I have had some recent conversations with people regarding changes in how employees should work. Some people advocate for sticking to the traditional 40-hour work week; you show up, do your work, go home, and get paid for your time. Others advocate for a results-only work environment, or ROWE. In ROWE you are tasked with getting a job done and you know what you will be paid to do the job, regardless of how long it takes. If you can get a week’s worth of work done in two days, you get an extra three days off; if it takes 7 days to complete the work, it’s still your responsibility to complete the work and provide the results.
Clearly, the work world is in transition. The Industrial Age introduced the 40-hour work week and we are now accustomed to it. Arguably, many jobs today still operate in this Industrial Age philosophy. However, we are seeing the change toward project-based jobs; more people are working as consultants today than ever before.
There is natural resistance to change; this is a normal human reaction. We tell ourselves, “I’m quite comfortable where I am. Don’t make me move somewhere else that might not be as comfortable.” So we keep our old, broken-down recliner because it is perfectly molded to our butt, not someone else’s. We treasure that old pair of well-worn jeans because they fit “just right.” And we continue to maintain that the 40-hour, M-F, 8-5 work week is the right way to earn an income.
I want to add some points for consideration. I am not trying to start a debate or specifically change anybody’s mind, but I think everyone should consider these points and figure out how they relate to them personally. In no particular order, some points that I consider relevant:
- The 40-hour work week was created in the Industrial Age by labor unions. This isn’t an argument that it was a “good” or “bad” creation, just that we need to keep some perspective on where our current labor laws came from.
- The Industrial Age is over. Some say we are in the Information Age. Others, like Seth Godin, say we are in the Connected Age. No matter what you call it, we are in a new era. It will become less common for people to earn their income by selling their time, and more common for people to earn their income by selling the product of their efforts. It sounds similar, but it is different.
- Not every job can be done without time limits. The service industry is one big example that cannot do away with set working time for employees. Then again, the service industry was created by the Industrial Age and operates under Industrial Age methodologies, so it makes sense. I don’t expect this or want this to change. After all, I want to know that the store will be open when they say it will be.
- Work is changing. We all know someone that worked for a company for 30 years, then retired with the gold watch. Many times, that person is a parent or grandparent. Then we look at our own careers and realize that we have not worked for any company very long. Personally, I have never reached 5 years at any company I have worked for, and I have worked for 8 different organizations during my IT career.
- Younger people entering the workforce do not view “work time” and “personal time” as mutually exclusive of each other. We might call them “Gen Y,” “Millennials,” or “Digital Natives.” They grew up multitasking and interleaving school, work, friends, and family. They see no problem working when motivated, even if it is “after hours.” Likewise, they see no problem doing personal business during “work hours.”
- Companies are transitioning toward hiring expertise when they need it. Does this turn employees into consultants? You bet it does. This is seen as a natural progression of the lifelong single-job career to today’s “job hopper” career; it’s what you get when you continue down the spectrum.
- Not every company will shift immediately, or possibly ever. Some companies are more nimble or their industry better suits the change. Other companies may refuse to change or their industry may not support it. Neither is good or bad, but it must be recognized for what it is.
- Legislation is always reactive. Labor laws were created as a result of the migration from farms to factories. Before that time, labor laws were largely not needed, even though the farmer would often work from sunup to sundown, 6 days a week. As more people began working in factories, legislation was created to address various issues that were created. In the same way, legislation will change as the labor pool changes and the definition of “work” changes.
- We are still in the early days of this shift. Some of us may continue and complete our careers, working the same way. Others may experience and embrace the change in work during their career. Either way, it is not an “all or nothing” change and neither way is right or wrong.
- “Regular” business hours are quickly going away. Look at how many McDonalds and Walmarts are now open 24 hours; if I want to buy a Big Mac at 3 AM, I can. The freeways are not desolate at 4 AM, like they used to be. Globalization is accelerating this trend as more people collaborate around the globe and work “odd” hours.
- “Old fashioned” labor jobs will continue to move to places where they are less expensive. Call centers were moved from the US to India, and are now being moved to the Philippines. Manufacturing moved from the US to Hong Kong and Japan, and it is now largely done in China and India. These skills are no longer needed in many areas of the US. The jobs of this sort that are kept in the US are often done in lower income areas. For example, call centers are common in El Paso, TX.
As I stated above, we must all realize change is occurring. How it specifically affects you is up to you, the company you work for, and the industry you work in. I do not believe that we have reached a tipping point yet, but we are rapidly climbing the slope toward it. The more we recognize that it will come and prepare ourselves for it, the better we will do when it occurs.
A book I will recommend is The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly? by Seth Godin. In it, Godin discusses much of this shift and encourages the reader to make his or her “art” (doing whatever you do in a way that nobody else does it), find a specific niche, and dominate that niche.
What are your thoughts regarding this change? Does it scare you? Do you embrace it? Please comment below.