Generation why? How new generations are breaking down the master-servant workplace relationship

New technologies and new generations are changing the way our workplaces operate. The first of the Baby Boomers reached the 65 years retirement age in 2011 and employers are looking to restock their talent pools. They are making concessions to keep the cream of the Generation Y crop, broadly defined in Australia as those born after 1980.

Meanwhile, many of those in their 40s and above, who have spent 20-plus years in the workplace, are increasingly disgruntled about a regimented style of work. Knowledge workers in particular are taking advantage of their in-demand skills and technologies to work remotely or become what is known as the Super-Temp – top managers and professionals who choose to pursue project-based careers independent of any major firm.

Twenty-nine percent of Australian workers are now working on a contingent basis, without the usual manifestations of workplace security such as leave entitlements. This figure is even higher in the US, at 40 percent and Europe, the Middle East and Asia, at 55 percent.

The traditional career is not what many young people want – the Wall Street Journal reports that US companies have had to adapt to new generations who believe there is currently too much bureaucracy and not enough communication or utilisation of their talent in workplaces. Retention of graduates at Aprimo, and Indianapolis-based software maker, is now at 85 percent after college graduates were all promised a promotion after one year, provided their work was up to scratch. Others at a Silicon Valley firm demanded and received the freedom to leave the office at 2.00pm and continue their work at Starbucks, with the CEO observing that those provided with the right incentives would work around the clock while those feeling that they were not given the opportunity to contribute effectively would leave.

In a sense, this represents the breakdown of what Ken Phillips from Independent Contractors Australia describes as the master-servant relationship. The law governing Australia’s employment relationships can be traced back to the master-servant relationship of English feudal times. The Industrial Revolution legally freed individuals, except during work time when they were still chattels of the ‘Master’. When people become employed, they enter a legal relationship where the employer has the right to ‘control’ them. The rise of the free agent is challenging this model.

In the meantime, a number of unions are campaigning for job security clauses in enterprise agreements, having disrupted work at Qantas, a number of major mining operations and the docks. Public sector unions are also seeking job security guarantees or set ratios of permanent workers. Qantas has responded by shedding maintenance jobs at a greater rate and doing more work overseas and the miners and stevedores have responded by either closing operations or introducing new labour-saving technologies, while all levels of government are shedding staff and contracting out some operations.

Whilst iHR respects the views of unions, and indeed some employers, to push for or offer traditional permanent full time employment, iHR believes that the approach deployed has to fit your organisation, acknowledge market forces and suit the needs of the industry and the individual. Whilst trends are evident, careful analysis of each business’s unique circumstances should occur prior to making any decision. At iHR we have found that offering flexible working conditions has allowed us to attract and retain a diverse and dedicated talent pool which enables the organisation itself to offer more flexible, tailored and responsive solutions.