Uncovering the New Face of the American Workforce: Part 6 of 12

12.9.2014, Written by Annie Wang

Screen Shot 2014-09-16 at 1.43.10 PMThe world of work is changing. The new face of the American workforce and an increasing portion of the international workforce is more independent, engaged and better able to deliver results, services, and products than the traditional monolithic corporation.


To get a better understanding of this shift, Field Nation conducted a comprehensive analysis of the three areas that have combined to form the nexus of this new reality of work: the shift away from traditional employment and towards contract expertise, the disruption of work as we used to know it, and the newly engaged workforce.


Last week, we discussed “An Emerging Culture of Passion” as the fifth and final shift that affected a sea of changing in the U.S. labor market. With the success of millennial-led organizations inspiring professionals to blend their personal desires and work, increasing numbers of people began jumping on the “me too” bandwagon and the growth of online platforms commenced. When taken together with the other four shifts, the traditional employment landscape radically disrupted both the expectation and practice of the way we work, which resulted in two main areas of employment disruption.



Chapter Two: The Disruption

The Disengagement Disruption

Taken together, the five shifts of the traditional employment landscape radically disrupted both the expectation and practice of the way we work. This resulted in the emergence of two main areas of employment disruption: the first being the impact of disengagement and its subsequent disruption on productivity at the traditional office.


From office jobs to field services, traditional W2 employees became more aware of their own dissatisfaction at work. The pinch that originated from the Great Recession, as well as demands that outpaced time and resources, and general uncertainty, contributed to this overall feeling of separation. Against this background, employees became more aware than ever that their passions lay elsewhere and the technology and processes in the office were not as good as what they could get at home. All the emphasis on doing what you love, combined with the many businesses that sought to cut costs through consolidation of cost centers and departments, drove dramatic numbers of disengaged, dissatisfied and disgruntled employees around the world.


One joint Carnegie-MSW Research report on employee engagement found that the erosion of the employee’s relationship with their immediate supervisor, belief in senior leadership and pride in working for the company all contributed to heightened disengagement. Each of these characteristics spoke to a single concept: visibility of purpose. As an employee’s visibility into their individual purpose and the larger purpose of the organization became obscured, there was an erosion of engagement. Whether through lack of engaging supervisors, or due to a cognitive distance from purposes understood at an executive level, an inability to understand and internalize the meaning of purpose led to a disinterest in delivering great results or even remaining employed.


The Gallup organization has also discovered that the disengagement trend continues to remain at a critical level. In late 2013, their State of the Global Workplace report found that only 13% of traditional full-time workers around the world are engaged in their jobs. This means that 4 out of 5 workers are disengaged at work. Gallup’s subsequent State of the American Workplace study showed similar dismal numbers in the U.S., with 70% of traditional full-time workers reporting disengagement or active disengagement with their jobs.


Unlike the mental connotations these numbers induce, like nodding off in a cubicle or boredom in the boardroom, Gallup estimates that employee disengagement costs the U.S. economy somewhere between $450 billion and $500 billion in lost productivity. The cost is staggering, but the rationale for the disengagement dilemma is sound.


Consider the 2004 clinical psychology study which found that workers with support for their autonomy and competence were the happiest, most engaged and most productive. In environments where autonomy, competence and relatedness were valued and supported, people were much more engaged, productive and satisfied with their work. The inverse was also true. The study concluded by outlining the primary importance of…”the work environment for effective performance.” In short, the engaged workforce is highly autonomous, characterized by competence and engagement (i.e. relatedness) with their stakeholders.


There is one notable segment of the workforce that breaks these disengagement trends – the highly autonomous, competent and engaged freelance and independent contractor workforce.


Coming Up: We look at how independent contracting has disrupted traditional, full-time work.