In my introduction, I wrote that we are in the midst of a major shift in the way we think about work and life in the United States.
Whether by choice or by circumstance, more Americans than ever are foregoing the kind of work we typically expect respectable adults to pursue in favor of work — and a life — that is more varied and less predictable.
There are several social and economic forces driving this change.
1) Fewer full-time jobs available: The 2008 economic crisis led many companies to cut jobs, ostensibly as a matter of cost-cutting (though many believe it was an excuse to let go of “dead wood” and boost profits). Whatever the rationale, there are simply fewer full-time jobs today and those jobs are not expected to come back.
2) More stress on full-time workers: It’s no surprise that with fewer people doing the work, there is an added burden on full-time employees to pick up the slack. So while the salary and benefits offered by a full-time job may be desirable, more and more workers are asking themselves whether the added stress of overwork is worth it.
3) Rise of mobile computing: There are two sides to the mobile computing story when it comes to the contemporary workplace. On one hand, the workday creep that comes with always-on mobile access can be a bane to full-time workers (see item 2 above: more stress on full-time workers). On the other hand, mobile computing has been a boon to flexible workers who can now fit in work wherever they may be.
4) New corporate budgeting processes: The pressures that come with making quarterly numbers have driven companies to plan more quarter by quarter and therefore to seek a flexible workforce that they can scale up or scale down based on quarter-to-quarter results and market fluctuations.
5) Working parents on the brink: The social and cultural forces that have led us away from tight-knit communities and extended families, the rising cost of childcare or the lack of access to high-quality childcare, put the screws on two-income families. Working parents at a breaking point are the subject of a slew of recent articles and books. And for parents whose after-tax earnings barely cover the cost of childcare, flexible arrangements that allow them to be their own childcare provider make more economic sense.
6) Job juggling: With wage stagnation ongoing and the cost of living rising, many people are already juggling multiple jobs to make ends meet. Free agency is not that different.
7) Online marketplaces: Employment marketplaces ranging from Odesk to Mechanical Turk have created fluidity in the labor market, making short-term free agent contracts accessible to the masses.
Are there additional factors you see driving this trend? What’s been the biggest factor for you? [polldaddy survey=”06AB3C0695635E4B” type=”button” title=”Take the survey” style=”inline”]