Magic Mondays. The Wednesday Hump. TGIF. Many of us can relate to not enjoying the standard 9-5 workday that had its origins in the 19th century, but with flexible working and increasingly long days rapidly taking hold in the workplace, has it had its day?
Once an accepted norm in workplaces across Australia, the 9 to 5 job may soon be a relic of the past as more workers across the country take up flexible work arrangements.
Representing one of the most fundamental shifts in the world of work since the industrial revolution, this change is already well underway with a significant number of workers today doing their jobs in a form other than the traditional 9 to 5 workday.
Indeed, signalling how flexible working is becoming the new norm, recent research shows that nearly 90 per cent of employers believe working options are very important or important when it comes to staff attraction and retention, while a third of employees consider flexible working options as critical to remaining with their current employer.
These alternate forms of work include flexible arrangements such as working from home or variable shift patterns as well as different types of engagement such as the gig economy, job-sharing, freelancing, and part-time employment. There’s also the emergence of the so-called ‘portfolio career’ where workers do several types of work that equate to full-time hours.
Challenges to the Old Paradigm
There are a number of factors driving the changing face of work in Australia. But what they all have in common is a link to the digital revolution that is currently transforming sectors, industries, economies, and societies locally and across the globe.
In the context of this rapid digitisation, one of the big contributors to the growth of alternate types of work, such as the gig economy, is how quickly business environments evolve and the need for firms to be able to respond accordingly. With demands and challenges from customers, collaborators, investors and competitors moving faster than ever it is critical that organisations have a flexible workforce to call on.
Another factor eroding the 9 to 5 model is the constant introduction of disruptive technologies over the past decade — a trend likely to accelerate in the period ahead. Innovations in automation, artificial intelligence, big-data and machine learning are among the developments reducing the need for 9 to 5 workers, especially in blue-collar roles.
There is also the impact from the rapid digitisation of information, which is prompting organisations to collaborate with a broad range of workers in a time-sensitive environment. For instance, many industries are having to overhaul business processes to align with new customer expectations by building-in things like personalised treatment, intuitive interfaces, and real-time fulfilment. These needs are increasingly met by on-demand workers.
Additionally, there is the effect of a lift in demand for specialist creative workers to consider. As workers with creative knowledge, as opposed to manual expertise, become more important it’s essential that organisations have a distinctive value proposition to attract, secure, and retain the best talent. This often involves offering these workers flexible and alternate work arrangements that suit their requirements. Indeed, this is borne out by recent research that show 85 per cent of Australian firms are using flexibility to attract and retain top workers in a more fiercely competitive creative talent market.
While market forces – in the form of the global digital revolution – are causing a move away from the 9 to 5, a generational shift in the workforce is also at play.
Specifically, with more businesses keen to engage millennial talent, it makes sense for firms to provide flexibility at work given it’s a top requirement when this cohort considers the organisations they want to work for.
To this end, research has found that that the approach millennials have to workplace productivity and flexibility differs from older workers. For instance, millennials – classified as people born between 1981 and 1996 — believe productivity should be measured by the output of work performed, not by the number of hours spent at the office.
The importance of catering to millennials’ work preferences is all the more essential in the context of changing workplace demographics. Millennials are the most numerous generation in the workforce and will make up three quarters of employees in Australia by 2025.
Are Aussie Companies Ready?
The shift towards flexible work is clear, but what is less certain is whether businesses are ready and agile enough to survive and thrive in the post 9 to 5 era.
Some Australian companies are taking the lead. For instance, several large blue-chips like Westpac, Telstra, ANZ and PWC have moved to a ‘flexible by default’ arrangement – meaning that many staff members are tasked with managing their hours on a performance, not face time, basis.
Tech juggernaut Atlassian is another case in point. The US-listed, but Sydney-based company recently revealed plans to decentralise its workforce with a comprehensive remote work program. According to the tech disruptor, this approach was motivated by the need to tap into top-level talent, many of whom do not live near to its local headquarters.
According to Atlassian, remote roles are more popular with in-demand talent, with the company receiving 25 per cent more applications for those jobs than in-house positions.
However, while market leaders like Atlassian are at the forefront of the shift away from the 9 to 5, many other companies across Australia are yet to confront the challenge head-on. This fact may not only inhibit their ability to attract and retain the best talent but may also inhibit their ability to keep pace with the changing customer need which is less 9 to 5 and more 24/7.
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