The US workforce is becoming more liquid in what may be an uneasy alliance that gives both businesses and employees increased flexibility. Businesses gain the ability to control costs and hire workers that match specific skill needs. Employees surrender job security and access to corporate-level benefits.
The Randstad 2025 Workplace Report predicts as much as 50 percent of the US workforce will be what it calls “agile.” Deloitte’s 2017 Global Human Trends declares “we are moving away from a full-time workforce and skill requirements to multiple workforces and technologies defining delivery. The old style hierarchal leadership is on its way out, along with big mahogany desks and side bar of scotch.”
Managers lose the corner office. Employees lose a steady income.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics defines a “liquid workforce” as “traditional employees and a wide variety of non-employee workers including temporary workers, independent contractors/consultants/ freelancers, volunteers, outsourced resources and even non-human options such as robots, drones and cognitive computing applications.” So much for the claim that a liquid work is all about “people.”
The application of liquid to a workforce can be a bit fluid. Terri Gallagher, writing for Recruiting Daily, says, a liquid workforce “allows companies to optimize competitive performance, react to fluctuating markets and demand as well as balance labor costs and workforce agility. It’s finding the right combination of internal employees, freelancers and technology for each new project.”
The price of that “fluidity,” she adds, is to blur the lines “between permanent, contingent, IC, cloud and crowd sourcing. Leading companies are using collaboration tools and cloud-based workflows that empower anytime, anywhere working.”
Some people may become liquid by being laid off, but others appear to equate employer flexibility with employee freedom. It may actually be a workplace innovation that benefits both employer and employee.
Gallagher provides historical perspective. “We are entering a new era that some say is the biggest since the Industrial Revolution. The way we work, and the reason we work, is changing – and technology is a primary enabler.”
The question that will take time to answer is whether employee freedom to work when they want, control their career and follow their passions turns out to be a box canyon. Will a mosaic work experience amount to a clear picture of a financially secure and personally rewarding work life? Will a gypsy work experience ultimately translate into a solid body of experience and expertise? Will a liquid workforce be just an interim step to an automated workforce?
Hard questions to answer from where we stand today. But liquid workers are certainly a trend worth following, especially if you one of the workers caught in the streamflow.