The rise of the gig economy means HR managers will have to increasingly manage casual, contract and part-time employees juggling multiple jobs, but these workers are likely to be more productive than their colleagues, according to an engagement expert.
Founder and CEO of Young Professional Women Australia, Kate Boorer, says technologies that break down geographic boundaries and facilitate remote and flexible work are creating new opportunities for employers and employees alike.
"You may not be able to pay for a five-days-a-week high-quality CFO," she says, but a talented candidate pursuing a "portfolio career" could do the job in three.
Portfolio careers, which involve a variety of work based on an individual's personal skill development and career goals, enable professionals to, for example, work for a large employer two days a week, a smaller not-for-profit one day a week, and run a side business of their own. An individual might also build in flexibility for short-term overseas contracts or volunteer work – it's all about pursuing personal interests.
Boorer, who is speaking at an upcoming International Women's Day conference, says it will be interesting to see how this type of work affects employee engagement, predicting the impact will be more positive than negative.
"The myth around part-time [work] is that it's part-commitment – you're part in and part out. There are now other motives – variety, freedom, finances, passion, purpose – that drive career choices," she says.
A challenge for HR will be adapting to and accommodating this cohort.
"Employers as a general rule are still very fixed in their mindset," Boorer says. "I think we've made progress on flexibility... you don't need to be sitting in an office in front of me for me to know you're working. [But] there's a big gap between that and having a big percentage of your workforce working two or three days a week. I think there's a massive mindset shift and I think what's going to be a barrier or a roadblock there is: what am I missing out on? It's not the equivalent of a full-time resource."
Arguably, though, employers won't be missing out at all, she says.
Part-time doesn't mean part-commitment
Boorer says two employees who both work 20 hours a week will "collectively deliver a lot more" than a single person who works 40 hours.
"Talk to any part-time person – they get in, they get the job done and they go. Compare that mindset to a person who works 40 hours a week. There's absolutely redundant time... there's more coffee breaks, more lunches... I'm not saying it's not valuable, but you'll see a part-time person very focused and executing most of the time," she says.
Switching between employers, roles and tasks might be challenging for some, but "that's a challenge no matter what you're doing," she adds, and there's a "freshness of going in and out that brings energy".
Another prediction Boorer has for the future of work is that employees will increasingly invest more in their own development.
"The good performers – the people who are going to be the ones getting the jobs globally – they'll be the ones who are investing in themselves as well as their organisations," she says.
This will include staying up to date with industries or areas of expertise, establishing networks and "mining" relationships to build collective industry knowledge, enrolling in massive open online courses (MOOCs), and completing university courses (as opposed to whole degrees).
Employers need to start recognising the value of experience over credentials, Boorer notes.
"A university degree, or anything post-high school, is more than just the qualification; it's part of growing up," she says. It might be important for a candidate in their 20s to complete a degree, while irrelevant to a 35-year-old candidate with far more knowledge and experience, yet many employers retain it as a pre-requisite in both cases.
The highest performers
In Boorer's view, the highest-performing employees will be those who are focused, set clear priories, and manage expectations up.
It is increasingly difficult to simply sit down and work through a list of tasks, she explains. The ability to manage competing pressures and priorities as new information or demands come to hand, all while keeping superiors in the loop about significant developments, consulting where necessary, and retaining focus, is a growing challenge for managers and employees alike.
"It's a mindset thing. There are times where people feel, 'it's my manager's job to manage me'. Actually, it's your job to be proactive," she says.
Boorer will speak more about the future of work at the YPWA International Women's Day Conference 2017 next week.