Bridging the gap between free agency and traditional employment
The labor landscape has changed considerably over the last eight years. During the 2007-2009 recession, when millions of people were laid off and new graduates faced a dismal job outlook, many workers were forced into free agency as a last resort to generate income.
Interestingly, free agents currently still make up 31 percent of the U.S. workforce—a number that’s lower than in 2011, when the economy was emerging from the recession, but significantly higher than before 2007. What’s even more interesting is that nowadays, free agency is overwhelmingly a matter of choice, not of need, according to Teresa Carroll in her report “Upwardly mobile – A profile of the free agent workforce.” Moreover, this workstyle appeals to all generations, with 29 percent of the free agency workforce consisting of Gen Y workers; 29 percent consisting of Gen X workers; 35 percent consisting of Baby Boomers. The remainder consists of workers from the silent generation, of whom 76 percent were free agents in 2015.
There are a variety of reasons why an increasing number of people are choosing free agency, including:
- A desire for professional independence.
- The belief that free agency offers greater job security than traditional employment arrangements, since free agents can work with multiple clients simultaneously.
- A desire for a better work-life balance.
- Free agency offers more opportunities to learn new skills.
- Free agency allows greater control over one’s career path.
Free agency is attractive to workers in traditional employment arrangements
According to data from the 2015 Kelly Free Agent Survey, due to high rates of dissatisfaction in the workplace, 79 percent of traditional employees are tempted by the free agency workstyle. In fact, 25 percent agree they would consider leaving their jobs and becoming free agents. These numbers should be cause for concern for employers, who stand to lose a large portion of their workforce if they fail to adapt the workplace to better meet employee demands.
What employers can do
In her report titled “Come on over – Why free agents are tempting traditional workers,” Teresa Carroll suggests that forward-thinking employers should adjust their talent management processes to implement strategies to bridge the gap between the free agency and traditional workstyles. With continuously developing technology and a global economy, it’s becoming increasingly easy for employers to create work environments that facilitate more independence and flexibility. Keep the following recommendations in mind:
- Create options for flex work. Many employees welcome the option of flex work, especially those with children, those who are caregivers to elderly or sick parents, or those pursuing (continued) education. But it’s not just the employees who benefit. According to Harvard Information for Employees, flex work offers companies a more competitive edge when it comes to recruitment and talent retention. In addition, staff morale and satisfaction improve, resulting in higher engagement rates.
- Enable telecommuting. Like flex work, telecommuting offers employees a way to increase their work-life balance. Moreover, it’s an attractive alternative to spending hours in traffic every day. As a result, workers are more rested and relaxed, which in turn facilitates better performance and ultimately, the company’s bottom line.
- Establish an intranet platform where employees can bid on projects or shifts. By allowing employees to bid on projects or shifts, they gain more control over their workdays and tasks. This contributes significantly to the feeling of independence.
- Allow employees to use devices. Laptops, tablets, and smart phones are commonly used in most workplaces. By providing employees with a way to work “on the go,” the workplace becomes more flexible and less restrictive.
- Develop non-traditional career paths. Fewer employees are pursuing traditional vertical career paths. Instead, they’re looking to make lateral moves to hone their skills in other areas. At the same time, many want national or international experience, or the chance to work with experts from around the world. By creating opportunities for employees to have more control over their career paths and offering non-traditional opportunities, you can enhance engagement and retention.
Bridging the gap between free agency and traditional employment will take time, which means it’s worth showing your employees that they don’t have to become free agents in order to gain flexibility and independence.