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November 12, 2010 / Lukasz Cerazy

The Way We Work Has Changed

Working the same place all you life is a thing of the past. Very few individuals work for the same company until they retire. Neither does a worker progress in a company purely based on the number of years he or she has been with the firm. But what are the trends in the modern labour market of today? Flexibility! The labour force needs to be flexible to meet the dynamic activities that characterise the globalised knowledge economy. This involves working part-time, working from home, working on short-term projects, freelancing or any other kind of work that is not a full time 9:00-17:00 job. Unfortunately, this is something that governments still struggle to fully cope with. Many governments still prefer the normal full-time worker and give them better protection via legislation. However, as the world economy is increasingly a service economy where ideas and intangible factors produce more value, a more flexible approach is both more desirable and produces positive externalities. The social benefits arise because flexible working can attract workers that would otherwise have stayed out of the labour market because they are unable or unwilling to work full time. The world is changing and policies should therefore be scrutinised and adapted to suit the globalised environment better.

Image: renjith krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Henry Ford’s vision of a standardised industrial process that takes advantage of economies of scale where focus is on optimising and reducing inefficiencies, does no longer apply to the same extent. Adam Smith, the father of classic economics, also focused on efficiency and the drive of the selfish individual to describe work and later the division of labour. In the modern economy the need to interact and get together with other individuals is much more important. Business is increasingly done as on-off projects where various individuals get together to produce an intangible product, which involves many specialists. In this type of work some players are more peripheral or important than others, however, the network of people is what is essential. The organisation of labour is much more fluid and often confined within a restricted space and time and disappears upon completion.

This trend means that individuals float in and out of employment in the eyes of the regulators, which is often discouraged. However, this type of work can actually lead to higher efficiency, as individuals are only involved in projects as long as their services are needed and can be switched on and off much easier. In many industries this is the norm and is increasingly becoming a competitive advantage. This especially applies to the creative industries such as art, fashion, music, films, advertising, architecture and many more. Governments should therefore not try and discourage this type of work and create equal opportunities and rights for the people in the part-time sectors. This could effectively help bring unemployment down and improve the quality of work. Consequently that could mean that more people will have the incentive to stay in the labour market longer and or work more. It is no secret that we commit ourselves more if we are managers of our own time and work on our own projects.

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