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The Great Resignation and tomorrow’s workforce

Workers across all sectors and geographies have staged a mass walkout this year, quitting their jobs in pursuit of something better. For many, self-employment is the preferred alternative.

In the US, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, just shy of 4 million people left their jobs in June this year. A further 4 million quit in July, another 4.3 million in August and then 4.4 million in September. These monthly figures are half a million higher than normal; enough to fill a Super Bowl stadium every six days. And this is just in the United States; other economies have reported proportionally high figures.

This Great Resignation is a tricky subject to nail down over lunch with the in-laws, simply because there are so many contributing factors.

It’s probable that a world free of a pandemic in 2020/21 would have seen normal numbers of people surrendering their jobs, so why has COVID lit the fuse?

It will take many years to pin down the full effect of the pandemic on our emotions, beliefs and behaviours towards our work; our jobs, and our careers. We might never completely understand the impact it has had.

Here are a few of the bigger and clearly interrelated themes being considered:

  1. Working remotely as an employee during and after periods of lockdown has removed the separation between work and home; many people haven’t taken kindly to this.

  2. Without the routine of a commute and the distraction of face-to-face office interaction, workers have unwittingly considered a well-known Marxist theory and concluded they no longer want to work to make someone else wealthy.

  3. Conversely, others have realised there’s more to life than earning a high wage. After all, should we ‘live to work’ or ‘work to live’.

  4. Whether you’ve decided to earn more or less money, your health is generally seen as a more valuable currency. Working remotely undoubtedly gives us more time to assess how we’re feeling, and with the support of countless wellbeing advocates, many people conclude a change in working arrangements would make them feel ‘better’.

As fundamental as these changes are, capitalism lives on and nearly all of us need to earn a living. So if you’re not retiring (vast numbers of people contributing to The Great Resignation statistics have not reached the end of their careers), and you no longer want to be on someone else’s payroll, how are you going to generate an income?

For some, the answer is self-employment; an opportunity to offer your specific skills and experience to more than one business or organization, largely on your own terms.

The benefits are wide-ranging, often involving a greater focus on delivering projects rather than BAU tasks, autonomy of working on your own clock, and establishing valuable, sometimes niche skills that your clients will pay handsomely to access.

The Great Resignation may herald a shift in the way we deliver and consume ‘work’, but the self-employed model, covering freelancers, contractors, consultants, and gig workers does throw up challenges for both the worker and hirer.

This highlights some fascinating topics to explore:

  • Despite a staggering number of recruitment enterprises; 31,000 registered in the UK and about 20,000 staffing and HR companies in the U.S, will businesses hiring self-employed workers manage to access and engage talent properly?

  • The self-employed environment is an unregulated one, with far less protective legislation in place. Will we see rapid changes in policy to reduce the gap?

  • Most organisations recognises the importance of building and maintaining a strong culture for their workers to thrive. How will they achieve this if growing numbers are engaged at arm’s length, acknowledging that cultural inclusion in the workplace can challenge status determination as far as IR35 (UK) and 1099 (US) rules are concerned?

  • Growth in self-employment, and so a trend to provide and consume contracted services in favour of employed engagements, will invariably broaden the quality continuum. So how will businesses ensure their workers are delivering the right outcomes?

Our team at WorkSavvy are primed to tackle some of these topics as we head into 2022.

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