A 2009 study conducted by the staffing firm Veritude found that an astonishing 97 percent of the respondent employers would not revert to their pre-recession staffing model once the crisis was over. And, almost half (47 percent) said that other than permanent employees would play a larger role in their post-recession workforce. While some of those organizations were undoubtedly thinking of traditional temporary workers, many were clearly signaling a turn toward a reserve workforce.
Employees in reserve jobs will be paid exactly as those in regular positions are. They will receive the same benefits as those individuals, and will likely be offered the same offices and cubicles, parking spaces and access badges. However, when the employer’s needs (for whatever reason) make that position irrelevant to its success, they will be quickly terminated and the position eliminated.
The net effect of this shift will be to redefine the notion of “permanent employment.” Traditionally, that’s been the goal of most working Americans. They don’t want to be card carrying members of the Free Agent Nation and have to fend for themselves in the workplace. Quite the contrary. As an article in The New York Times in late 2009 put it, they seek an “honest-to-goodness, full time, permanent job.”
For most of the late 20th Century, such a position may not have meant thirty years and a gold watch, but it certainly provided an employment experience that lasted longer than a couple of weeks or months. In the post-Great Recession era, in contrast, permanent will be much more fleeting for almost all workers. The tenure of reserve positions will be understood to end in three or four years and sometimes less. And, the tenure of regular positions, while longer—probably averaging six or seven years—will also have a recognized limit as employers’ needs and strategies shift to accommodate the changes imposed by the ongoing evolution of the global marketplace.
Undoubtedly, this impermanence in the workplace will, at least initially, be extremely uncomfortable for a large segment of the workforce. Its advantage, however, is that it represents a much more honest form of employment than what has historically existed in the American workplace. The barker’s call of corporate America – our workers are our most important asset – has been replaced with a more truthful message—our workers are our most important asset, but only as long as we need them—and that enables workers to protect themselves.
The one-way street of the traditional employment contract has been widened into a two-way thoroughfare. Now, both parties—working men and women and their employers—will enter into their arrangement knowing full well that it will last only as long as it benefits both the organization and the individual. There will be no winks and crossed-fingers about job security when job security is beyond the capability of every employer in today’s global economy. There will be no expectations of unending employee loyalty when market dynamics preclude a reciprocal loyalty by the organization. There will be only a candid business relationship that offers no false promises or unrealistic hopes.
This new reality will be out in the open for all to see, and those who choose to do so will also be able to plan for and deal with it effectively. The termination of employment with an organization will no longer come as a bolt out of the blue, but instead be considered a routine event. It will not be a situation bathed in shame, but rather will be seen as a normal passage for almost everyone. And because it is anticipated and accepted, the movement this new arrangement causes is as likely to be initiated by the employee as it is by the employer.
Thanks for reading,
Note: The above post was drawn in part from my new book, The Career Activist Republic. To read more, get the book at Amazon.com, in many bookstores and on Weddles.com.