INTOUCH : Agility in a latex work world

Why, asks Tony DiRomualdo, is work defined in jobs? And why are those jobs confined to specific place or limited to one employer?
A few years back, such questions would probably have been greeted with gape-jawed amazement. But in these days of portfolio workers and telecommuting, the possibility of slipping into latex-like work roles that stretch to accommodate lifestyle changes is both appealing and possible. It’s also what companies need to offer if they’re going to hang on to some of their highly skilled knowledge workers, warns DiRomualdo.
Research director for Career Innovation and co-author of its Manifesto for the New Agile Workforce (see www.careerinnovation.com), Boston-based DiRomualdo was in New Zealand speaking at the recent HRINZ conference in Wellington. As consultant and founder of Next Generation Workplace, his research focuses on how changes in global business dynamics, talent management practices and information technology are transforming the workplace.
It’s two-way stretch. Companies increasingly need more agile resourcing – having the right people in the right place at the right time to cope with their changing market needs; employees meanwhile want more flexibility, not just in terms of where and when they work but how roles could be changed or extended to give them some learning stretch.
“The Manifesto is call to both businesses and individuals to say this isn’t just about resourcing, nor is it just about flexible working,” says DiRomualdo. “Real agility is broader set of dimensions – businesses and individuals have very different desires and needs for agility and the real challenge is how to get some sort of dialogue going so both sides get the kind of agility they want.”
Having completed two years’ worth of extensive research that explores both company and employee perspectives, DiRomualdo had some key insights to share – including the “shocking levels of dissatisfaction” amongst knowledge workers.
Out of 2000 workers, 56 percent indicated they were not happy with the level of work-life balance they could achieve in the job.
“That was not so shocking, but more shocking to us was that 55 percent said they were not happy with the levels of achievement in their job – they felt they were not able to accomplish what they had the capacity to do; 53 percent felt their skills were not being fully or productively used in the job, and 52 percent said they weren’t getting enough opportunities to learn and grow.”
The result was fairly high level of job dissatisfaction – nearly 46 percent of the most agile workers responding to the survey indicated they planned to leave their jobs within 12 months. And these are the very people that companies need to hang on to if they’re to compete successfully in global market, notes DiRomualdo.
This dissatisfaction applied across different age groups as well as gender. However cluster analysis yielded what was probably the most important insight coming out of the work, says DiRomualdo.
“We actually identified five different groups that are very distinct around their level of engagement, level of ambition and willingness to meet employee expectations. About 20 percent are what we call traditionalists – they’re highly engaged, highly ambitious, highly willing to do what employers expect of them but have very low desire to work flexibly.”
They could be characterised as the career workaholics, tend to be more highly represented in mid-management roles and in many organisations represent the dominant culture. And they’re pretty dubious about the whole notion of flexible work arrangements.
Then there’s the group representing 25 percent of respondents and referred to as the “agile performers”. Their levels of ambition and engagement match those of the traditionalists – but they also want life. Their desire for work flexibility is very high. Which suggests something of disconnect between some managers and their employees.
“There is dichotomy now between the old work world and tomorrow’s work world. There is significant group of people who in our view represent the kind of agile mindset that many businesses need in terms of their creativity, engagement, willingness to go the extra mile. But businesses are not giving them the kind of workplace deal that motivates these people to stay. So they end up in self-employment or entrepreneurial start-ups.”
There needs to be bit more give and take in terms of work arrangements, says DiRomualdo. Although there’s fair amount of pressure to treat everyone the same, the demand for more individually tailored work deals is increasing. Companies that resist this will miss out, he warns.
“Our research also shows people are prepared to trade off pay for flexibility to much larger degree than maybe companies realise.
“So there are opportunities companies are not even exploring. If they get proactive on this, they’ll be able to tap into and engage those people who are going to bring the energy and entrepreneurial capacity they need to succeed in today’s global business world.”

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