The 40-hour work week is extinct

And the dinosaurs are about to be wiped out

“The Great Resignation” is the slowly approaching meteor, and employers are going to have to move fast if they want to avoid it.    

The gold watch lifetime employee went home to his economically invisible housewife fifty years ago.  It’s time we sent this relic, along with his 9 to 5, 40-hour workweek to the museum of industrial employment.   

The dinosaur businesses are heading there, too.  If you’re still following the archaic recruitment model – where your HR manager posts a job advertisement for a full-time employee and waits, while nothing happens – you’re facing doom.  

Low unemployment is here.  There’s an ageing population and a shrinking labour force.  You can say what you like about people not being motivated to work, but you have to be able to counter that argument with evidence that your business really wants to employ.  And if you’re still doing recruitment as usual, you’re missing out.   

You have to go where the talent is – and it is out there.  But it might not be where you thought it was.   

Releasing Untapped Potential 

The unemployment rate is 3.4% (Stats NZ) but the “under-utilisation” rate is 9.2% (Stats NZ).  That’s a lot of people available for work, and that’s a lot of “untapped capacity”.  So how do we leverage it?    

The solution is to create flexible, short-term, task-based jobs.  

The gig economy isn’t just for web designers.  It’s a way to book people for short-term jobs or projects. You can freelance as an accountant, retail assistant or construction worker.   

There are highly experienced older people who only want to work a few hours a week.  There are talented, skilled parents who want to work around the precious time they have with their infants. There are university graduates with fresh, up-to-date knowledge, looking for work that complements their studies.     

Yes, the gig economy gets some bad press, and it’s definitely good to be aware of the risks of exploitation, but ultimately, it’s up to people to choose how they want to work.  Full employment is an outdated aspiration.  We need maximum productivity, not full attendance.  We need options that increase productivity and worker satisfaction at the same time.      

Now that so many jobs can be done remotely, we have the tools to create opportunities for real, meaningful employment – the way people want it. It’s crazy that we’re not using these opportunities the way we could be.  There are mums I know – highly-skilled, capable, competent mums – who can’t get jobs locally because the work they are qualified to do doesn’t exist in the regions. This is lost productivity – at a national scale.   

The contract market has been strong in government employment for a long time, but we’re still not seeing those jobs roll out into the regions.  There are highly skilled and qualified people outside of the major centres, and we could capture these talents simply by designing remote roles that work for them. 

You need to attract and retain talent   

People want lifestyle.  They don’t want to be desk-slaves. They’ve been saying this for decades, but we can’t ignore it anymore.  In an employee’s market, businesses have to adapt or face a slow extinction.   

Employees are in a great position to negotiate a better rate somewhere else.  But it’s not all about the money. In fact, upward mobility, compassion and a good value-culture fit trumps wages (BBC Worklife). 

People leave roles because they’re not valued or fulfilled.  And that’s a problem you can solve. Instead of losing a valued team member, you could rewrite their role, and get a semi-retired professional to come in for a few hours to cover the particular tasks that your employee isn’t enjoying.   

If you take one full-time job and break it down into its essential ingredients, what you’ll find is a lot of tasks unnecessarily locked into one position.     

This is what we need to rethink.     

We often think about roles as pre-defined, set-in-stone job descriptions.  The problem with this is that people aren’t position descriptions.  Right off the bat, you’ve generalised, when you could have specialising.  People aren’t working to their full potential; they’re working to a prescriptive model – a job description. 

This also means that you’ll get the person with the most expertise for the task.  If you’re looking for someone to join your marketing team, why would you look for one person who can do social, digital and web copy, when you could get three specialists, each an expert at what they do? 

Future-proofing your workforce 

Short-term, flexible solutions also attract younger talent looking to build their career portfolios.  Young people want to find work that they care about, not jobs that tie them down.  Instead of locking them into contracts, we need to be offering them a few hours work.  When you attract people early, you future-proof your workforce.  They might not stay for 30 years, but they might cycle through a few times, each time with more expertise.    

Even if you don’t need to hire right now, you’re still at risk of losing staff in this market. And when your team has to carry it, that means overworked employees, higher staff turnover, more injuries, lower productivity and engagement and more health issues.    

 When you’re only paying people for their tasks, you’re paying for their productivity, not their desk time. In a 9 to 5 job, there’s no incentive to be more productive.  But when people are happier, they’re about 13%more productive (University of Oxford) – as well as less likely to jump ship.   

People want a sense of freedom and choice  

What we need to see are flexible jobs that people can do from home, or working around their care arrangements, studies or lifestyles.   

That’s why we’re so passionate about solutions to freelancing anything.  We designed Jobhop to mobilise the flexible workforce. Our online freelancing portal includes same day payment and automated tax filing.  

 We’re proud to be disruptors of the traditional labour model.  It’s time for a new era of work – when you want it, paid on the day. 

–  John Shewry, Director, Jobhop.

This opinion piece was published in Stuff