Flexible labour gives us a chance to build relationships

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Long-term stability is no longer the order of the day. Flexibility, interesting work and recognition appeal more

Attrition is, for many, one of the critical metrics by which we measure the success of our people programmes. It stands to reason that if we are building a great place to work folks will want to stay and form their careers with us. Right?

Well, maybe not. Much has been written about the rise of contractor workers (making up as much as 40% of the workforce by 2020 is often quoted for the US, with the UK not far behind). And much has also been written about the rise of Gen Y and their mobility (91% expect to stay in a job for less than three years, according to the Future Workplace Multiple Generations @ Work survey, which means they would have 15 to 20 jobs over their working lives).

The concept of attrition starts to look somewhat antiquated. Long-term stability is no longer the order of the day. Instead there are other notions that appeal more – flexibility, interesting work and recognition are starting to top workers’ lists, and people are quick to move on if they don’t find this.

So what if HR could turn their thinking on its head? What if rather than a high retention rate being the holy grail, HR looked instead to this new world of flexible labour and mobility as an opportunity to build lasting relationships with people who want to do the type of work you have on offer, and are willing to cycle in and out of the workplace – as well as becoming clients and suppliers of tomorrow?

Many firms are already looking at how they can embrace the notion of a staffing cloud to create opportunities to go after specialist talent (including using consultants). But what if we could take it one step further and this becomes the norm for how companies operate? So for every role or project there would be a link with a broad pool of talent that could pitch for the job based on skills, expertise and their history with the firm. And for businesses seeking the best talent, the content of the work, their history and social reputation (alongside traditional factors like pay) become more important.

Many smaller entrepreneurial firms already operate through groups of networked individuals. But there are few businesses doing it on a large scale. With advances in analytics and data there is no reason this couldn’t eventually even be much more automated. We aren’t that far from this vision. Think jobly.com, where jobseekers state their interests, passions, and skillsets and Jobly finds the perfect match.

For firms this means access to great talent on an as-needed basis. For people it means access to jobs they love doing. Think of all the unharnessed energy out there with folks stuck in roles that don’t engage them. And would we really need innovation programmes if we had interjections of new ideas and new people on a regular basis?

In this world the network becomes king and the concept of community changes radically. Instead of people getting their community impact from the firm itself, they’ll be looking elsewhere for mentoring, development et al – expect a sharp rise in professional association memberships and networking communities.

This vision does raise questions about benefits and protection rights – it would be important to explore alternative models such as self-funded benefits that follow workers from job to job. In November last year senior tech leaders in the US published an open letter calling for benefits for independent workers, (including ‘an affordable safety net’ for injuries, illness and retirement) in a model that would prorate the benefits based on hours worked or other metrics, and allow workers to combine hours from different sources of work.

Some things never go away. People want interesting work, companies want the best talent for the roles. But maybe there is another way of making that happen. And the key metrics in this brave new world won’t be attrition. They will be about talent match and reputation.

Isabel Naidoo is senior vice president of HR at financial services technology firm FIS

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