Blog Treballador

This final post on the topic will be focused on the employee’s standpoint. Thus, while work-life balance efforts have become a common place in organizational behavior, the most interesting, yet untapped, approach by far lies in the answer to this question: which are the incentives for workers regarding the new job models? As we mentioned in the past articles, there’s an unstoppable drift towards embracing flexibility and customization at the expense of security and stability. In general, our current lifestyle demands breaking with old reigning paradigms (traditionally prevailing in Europe, as the model is quite different in the US and Japan):  an eight hour, face-to-face workday with fixed weekly rest period, a monolithic annual leave during summertime  and a full separation between working and non-working periods. This is an obsolete model: both self-employed (working on a project basis) and an increasing number of wage-earners are nowadays indistinctly working from home, office or even while walking in the streets, based on ubiquitous computing and a flexible schedule to better serve a customer that might very well be living in another time zone, together with team members whom they have never personally met.

This progressive liberalization and adaptation of the model, however, has been wrong-footed by many companies and workers alike. The formers are timidly exploring these new trends in a confused way (I was told about a company offering the possibility of home working to its employees…along with an equivalent salary reduction: insane), the latter watch their traditional set of skills go obsolete (and I am not just speaking about tech skills) or mistake a higher autonomy and flexibility for a gravy train by which a lot of money can be made with much lesser work (the success of books like The 4-Hour workweek is revealing) or even no work at all (see the attached photo). Talk to any self-employed or entrepreneur and he/she will tell you that is nothing but a fallacy. Though enriching, being your own boss does not diminish the workload and exigency: it’s just that you take it gladly. Do you think this could suit you? You may want to read this interesting article 13 Signs You Are Meant To Be Self-Employed to help you give it a thought.

However, if the answer is negative and you do prefer to be on payrolls, many of the aforementioned trends are equally valid. Among them, the urge for an approach that focuses on work-life balance is to be highlighted. It’s definitely a complex debate, and we’ve lately seen disconcerting measures about it with more than debatable results. The Yahoo decision to ban homework has been very polemic, but pilots like the one taking place in Goteborg (working less hours while keeping the same salary) have been tried and dismissed before (ironically, in Sweden as well). Be that as it may, this is an unstoppable change that shall bring a more efficient model, better adapted to both the current scenario and our needs and aspirations. In order to reach it, however, we’d better stop asking what the labor market has got for us and start questioning what we can really offer instead. And that means be willing to engage in competition based on a different set of personal and professional skills (much more commercial-focused, accountable and proactive), and, of course, also enjoy new and better working conditions.

This article is also available in Spanish


We reviewed a macroeconomic perspective on the issue in our past post, but…how does the company’s point of view fit into a global approach to this issue?

Well, it definitely looks like, at some point along the way, we’ve lost the perspective on what is the main reason to hire an employee and the pressure that this entails for the company.The underlying principle is that the value added by the employee through his/her performance must have a tangible impact on the final product or service the company is offering to the market. This is not rocket science, ok, but it can be interpreted in different ways.  Take a company that manufactures pens, for example. Every cost associated to the operating processes existing from the very creation of the pen until its market delivery should be substantiated in regards of an increased added value resulting in a bigger margin (either a higher price or a lower cost). Thus, a change in the raw materials used or in the manufacturing process would immediately and clearly lead to a smaller margin, and precisely because of this is discarded. The company’s staff, on its turn, should also contribute to increase the pen’s margin, once marketed. However, this is easier said than done: this kind of principle is very present in start-ups (a must), but, as the company grows and so does the staff, internal processes become more complex  and diverse, resulting in a loss of visibility of the real amount of value added by a certain employee to the final product or service. When this happens, his/her performance is typically assessed based on either the direct supervisor’s level of satisfaction or the compliance with certain performance goals. This is both correct and required, but very frequently insufficient (hence the consolidation of assessment models for corporate restructuring like Management by Missions). Be that as it may, losing perspective on the real (in terms of value) contribution of an employee to the organization is potentially dangerous, and even more considering that the average weight of labour taxes on wage costs for European companies was 23,7% (though very unequal between countries) in 2013, a very similar percentage to that of the United States. In countries like Sweden, this rate climbs to 33,3%, and hence the obvious interest in maximizing the employee’s productivity shown through examples like the one mentioned in the previous post.

