Recently, the Wall Street Journal posted what I will label an opinion piece (explanations further down) on contractors in an article titled The Second-Class Office Workers. The general premise of the article is that contractors, also referred to as consultants in some sectors, have less status, less power, and less benefits than full time employees. To say it was a hit piece on contracting as a profession would be a gross understatement.
At the risk of offending any baby boomers or others who have inherited that generation’s idea of employment, I state this loudly and without reservation: This is not your grandfather’s economy!!!! As readers in the comments section ably and skillfully dissected the article, I found myself wondering exactly how many employees believe that their jobs are safe because of the “Exempt” moniker listed on their pay-stubs. Are they privy to the thousands of studies, articles, and research reports illuminating the global trend of outsourcing? Have they not breathed a sigh of relief as they found out that they were spared the ax during yet another round of corporate restructuring? Is it enough that they were able to keep their jobs this time, but may not survive the dreaded re-org next time in spite of the mortgage, car, and credit card payments? News flash: The 20-30 year job at the same company model of employment is virtually extinct. Contractors know that, and are ready. FTE’s? Not so much.
I have been both an FTE and a contractor. I prefer being a contractor. As a contractor, I immediately know my status. I have a specific job description and I work to meet and exceed that description. If you need my weekends for work, you pay me. The relationship between myself and the client is purely transactional, devoid of any misplaced ideas on loyalty or feelings, and reflects only the needs of the business and my interests in the work at a given point in time. In other words, it is the perfect business relationship, but only for a specific personality type. I happen to fit well into this non-committal framework. Understandably, if one grew up in a different time period during the American employment experience, I could see how this change could be unnerving. Constantly interviewing, updating skills, and managing change would be very unnerving under that paradigm. None of us gave the powers that be permission to upend the post WWII company-employee relationship…at least none of the millennials did. However, that is what has happened and the proverbial genie is not going back into the bottle without massive, tectonic power shifts in the labor vs. capital relationship.
The rise of the sharing economy means that the market and consumers recognize the trends of our current economic set-up and are adapting accordingly. Just as car buying has been transformed, I, for one, am looking forward to the 30/15 year mortgage going the way of the dinosaur (who will sensibly commit to such a thing without permanent or semi-permanent employment?) What’s that you say, Dear Reader? “What kind of society rejects permanence in favor of short-term livelihoods that offer no stability?” If stability is what you seek, dear reader, might I suggest a dog?
These are unstable times and anyone who tells you otherwise is just putting their heads in the sand. I am no liberal, but the words “universal basic income”, “socialism”, and “economic populism” all come to mind. After all, what do you do with all of the people who simply do not have the capacity to change at the rate required by our current economy? Will they all just accept their status as losers in the whole winners vs. losers conversation? I think not, see the 2016 election results for evidence. In either event, you are better off recognizing the change that is upon you rather than acting as if it does not exist. History shows us that the social order will catch up. It has no choice.