In his work life, the average worker will change career between 3 and 7 times: that is not counting the number of times he or she will change jobs within the same career trend. Is this due to a generational trait, where workers put a high value on new opportunities, variety (Flexible jobs) or is it the result of the evolution of companies’ needs following globalization? Are those two as conflicting as they may seem at first glance?
Right now, doing a simple Google search about flexibility and «gen» (diminutive for «generation») provides over six million results. The generations identified throughout those pages as «wanting more flexibility» range from the Gen-Xers (1960s to late 1980s) to the Gen-Yers (late 1980s to early 2000s), and some even going as far as including the oldest of millennial (2000s and up). That is either one big (!) generational trait, or it’s so widespread it cannot be called a trait at all. But what does flexibility mean?
For some, it can be the freedom to go home early when their kid has a soccer game at 4:00 pm. For others, it can mean having the power to switch jobs every couple years (within the same company or not) in order to continually learn and grow. For another group, it can be to work on a part-time basis to try different alternatives before settling for a precise career path, or simply to bring some money in until their own business grows big enough.
Either way, employers are aware of this this and act accordingly: flexible work schedules, learning opportunities through temporary assignments, telecommuting, etc. Those flexible work arrangements are one big break from the work organization that emerged after the Industrial Revolution, but that does not come without its benefits. Organizations, in this globalization era, need flexibility to adapt to changes quickly and survive in unstable markets.
For them, flexibility means two main things: having people able to adapt and learn, and having the right to hire and fire employees depending on market demand. Having employees on a part-time or temporary basis allows them to get the help they need without hiring a full-time, permanent worker they are stuck with when the market changes. Having someone telecommuting frees space doesn't have to be furnished, heated or rented. Flexible work schedules are a low-cost perk that helps retain strong employees (Fun fact: over 37% of Gen-Yers would consent to a pay cut if it meant more flexibility at work). Doesn't this sound like a good bargain for everyone involved?
A whole subconscious negotiation went on in the last 20 years, when employers gradually began putting less thought to loyalty in favor of flexibility and agility. Employees progressively found alternatives to a lifelong connection to a single employer. This included granting more time and energy to family, leisure or self-employment. Many also saw learning continuously as essential in order to be able to find rewarding jobs wherever they are, even when job openings are scarce.
It is a «Me» era, where every worker and employer is thinking of his/its needs first. And somewhere in there, a middle ground was found. It might not be perfect, but it is here to stay.
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Written by Joanie Robert, Certified Human Resources Professional