others who are already there.
– build synergies between types of work. One of the joys of a portfolio life is variety – but this variety can come at a cost. When work activities are very different from each other then there is a ‘switching cost’ and cognitive abilities and working style have to switch between tasks. The more similar the task the less the switching cost. So try to build different job tasks from a platform of similar skills and competencies
– don’t build up tangible asset dependency. Working in the gig economy can bring variety, space and autonomy – but oftentimes people shy away from doing this type of work because they and their family have become addicted to a certain flow of money – holidays, cars, and general consumption. If you want to bring flexibility into your working life you have to ensure that you don’t develop spending habits at the top of your earning cycle. You must also be clear about what is essential for maintaining the standard of living you and your family need, and ensure that you are developing skills in lucrative fields that will deliver the commensurate income.
– realise you can’t have it all. There is much talk today that people (specifically mothers) can’t have it all – a family, big job, happy partner. Perhaps the same is true for putting together a portfolio of work. Most highly paid jobs come with 24/7 availability and pressured work. Gig economy jobs tend to have more autonomy and freedom. That’s why they tend not to be paid so well.
The gig economy has real promise to bring options to a working life. The question now is, are you ready?
Over the last decade, freelance work has continued to gain in popularity all over the world. In the United States, 53 million people are doing freelance work, with that figure expected to increase by 50% by 2020. In the UK, freelance work has grown by 14% in the last decade and in Asia, freelance jobs currently account for 12.5% of the workforce.
As a member of Gen Y myself, there are key advantages that I see with freelancing – the ability to work for multiple employers, maximise the use of my creativity and have autonomy over my own work. However, when considering whether or not I want to freelance myself I must also examine the downsides – lack of job security, the requirement for a high amount of self-discipline, the potential for less collaboration with others and more. With these advantages and disadvantages in mind, I began wondering whether people actually entered freelance work by choice or because they could not find permanent full-time employment.
In the United Kingdom, freelance work is increasingly being perceived as an attractive career choice. In fact, a study on freelance work by Elance indicated that 87% of students with first or second-class degrees found freelancing to be highly attractive. Interestingly though, they found that students with lower class degrees were less inclined to think positively about freelance work. Perhaps the risk that comes with freelance work and the need to seek ones own clients, makes those with lower qualifications more apprehensive to follow a freelance career path? That being said, the study highlighted the overall positive feelings towards freelance for the majority of Gen Y members. This makes sense to me as job ideals have shifted further and further away from the standard 9-5 in the last few decades. The popularity of entrepreneurial television shows such as ‘Dragon’s Den’ and ‘The Apprentice’ illustrate this growing desire for autonomy over one’s work for our generation, as well.
Freelance has a whole range of appeals for different groups of people. The 2012 Industry Report by the Freelance Academy examined differences between age groups, for example and found that respondents in their 20s found the higher income potential rewarding. For this age group, a regular company job would be very hierarchical, limiting them financially, because of their age and the societal structures around job progression. In turn, people in their 30s valued the flexibility of freelance work. One reason for this is that the lack of schedule rigidity allows people who have children to spend more valuable time with them. Those in their 60s articulated the importance of working from home which again demonstrated a different appeal of freelance work.
With gender, the study found that women enjoyed the flexibility and incorporation of passion in freelance work. However, men stated that the primary appeal was being able to be ones own boss. Living in a time where the gender binary continues to be challenged, I believe that these appeals by gender will become interchangeable over time, further increasing the overall interest in freelance careers.
The most conclusive statistic taken from this study was that only 2% of freelancers would take a full-time job over freelancing. In fact, over 50% of freelancers, wouldn’t want to give up freelancing, regardless of the alternative option. With these statistics in mind, freelance work is a very appealing career option for Gen Y members as well as everyone else in society. I think it is important for companies to consider how best to incorporate or compete with freelance workers, in the future.