The New Face of the American Workforce

8.29.2014, Written by Annie Wang

This Labor Day while we spend time with family and start another school year, there are some important changes taking place in the American labor force. These changes are happening around the world, but America is experiencing rapid transformation of the way we work.


The big news for business is that the most engaged employee on your team doesn’t actually work for you, while the big news for the workforce is that the best company to work for is your own. These realities fly below the radar of most government employment reports and social media human resources banter.


Even as businesses increase their use of contract and freelance expertise, most have failed to notice the trend and what it means for their company, and more importantly, for the people and businesses who rely on them.

The Cost of Disengagement

To give you an idea of the scope of the shift, by 2020 freelancers/contractors will account for more than 40% of the U.S. workforce according to this INTUIT study (PDF).


The shift is driven as much by the economic realities of the great recession and the slow economic recovery as it is by the enabling technologies that empower a very human desire for autonomy and satisfaction. While big business struggles to retain and talent and keep them engaged, the freelancer has more opportunity than ever to start up and grow in a line of work that is more in line with what they love to do.


An overwhelming number of scientific studies confirm this. Gallup reports that 87% of traditional full time workers worldwide are disengaged from their daily jobs. The Huffington Post says that 70% of U.S. workers self-identify as “disengaged,” while Forbes reports a number of around 81% who say they are dissatisfied with work.


What it all means is that W2 workers are dissatisfied, disgruntled and disengaged. It is no wonder that we’re seeing more of the shift from full-time to freelance.


That disengagement has a real economic cost. Gallup estimates the cost of disengaged employees in the U.S. to be $450 – $550 BILLION. 

The trick is in knowing what to do about it.


The Highly Engaged Freelance Workforce

A forthcoming Field Nation study reveals that independent contractors:


1. Chose the career path because they wanted greater autonomy and ability to realize their unique talents and expertise (88%)

2. Are deeply committed to the success of their and their customer’s business (90%)

3. Are satisfied or extremely satisfied with their jobs as independent contractors (97%)

This is the kind of highly engaged workforce that can help organizations more effectively and rapidly achieve their goals while helping the U.S. economy accelerate out of a slow recovery.
With the growing number of freelance and newly created independent workers, it’s not hard to find them. The challenge for business is to rapidly and effectively engage them whenever and wherever the need arises.


How to Tap Into the New Opportunity

We’re well on our way to 65 million freelance & contract workers here in the U.S. But a single business doesn’t need 65 million freelancers, it needs one to do the job when and where the job needs to be done. Someone needs to uncrowd the crowd when it comes to the highly engaged freelancer marketplace.


Businesses and organizations must move quickly to update internal business processes that are fraught with delay and inefficiency in order to take advantage of on-demand, on-site expertise.


Businesses must recognize that there are differences between expertise that can be delivered remotely (e.g. code, copy-writing & creative) and expertise that must be delivered on-site. These are services that run the gamut from field services that interact with physical devices and locations to face-to-face services that are delivered across a conference room table or in front of a whiteboard.


Businesses must start thinking differently about their own full time employees in order to better tap into their talents and passions. Stop thinking about people as overhead and cost-centers and instead as humans who have a deep desire and need for autonomy and satisfaction.  Several studies performed in the early 2000’s (here and here) showed that employees who have support for their autonomy are the happiest and most engaged. Other studies show that purpose, motivation to succeed and finding meaning are important.


Independent contractors have purpose to their work as they set their own direction.


Independent contractors have intrinsic motivation to succeed and grow their business.


Independent contractors find meaning in their work as strongly evidenced by the reasons they decided to go independent in the first place (i.e. to control their future, to better utilize their talents).


Businesses must imagine what it would look like to have workers fully interested and engaged in the outcome of the task, project or job. It’s not difficult. Results would be achieved more rapidly and with greater degrees of quality.


Finally, Businesses need to find a way to orchestrate the vast network of on-demand talent and expertise and coordinate the tasks, roles, responsibilities and reporting required to keep it all flowing and growing.


Field Nation is pleased to be part of this emerging trend. We are bringing organizations and independent workers together in order to break down the barriers to work and help them get work done.


If you’re already using the system, than you. We renew our commitment to work together to accomplish great work. If you’re not on the system yet, we extend an invitation to get started breaking down the barriers to work.


From all of us to all of you,

Happy Labor Day.