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How Will We Work In the US.

I recently attended a conference where one of the speakers was discussing the future workplace. As one of the only countries where health benefits are tied to employment, we in the US may be at the beginning of a significant shift in the way we work. In the US approximately 2% of the workforce is “temporary” or “contingent”. In Europe – where healthcare benefits are not tied to employment – that percentage increases to 8-10%. Workers move from job to job, or company to company based on how the skills and experience they have match the needs of the corporations hiring them. Companies need core employees to run their everyday business and then supplement those employees when seasonal needs change, or projects require specific skills.

I believe that there are forces that are working toward this model becoming more common in the US.

1. The business world is getting more and more competitive, and this trend will continue. Successful companies look at every cost. The most flexible companies will be the most profitable and survive. Does it make sense to have employees on the payroll who’s skills they only need for three or four months a year?

2. The X and Y generations are different. They grew up in an era where they watched the loyalty their parents gave their employers rewarded with layoffs. They don’t feel they can trust corporations, and they are well suited intellectually and emotionally to work in “alternative” arrangements. They will work for short periods of time, gain skills and experience, and then take those skills, and experience to their next job.

3. Healthcare reform was recently passed and how healthcare benefits will be delivered in the United States is uncertain. When healthcare benefits are tied to employment there exists a significant incentive for employees to work for an employer in a “permanent” capacity. If access to healthcare benefits is shifted away from the employment relationship, those incentives are removed, and workers are more freely able to work in “non-traditional” positions.

As the delivery of healthcare benefits are shifted from employers to the government (if you don’t believe me save this email and check back in a few years), a significant incentive to a “permanent job” will be removed. Companies who best manage their workforces will be the most competitive and survive. Younger workers are very comfortable working in non-traditional arrangements. These forces are heading to convergence, and when they do the way we work in the US will look different than it does today.

Here is a link to an article I saw in the New York Times today that relates to this topic:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/20/business/economy/20contractor.html?emc=eta1

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