AFR Boss magazine had a very interesting conversation about flexible jobs recently. The full transcript is here. It was a moderated conversation between Dr Marian Baird, of the University of Sydney and Mr Stephen Bevan, research director, The Work Foundation. It’s a great conversation, but a few things really struck me. First Baird on the ideal work and the ideal job:
“From the employer’s point of view, the ideal worker is available for long hours, is work-focused, organisationally committed, and unencumbered by care duties.”
“From the employee’s perspective, ideal jobs allow employees control over their hours, perhaps some flexible location when needed, not all the time; and recognise what we call the dual commitment of home and work.”
When you put it like this, it becomes clear that it’s a supply and demand issue. And in the last 20 years, there’s probably been enough people willing to be “ideal workers” so that the supply doesn’t matter – employers can have what they want. But in the next 20 years, at least in Australia, new employees to the workforce will only just be replacing those leaving. So there won’t be an endless supply of 20 somethings who are keen to work all hours both for interesting work, and to get started on their career. There will be some, but there will be increasing competition for them. The winning company will figure out how to harness all those people who aren’t quite the ideal worker, but still have a huge amount to offer.
Bevan has some similar, but slightly more employer based comments:
“There are two ways of looking at job redesign, it seems to me. One is from the supply side and one is from the demand side. Both are right in parts, but neither of them tells the complete story. Let me quickly go through a caricature of the supply side. The argument runs that demographic change will mean more of the workforce will want to work flexibly. That is undeniably true. What that means, then, is that if you are in a tight labour market then employers who want to attract and retain talent have got to respond.
The demand side says that customers are demanding flexible and tailored services 24/7 in a knowledge based economy and they want it now. They want personalised and tailored services. So the traditional provider led model of working time is inadequate in the face of this. We can’t, as organisations selling products and services, dictate to customers when we are prepared to give it to them. We have to be very responsive. Organisations who are quickest and more agile at delivering are the ones that are going to win out. So there will be some withering on the vine of organisations who don’t get this. I’m sure yours isn’t one of them. Therefore redesigning work around changing patterns of customer need has to be the result.
Now in reality neither of those have got, as I say, the monopoly on the truth. Both of them have to work in parallel. So changing workforce demographics and demanding customers lead to greater competitive advantage. Organisations that are able to harness and use both of those forces to their advantage will do better economically, there is no doubt.”
There’s a whole lot of interesting stuff about redesigning jobs; how to allow sensibly for part-timers; how to allow for the fact that some people in organisations are over-and under-employered, and lots of other interesting comments. I wish I’d gone to the session – but I was too busy wanting my flexible working life and time with my children! (it was in the evening).
Baird ends with this:
“So I think that really it is time in Australia to have a new objective, to think about the ideal jobs we need to attract the ideal workers. I am not saying that business just has to do whatever employees want, but I am arguing that if we do that then business probably will be better off, people will be better off, and Australian society will be better off as well.”