Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Working For Promises


It's an interesting world in which we live.Changes happening every day to the way we work, the way we get remunerated and the way we use media and technology.

While industries employ weasel language to talk about "flexibility in the workforce" what they mean is casual jobs and no benefits.  Contracts replace employment and many jobs lack the security of employment that can allow the person to plan ahead, borrow money and invest in a home. This group which is growing by the day has been called The Precariat - for the precarious financial situation in which they find themselves.

"Millions of people across the world, including many Australians, are living and working in economic and social insecurity, many in casual or short-term, low-paid jobs, with contracts they worry about. Their incomes fluctuate unpredictably, they lack benefits that most people used to take for granted.

No paid holidays, no sick leave, no subsidised training, no worthwhile pension to look forward to, and no assurance that if they lose their job they will be able to rely on state benefits or other assistance." - Guy Standing is the author of The Precariat - The New Dangerous Class (Bloomsbury) see more on that here in this article on The Drum

Naturally in such a world, retirement funding is up to the individual and we know from experience in Australia  prior to compulsory superannuation and in the US (where retirement benefits were changed in the 80's to allow employers to only match contributions from employees) that many people will not put enough money aside (nor be able to afford to) nor be able to retire since they will have few resources to depend on, aside perhaps from a windfall legacy when their parents die.

Similarly, the technical world is full of sage advice on the new paradigm and how people will be moving from job to job expressing their skills and running their career as "my personal business".  This is an attitude that we will have to cultivate but we're not there yet. 

Part of that techno wonder is the miracle of the start-up where people can be promised big bonuses when (If) 'the ship comes in' and the company gets bought out by a mega player. Meanwhile they can graft away on a subsistence pay - or work for basically nothing.  Since most start-ups are likely to fail, many will put in the time and at the end have a very expensive lesson to show for it. Some interesting perspective on this fact is outlined in this piece "Advice for US Entrepreneurs Who Move to Europe" on the difference between the US and Europe when it comes to start-ups. In Australia you can figure the conditions are most like Europe than the US. Bold highlight is mine.


"Another legal obligation that is very common in Europe and unheard of in the USA is state-mandated severance pay packages. This is a direct impediment to start ups, the reason being that most start ups fail and in the USA there is an understanding of this. In the USA employees demand stock options as upside should the start up succeed knowing that there will be no severance package should the start up fail." 


Then there is the virtual sweatshop model that is growing apace, where you contribute your writing, your creative pieces and don't get paid. Oh, yes you will benefit, you're told, by "all the exposure" you'll get.  Meanwhile if the business takes off and the owner sells it for a bundle, that's going in their pocket, but never yours. That exposure? Probably worth very little in real terms. 

Illustrators who have been working professionally for decades are struggling to find work. Where then will the work come from for all those following who are studying visual arts and joining the list of people looking for that creative work? Well there are sites that promote "Freelance" jobs - where you can pimp yourself out in competition with those in third world countries where $10 a day is possible to live on. 

Harlan Ellison is a very good and famous author who had something fabulous to say on this matter. He's 'paid his dues' and still yet the hucksters will try it on to get work free. Here's what he thought about that. 

 

So what is the way forward? 

It seems that the system in which we work will need to change to accommodate the new less-that-full-time workplace. Perhaps decoupling benefits from employment so that they accrue the same way that superannuation and retirement savings do, and are portable from job to job. A change in the way that banks approach lending for people in this new workforce and perhaps an additional payment made to those who are not regular employees.

It's definitely a topic that needs to be on the agenda for discussion because it is likely to affect every family, and living well in this new environment is going to depend on having a well considered and implemented plan to deal with the issues that pertain.

Working for promises? That's a mug's game. 
Don't be a mug. 



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