Rethinking Casual (Contract) Work

As predicted in the 1990s, employment today is increasingly casual. Casual doesn’t mean that it lacks seriousness; it just lacks a long-term commitment.

In professional employment, that means that organizations increasingly rely on contractors and short-term workers when they staff up projects–and drop them when the projects end.

In service employment, that means that organizations hire workers on a part-time basis, scheduling them only a week or two in advance, requiring them to be on-call at other times, and often providing fewer than 30 hours per week of work.

The goal behind such approaches is to minimize labor costs. And for younger workers, the belief is that such approaches are preferred.

But perhaps the logic underlying that strategy is flawed. Consider the belief that Millenials seek flexibility in their employment. According to his interpretation of the Allstate/National Journal Heartland poll (, reporter Ronald Brownstein found that Millenials, “fabled for preferring variety to stability, also echoed that sentiment” were nearly as likely to seek job stability (that is, a long-term job with a single employer) as those in other age brackets.

Consider the labor practices in retail that favour part-time employment with low wages, flexible schedules, and limited training. According to researcher Zeynep Ton (Harvard Business Review,, full-time jobs with predictable schedules and decent benefits favour retailers in the long-run. Secure, well-trained, properly compensated employees may cost more, but Ton’s research suggests that the sales they generate far exceed their costs.

Last, consider permanent employees. Perhaps one of the reasons employers have difficulty with them is that they require work. Most of Forbes’ contributor Eric Jackson’s Top Ten Reasons Why Large Companies Fail To Keep Their Best Talent ( boil down to a failure to manage the relationship.

Among his list are failures to give meaningful performance plans and career development, insensitivity to workers’ interests in job assignments, telling people how to do jobs, and constantly changing priorities.

In other words, if people are the organization’s most cherished assets, it probably behooves those organizations to actually treat their workers accordingly.

About idmodelsandprocesses

Exploring, reporting, teaching, and advising on learning and communication for the workplace and consumers.
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