A good friend of mine recently (by choice) turned a full time position into a contract position so that he could take on more clients. In less than 2 months he had 5+ new clients, each of which on its own could turn into a full time gig. As I listened to my friend describe his good fortune, what became apparent to me was that more than the flexibility of being his own boss or the new found financial opportunity, the thing that gratified him most of all in his new independent role was the security. “I’ve always worked essentially for one client, my employer. When I started, I never thought about that client not being there as long as I did a good job. Lately, I couldn’t get the fear of that one client disappearing out of my mind. I don’t ever plan on being at the mercy of one client again.”
In the past, choosing the independent route was considered the way of the gambler, the entrepreneur, with tons of upside but plenty of risk. That risk profile continues to change as full time employment becomes more and more tenous. Beginning with the first real widespread use of the “layoff” during the early 1980’s recession, the loyalty between employees and their employers has been on a steady downward slide as corporations are unable to provide or even communicate a strong sense of security. Once the gigantic monkey wrench was thrown into the notion that your corporate employer would provide a safe, reliable career, corporations and the positions they offer became a “stepping stone” along a migratory career path as opposed to the career path.
The downturn of the 90’s brought along another wrinkle, the onset of the full time employee turned contract worker. Rather than severing ties completely with employees as the need for their full time help diminished, corporations began turning to them, sans employment benefits, on a part time contractual basis.
The current recession brings along its own unique impacts on the employee/employer relationship. In the midst of the downturn, corporations are striving more than ever to become lean, agile, profit making machines, forcing renewed consideration of all resource options available to them, including full time employees, outsourcing, a contingent workforce, or a combination thereof. Unemployment climbing over 10% is remarkable. The fact that economists are predicting that the unemployment rate is headed for 12%-13% is unprecedented. For the first time there is general agreement amongst the experts that the full time employment positions are not coming back. More so than any previous recession, the core fabric, the loyalty, of the corporate workforce is being shaken, and as a result stirred into action.