These are hard times to figure out what's in store for America's workforce. With unemployment still high (9.7% in March 2010), layoffs ongoing and jobs still being outsourced to cheaper locations, it's easy to feel as if management doesn't have your best interests at heart.
Recently rumors swirled about layoffs at IBM, with the expectation that as many as 2,000 employees would be cut this week, according to an article in Computerworld. Last week an interview given to Personnel Today by Tim Ringo, head of the IBM Human Capital Management consultant group, caused great consternation when he suggested that the company could cut 299,000 of its 399,000 workers by 2017 in order to reduce headcount and cut costs. An IBM spokesman denied the rumor and called Ringo's comments "ludicrous."
But Alliance@IBM, a union representing IBM workers, is concerned that the company will use crowdsourcing employment to reduce costs in the future. Union spokesperson Lee Conrad said, "It is clear IBM wants employees that are nothing more than temporary ‘hired hands' with no benefits and no protection." Burnt Oak, a consultancy, defines crowdsourcing as "The act of taking a job traditionally performed by an employee and outsourcing it to an undefined group of people on a project-by-project basis, in the form of an open call. Firms wishing to follow this model could encourage employees to set up a company with 10 or more colleagues, and buy back their services as and when needed."
This has me wondering if we will see a trend towards cutting full-time workers and then hiring them back as contractors, without the healthcare benefits, pensions and costs associated with office space. The Personnel Today article notes, "High-profile employers in the oil, manufacturing, IT and services industries are considering downsizing their permanent employee base and instead using contractors." And Robert Morgan, director at Burnt Oak said, "The trend stemmed from American-owned companies trying to improve the ratio of how much money per employee per quarter they can make."
Still, other companies seem to be taking a different approach. In a new book from Harvard Business Press, "Workforce of One: Revolutionizing Talent Management Through Customization" by Susan Cantrell and David Smith, both of Accenture, the authors argue that employers that want to hire and keep the best talent will need to treat individual employees as a "workforce of one." After conducting 3,500 surveys in more than 60 organizations the pair found that what mattered most to business performance was "how supported" employees felt by their company's people practices - meaning employees wanted to be treated as individuals with unique and differentiated needs. The book includes profiles of thirteen companies they consider pioneers in this philosophy, including Best Buy, The Container Store, Google, Men's Wearhouse, Microsoft, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, W.L. Gore, and others.
The authors had four approaches that can be customized for specific organizations:
- Segment the workforce - instead of segmenting by rank, tenure or function, some employers are using a more strategic approach that segments by a wider set of parameters, such as learning styles, values, personality, wellness profiles, communication style, and behavioral patterns.
- Offer modular choices - to maximize people's performance companies can offer defined options that lets employees customize their work experience.
- Broad and simple rules - instead of offering volumes of rigid guidelines, companies can define their culture and offer broad and simple guidelines.
- Foster employee-defined personalization - employees can define and create their own people practices, without centrally defined limits, choices or policies.
While this book doesn't get into the issue of crowdsourcing, it does address the concept of an extended workforce. "Leading organizations are pushing talent management beyond the confines of the enterprise wall to ensure that people who temporarily lend companies their skills and talents are just as motivated and high performing as employees-and that the company can continue to attract and retain the best extended workforce," the authors note. "Some companies are starting to leverage former employees who already know the inns and outs of the company and who have a proven track record and relationships built on trust," the authors say. Brazilian conglomerate Semco, for example, is known to help its workers set up their own companies, transforming them from employees to partners.
The world of work is changing, that much is certain. How it will impact you is less certain. What's going on at your organization? How is your workplace changing? Are contract workers replacing full-time staff?