At its core, our interpretation of the Gig Economy is to allow your business to benefit from the skillsets of the best talent available.

Attaining and retaining talent is an increasing headache for HR departments committed to an outdated way of operating because, as we have already mentioned, many companies are increasingly finding that there are fewer people looking to fill highly skilled roles on a full time basis.

It is a mindset that can take some adjusting to, but the changes in ways of working and individual priorities are forcing HR departments to think in a different way if they’re to help your business thrive moving forward.

Talent doesn’t want to be retained

March 2017 saw the fastest decline in permanent candidate availability in 15 months according to a Markit/Recruitment and Employment Confederation UK Report on Jobs, and REC Chief Executive Kevin Green commented: “Finding people to do the jobs on offer is rapidly becoming employers’ biggest headache, and many are reporting an increasing number of white-collar jobs as hard to fill, including in the IT and financial sectors.” In light of that, one has to consider, if the system’s broke, why not find an alternative?

Those two elements – 1) the decline of permanent roles and 2) a lack of suitable candidates, is precisely the driver for the Gig Economy, which provides a solution to both problems. Employee mentality has changed as a result of the socio-economic changes (we have already highlighted that workers are asking for different things from their jobs such as work/life balance and a higher sense of purpose compared to traditional rewards such as status and internal job progression), so the people with desirable qualifications are no longer seeking permanent positions.

The nature of transition, is that there is a natural degree of resistance to change, and in particular it seems that HR departments have been wrestling with the value proposition in their businesses that encompass both permanent and impermanent people. There are question marks over how to create and keep a company culture that serves customers, whilst also supporting both transient and full time employees, not to mention a comparatively unknown measurement as to their effectiveness alongside the longer-term tribe.

All of this is entirely understandable except for two things. First, is that the Gig Economy is a model that’s growing having been pioneered amongst some of the fastest growing and successful businesses of the post-recession age. It’s a model used by Silicon Valley’s golden children and not without reason. The second is that HR departments have been clinging to the idea of retaining talent. However, the short of it is that you can’t retain it because economic change and political upheaval have lead to an evolution in the way we think about work both as individuals and as businesses. So not only does talent not want to be retained in the same way as before, but you don’t want to retain it either. What you do want to do want is more skilled and nuanced than that.

The changing role of HR departments

To understand the changing role of HR departments, we need to start by thinking about how we define our employees. Do you think of your contractors and temporary staff differently from permanent, full time employees? Once upon a time contractors were almost second class citizens in organisations but that has definitely changed – it has had to, with around 4.7 million self-employed workers in the UK and counting. We have to start thinking holistically about recruitment in order to attract and retain talent from all angles.

A lot has changed in HR over the last decade, let alone the last 20 years. Processes have been turned on their heads and the methods of recruiting have been completely altered with the rise of digital platforms including LinkedIn and HR Charlie. Crucially however, the expectations have changed from both sides, and as a result what we have is no longer a static formula but a dynamic ecosystem of skills from which to draw. It’s no longer about making people fit a mould, but adapting the mould to get the right person for the job and part of that means buying talent in as you go along.

With these increasing changes, the metrics by which success is measured must also change. Jim Barnett, CEO of Glint, a maker of employee engagement software told fastcompany.com: “Traditional metrics will need to be tweaked in order to properly measure these workers in terms of engagement and retention,” continuing. “This will require significant gains in speed and agility in order to quickly identify work/projects in need of attention, source employees with the required skills, and staff project teams that can quickly perform the necessary task.”

To a great extent over recent years, HR departments have been caught napping, with their out of date mindset forcing their companies to grapple with the now and face an uncertain future. The Office of National Statistics has said that self employment has been one of “the defining characteristics of the UK’s [post recession] economic recovery,” making it just one of the indicators that this changing trend in recruitment is not going to stop any time soon.

The result is that businesses need to of themselves as part of an ecosystem rather than an isolated entity. So what HR departments now need to do is think about the future of their company, looking at how to both attract talent in all its constituent parts and also to consider how they create a culture that supports both the permanent employee looking for a steady environment as well as contract workers adapting to an ever changing one. In short, you don’t choose the talent any more, the talent chooses you.

Re-evaluating your employee value proposition

“There is no talent shortage,” says Forbes, “only poor recruiting practices… recruiting problems are operational problems on the employer’s side — not deficiencies in the talent community!” One of the key points that they highlight is that successful job ads speak to real people rather than dream people, and herein we can read elements such as work/life balance.

Where once upon a time the head hunter was an omnipotent force in the business world, today there is an in increasing amount of control in the hands of the employee/contractor. In this ecosystem of talent, the key factor for your business is making it attractive enough for that talent to choose to come and work for you over anyone else. That means re-evaluating the employee value proposition, your value chain, strategies, systems, processes, culture, benefits and overall stickiness with consideration of both the present and future goals of your organisation.

It is not to say that where we are today is exactly where recruitment is going to be in two, five, 10 or 20 years’ time, but what we are seeing is a seismic shift in the way both businesses and individuals work and that requires a change in mindset when it comes to how we think about talent and how we bring it into our organisations. It is more fluid, more dynamic and that is an exciting place to be – the question is, are you and your HR department considering how you’re going to manage those changes?

Key points

  • How are you adapting your business to attract talent to your organisation?
  • Reconsider your employee value proposition (EVP) for a new generation of employees.
  • How are you and your HR department working to create and retain a company culture that serves customers and supports both transient and full time employees?

READ CHAPTER 7: Where is the Gig Economy going?

©gigCMO First published  April 2018

No more Mad Men: Chapter 2 – The Gig Economy

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In the context of the way businesses use office space and its role in the development of the Gig Economy we can see a series of trends converge to create a considerably changed, and still evolving attitude towards the need to house employees.

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