In order to get a clear picture (thanks to El Blog Salmón please note this is written in Spanish) of what entails hiring a  new employee in Spain in terms of costs, just consider that, in order to pay an average monthly gross salary of 1.500€,  resulting in  a net salary of 1.269€, a 2.019€ cash outflow is required. If you are a wage-earner, please read the figure again and now imagine that you are the one responsible for ensuring that this salary is paid monthly (in addition to searching and dealing with customers, paying suppliers and distributors, taxes and keeping a reasonable amount to make your living).  You might also want to think about the probable redundancy costs (especially if you live in a European country) and, worst-case scenario, potential judicial costs resulting from the dismissal of the worker. Now ask yourself if that is a very appealing scenario and whether you still think that you have any incentive to hire this person.  If the answer is affirmative, what would you ask in exchange? What kind of guarantees or control over his/her performance would you like to have? In the past (and, unfortunately, in too many current companies), the answer to these questions would typically lead to a so-called face-to-face working approach: stable, firmly supervised and based on hierarchy, in which the employee was paid to work the more number of hours, the better under a model to control performance based tasks or goals. In other words: time and obedience that were traded off against security and stability. This was the traditional system of incentives, a sort of symbiotic relationship by which the employer acted on the grounds of a certain mistrust towards an employee that required permanent control, basically because the very model encouraged him/her to work as few hours as possible at the prospect of an invariable salary.

Nowadays, this is an absurd and (luckily) dying model. There’s an increasing consensus about the necessity to change the focus from the process (workday) to the contribution (cost-benefit analysis of the achieved results). Technology is playing a decisive role, no need to say, when it comes to the consolidation of new models, such as home working, flexible working or non-hierarchical networking, but on top of that companies are becoming increasingly convinced that a satisfied and happy employee is far more productive than a merely supervised one. However, there’s one more step to take in order to consolidate the paradigm shift, and this is, again, the reinforcement of the new system of incentives. Forget time and obedience in exchange for security and stability: they are dead. The new tradeoff is performance, adaptation and efficiency in exchange for flexibility, variable salary and work customization.

Working by individual projects, home working, self-employment and entrepreneurship promotion are along these lines: reducing the burden and commitment of traditional hiring to focus on more flexible, open and customized schemes that enable a better visibility of the employee contribution to the company’s achievement. And this is not about facilitating the dismissal of workers or promoting low-quality jobs (a traditional perspective on this type of approaches), but simply enabling a more balanced model of risk and benefit sharing between agents (companies and workers) resulting in a system of incentives much more adapted to the current competitive scenario.

We’ll review the employee standpoint in our next article

This article is also available in Spanish

New types of competitive models, organizations…and workers? (I)

These last days, following Carlos’s Slim public statements favoring the adoption of a super-concentrated three-day working week and the news about the implementation of a pilot project in Goteborg (Sweden) by which a group of municipal employees would have a 6-hour working day (instead of 8), while keeping the salary intact, an old debate has re-emerged with force: if business models and organizations alike have changed in line with new competitive paradigms, shouldn’t workers and recruitment modalities change as well?
The answer seems pretty obvious: yes. However, as it happens with any change process prior to the adoption of a new dominant paradigm, the approaches on this topic are still confusing, primarily due to the fact that different perspectives from a variety of agents are being mixed. We’ll be reviewing them throughout the next posts.
Let’s start with a global perspective:
From the standpoint of the macroeconomic environment, the post-crisis situation in which we are in (just budding in some economic zones, far more consolidated in others) is conducive to reflection on its causes and the best ways to adapt to this new scenario. In line with this, looks like the Eurozone, with an average unemployment rate of almost 12% (compared to the 6.3% in US and 3.6% in Japan) and scandalous cases like Greece (27%) and Spain (25%) has all incentive to lead the development of new proposals. Given an outlook of this being a long-lasting scenario, the conclusion is evident: the current recruitment models and global relationship between supply and demand within the labor market are simply inefficient and unable to reverse the situation. Against this backdrop, some old (Keynes already proposed this) bizarre proposals are re-emerging again, such as the one proposed by the economist Arcadi Oliveres, who upholds a reduction in the average number of working hours per person to share them out among more people. This kind of (dangerous, read Jack Straw’s opinion on similar proposals) approach, which seems to be moving back 100 years, mixes social and political considerations through the lens of widely outdated economic doctrines, apparently from the premise of the existence of an unchangeable, local job demand for any given competitive environment. This level of job demand would be conditioned by workers in no way, just as if it was a big cake to be shared and we’d only had the chance to miserably stand in line, waiting to get our little slice.
Compared to that, the new dominant paradigm will necessarily be completely opposed, focusing on a serious rethinking of the organization and worker roles that encompasses a deeper employee accountability, a stronger impulse to entrepreneurship and an overall increased dynamism and mobility on the grounds that many new professional profiles shall be offered, created and entrenched by workers, instead of just demanded by organizations.
We’ll take a look at complementary perspectives in future posts
This article is also available in Spanish