There is no doubt that attitudes have changed towards work in recent years. Where once a solid 9-to-5 was the norm, now freelancers make up 35% of the workforce in the United States and are the largest growing workforce in Europe with over 11 million people identifying as freelancers there today. But why is this the case, and is this a sustainable form of working in the future?
Today we are seeing a new, maturing, millennial workforce whose priorities have changed from previous generations. The idea that there are more important things to life than working is a much more generally accepted notion. A flexible schedule, time with family & the ability to travel more all rank as top reasons for switching from the office to freelancing.
Different life priorities are important, but that only provides half the picture. When this generation sits down to do the work itself, they want it to be more meaningful too. A recent report by BetterUp found that more than 9 out of 10 employees were willing to trade a percentage of their earnings for greater meaning at work. Employees with very meaningful work, the study found, actually spend one additional hour per week working, take two fewer days of paid leave per year and are more productive – to the tune of $9,078 per worker, per year.
So how can we achieve both our life priorities and have more meaning at work?
Well, technology goes some way to help us be free through the flexibility it provides. It enables us to choose where to work & when, allows us to seamlessly collaborate anywhere in the world. That hour we might have once spent commuting can now be spent on something more fulfilling. Walk the dog, read a book, pick up your kids from school. Life!
But at the end of the day, technology is only ever going to be a very useful tool. To feel free we have to have a sense of ownership over our lives, choose the work we do, and have the autonomy to do it in such a way that is intellectually liberating. We need to do work that is meaningful. How?
In order for modern working attitudes to prosper, and for meaningful work to become a possibility for everyone, it’s time for traditional companies to end.
To give this statement some context let’s take a brief look at business history… Companies in their modern form can be traced back to the Ancient Greeks. Entrepreneurs vied to sell their wares to large public markets and therefore required groups of people to come together for the united purpose of making profit. As with companies today, long-term pacts were required in order to make a commitment to working together for goods or services that had otherwise not been standardised. This structure was designed at a time where consumers “only shopped for what they needed, not what they desired”. This is the type of company structure that served manufacturing & the industrial revolution of the 1800s. Production & marketing had to be done at scale, requiring more people & more power to get products to people – fast.
But today we work within digital infrastructures. Old company attitudes don’t fit with modern behaviours. The average time spent at a job for 35 year olds in the US is 2.8 years. This length of time would have once been considered a ‘temporary’ job – now it’s permanent. The idea of staying with the same company all of your life is over.
Work is more on-demand than ever, and it’s time that we begin to adapt.
Rather than seeking approval from your boss in a chain of commands, new company and management structures, such as that promoted by Holacracy, will put a greater emphasis on decision making and responsibility to individuals within a network. Flatter hierarchies will encourage people to step up and be accounted for, liberate people to display their full capacity & grow. This helps to give more purpose, more confidence, and therefore more meaning to the work at hand. There’s less burden on senior roles, and more ownership distributed throughout the team.
The contract between employer and employee, the simple exchange of money for labour, has expired. Taking its place is a new order where people demand more meaning for work, and in return give more deeply & freely for those that provide it.
Free minds are creative minds.