London, June 12 2019 image via ING Media

I am an international hybrid and a long-time journalist with a broad span of intellectual curiosity and a passion for ideas to help business work better, with basic human values to underpin the process.


The Rise Of 'Non-Traditional' Workers Is An Issue For Boardrooms

The Rise Of 'Non-Traditional' Workers Is An Issue For Boardrooms

The use of so-called 'non-traditional' labour is on the rise in the United Kingdom. A large proportion of UK business leaders report a significant number of contractors (75%) , freelancers (46%) and gig workers (12%) in their work forces, says a report just out. To any consumer of daily news, it will come as no surprise. Yet just 17% of UK companies have policies and strategies in place for the use of such workers.

Once again there appears to be an important subject missing from the agenda of many a FTSE boardroom: addressing fast-changing realities. I first noted ostriches in the boardroom in the context of cybersecurity in 2014 as noted in this post at the time  on Forbes.

The information comes from Deloitte - in its 2018 survey on global human capital trends, its largest and most extensive to date- it looks at input from more than 11,000 business and HR leaders across 140 countries. Some 202 UK respondents were involved in this year’s survey.

According to the survey, 42% of UK business leaders expect to see a rise in the use of contractors by 2020, while 41% foresee an increase in freelancers, and 34% expect a growth in gig workers. But, "it seems that not all workers are given guidance of best practice during their contracts" says the report.

Just 66% of HR teams say they are involved in 'on-boarding' non-traditional workers, while 49% offer training for these employees. One in three (33 %) say they do not assess or manage the performance of non-traditional employees.

Furthermore, as the number of ‘non-traditional’ workers is expected to grow, many businesses are "sensitive to the risks involved with employing ‘non-traditional’ workers."

Over two in five (42%) of organisations say they are worried about the loss of confidential information due to the use of contractors, while 31% worry about what is seen as the "instability of the non-traditional workforce." Some 42% are concerned about violations or changing government regulations in managing or categorising these workers.

Despite recent media scrutiny of businesses hiring gig economy workers and contractors, 64% of those surveyed do not express concerns over any risk to reputation that could arise from a negative perception of non-traditional employment.

But then, I wonder-  how many FTSE 350 boardrooms privately profess nothing but contempt for social media ?

There's a huge discrepancy between accepting the potential of innovative working models, and going along with 'change that happens' grudgingly. Based on this research, the non-recognition of such an enormous shift in patterns of working looks very much like a business opportunity being spurned.

Fundamental human rights and gender equality issues also shout out when business is not paying attention to part-time workers, most of whom are likely to be women. For more on that, and the sudden flurry of interest in the #genderpaygap, see my latest Governance Watch for a boardroom consultancy.

“The breadth of worker contracts available today offers employers huge potential to equip their business with a flexible, diverse and uniquely skilled workforce. However, most of these workers are being treated as unskilled labour, not as professionals" said Anne-Marie Malley, UK human capital leader at Deloitte.

I wonder to what extent that is because the 'professional workforce' is inherently deemed to be white and male by many of those responding to such a survey.

"As freelancers, gig, and crowd workers become a growing proportion of the workforce and scrutiny of non-traditional workers intensifies, improving the management of the diverse workforce will grow in importance. Businesses should work to give gig and contract workers clear performance goals, secure communication systems, and the right amount of training and support to make them productive and aligned with the company’s strategy” added Ms Malley.

Ironically, Deloitte reports that business leaders are preparing for the deployment of new technologies to sweep their businesses in the coming years, with 83% expecting AI and cognitive technology to have an impact on the composition of the workforce by 2020 and 33% saying that it has already had an impact.

They apparently "share a belief in the importance of human skills." Some 69% say that as AI and robotics become integrated in the workforce complex problem-solving skills will be important in the workplace, while 61% cite the importance of technical skills and 60% affirm the importance of cognitive abilities.

But at the moment just one in eight (12%) of organisations plan to train their current workforce to enable the human skills required by the use of AI and robotics, with 43% saying they do not have a plan to cultivate these skills.

You do not have to flaunt the title of 'business strategist' to see an obvious disconnect here...and you might think that it's a question they should be mulling, somewhere around the boardroom.

“Organisations expect their use of AI, automation and robotics to accelerate rapidly in the coming years and it’ll be inherently human skills which will be needed to facilitate their deployment. To allow new technologies to have the greatest impact in the workforce while minimising the potential negative impact on current employees, organisations must invest in reconstructing workloads, redefining roles and retraining workers” said Ms Malley.

Board Talk has recently looked at just such issues around skills, technology, and inclusion - have a browse.

Note: Cover Image credit Traci Daberko for Deloitte Insights. Source: Deloitte, London



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