The workplace is changing. The days of workforces comprising of mostly permanent, long-serving "company men and women" are long gone, and the makeup of the employee base will continue to diversify over the years ahead.
According to McKinsey, 20-30% of the working-age population in the US and EU-15 is engaged in independent work, with independent work defined as work which:
- Has a higher degree of autonomy
- Is paid based on tasks, assignments or sales rather than salary
- Involves a shorter-term relationship between employer and employee
Within the next couple of years, more than half of the workforce in the US and Europe could define themselves as being independent or a freelancer in some capacity.
Why Independent Work Is Becoming So Popular
When we discuss freelancers, it's tempting to imagine mustachioed developers coding away in hip coffee houses, or ambitious digital natives launching webstores. The reality isn't quite that simple.
The internet has certainly democratized the workplace and opened up whole new industries and avenues, as well as creating the ability for many traditionally office-based employees to now work virtually from anywhere at any time.
We're also seeing a huge increase in the number of "slashies" – the term given to people with multiple jobs, i.e. waiter/artist/dog walker – as people move away from single salary sources and towards more diversified types of work.
Again, there's a tendency to fall into the trap of thinking that these "slashies" are all millennials or Generation Zers who crave autonomy, flexibility and variety from their working life, are cynical of big business, and want to protect themselves from over-reliance on a single employer, having witnessed the destruction wreaked by an economic downturn.
Those people certainly do make up a large number of "slashies", but there are also:
- Those who have struggled to find employment and discover a lower bar for zero-hour or part-time work, so take on multiple smaller jobs.
- The employees who make too little to care for their families in their main job and need to supplement their income.
- People who require extra flexibility due to responsibilities such as caring for children or elderly family members, who can combine, say, home-based freelancing with renting out a room via AirBnB to bring in some money.
What Do Independents & Slashies Mean For Companies?
Industries like retail, hospitality, entertainment, travel and logistics are particularly affected by this new form of worker and workforce, as these verticals require large numbers of seasonal workers at specific times of year. The majority of whom will be drawn from this pool of freelancers, independents and slashies.
Last year, US retailers hired more than 700,000 seasonal workers just for the December holidays, with delivery companies hiring at an equal level to service the huge demands of e-commerce at that time of year.
However, with unemployment at historically low levels and the internet opening up whole new revenue streams – many of which seem more attractive than working the unsociable hours demanded of retail and hospitality – the fight to attract quality seasonal workers is getting more competitive.
Some companies are throwing in the types of benefits previously reserved for full-timers. Others are creating events, promotions or rewards programs specifically for their seasonal employees. Clearly, culture is becoming increasingly important in attracting good part-time talent.
CFOs may baulk at the idea of dedicating resources to creating a better working experience for employees who are only with the company for a short time, but that perspective is itself short-sighted:
- In many cases, these employees work on the shop floor or checkout, they serve food and drinks, or they deliver parcels. In other words, they are – however temporarily – the face of your business to your customers.
- Providing a great experience for a temporary employee this year means they may return next year – eliminating the cost of searching for, interviewing and training another employee.
- An employee who enjoys their experience is likely to provide great word of mouth to friends, family and maybe their online communities too – for your companies products and services, as well as you as an employer.
- Today's great temporary employee could be tomorrow's leading permanent employee. An increasingly fluid definition of work means employees are as likely to jump into a permanent role, as they are to add an extra part-time job to their portfolio.
Tips for creating culture even amongst temporary employees
1. Work harder with older employees
Seasonal workers take all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, motivations and ages. Our Speakap research discovered that seasonal workers above the age of 45 feel less engaged with their company than their counterparts under the age of 34. This could be because companies put more effort into engaging younger seasonal employees or that the methods they use are less used or trusted by older employees.
2. Focus on onboarding
Temporary workers at companies with a high percentage of seasonal employees feel less valued, recognized and engaged than those at companies with fewer seasonal employees. Onboarding, conducted by permanent managers and HR employees, is the ideal opportunity to address this. Check out our tips for creating an outstanding onboarding experience.
3. Provide feedback like they are full time
While nobody wants to be criticised unnecessarily, providing feedback on an employee's performance shows that you are investing in them as a person. Permanent employees have annual or even quarterly reviews, so create moments in time when you can catch up with your seasonal workers and let them know how they're performing.
4. Value their impermanence
Many companies see seasonal employees as a necessary evil, to be tolerated in order to fill vacancies but little else. However, if embraced, this large and ever-changing workforce can bring dynamism and fresh ideas to your company. Give employees a platform, whether physical or virtual, to communicate openly with their colleagues and managers.
5. Include them in communications
Even if temporary, an employee should feel completely like a part of the team while they are working in service of your brand. Make sure they have access to all the tools and communications that full-time employees have. Of course, you don't need to give them a company laptop, but providing access to your mobile-friendly enterprise social network is an easy win.