Gig Economy vs Poor Employment Morals

04 September 2017

As a consultant, I find it interesting looking at employment models for skills and staff, and always am surprised about companies appetite to take staff on as employees rather than project based consultants. In today’s economy, most work is defined as a “gig” or project based, especially in IT, and so surely project based costs make a business’s costs more manageable and less risky that an effective “permanent” commitment to an employee?

A close friend of mine is going through a situation with their employer. Taken on a year ago to perform a specific permanent role, their employer has concluded that they no longer want them and has commenced trumped up dismissal proceedings based on under performance. The underperformance relates to a fairly innocuous typo in a proposal, something which many of us have done (or worse) on a number of occasions. This process, which I am just gobsmacked at how easy it is to deploy, started on a Monday and is likely to lead to my friends exit from the business on the following Thursday. A number of weeks ago this friend was being told that they were up for promotion because of their quality of work. Clearly something has changed to trigger this course of action by their employer that is way beyond my friend’s control.

The interesting dynamic in this situation is that if the employer wanted to test the water with my friend, or were unsure whether the role was a permanent one, then a short term (6mths / 1 year) consulting engagement or contract for my friend would surely have been a sensible option. With everyone’s expectations appropriately set, the dynamic regarding “being sacked” goes away – a natural end to a budgeted contract is significantly less emotionally charged than having to manufacture a trivial reason for dismissal and the associated overhead of employment law.

I accept this is probably not politically correct, and will be damned for disrespecting the benefits of permanent employment. Making a commitment to a person to provide them with stability in life to provide for their families and give them a sense of belonging I completely understand and admire. My point is however, this commitment should really only be made if you mean it and can honour it. If you aren’t 100% sure that a role is permanent, or the person is a good fit, then why not just be honest about it so everyone’s expectations are managed.

Putting the complexities of IR35 to one side, project based employment is cost effective compared to the overheads of employment, and significantly more predictable. As the employee, it is incumbent upon you to perform to impress your employer for an extension if available. As the employer, it is incumbent upon you to perform to retain your talent. Everyone has a similar agenda, or if it doesn’t work out it comes to a natural and expected end. I can’t see the downside.

Permanent employment should really be the reserve of roles that have the same potential longevity as the business does. Directorships and managerial positions for core functions, back-office processing functions, anything that is stable. Other positions, especially if they are project based for a client, should really be short burst commitments with everyone’s expectations managed.

There is no longer such as thing as a “job for life”. Our whole society is geared up to expand and contract commercially with forces outside of our control. As sad as it is, people are seen as disposable so why don’t we just be a bit more honest about it and employ resources for just the work they need to do, and not feel obliged to offer a permanent position because it looks like the right thing to do? I’d rather know that I’m only useful for a period of time and be able to consciously plan around that, rather than think that a company cares about me

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