The New Labor Paradigm: Fractional Work

Posted on October 15, 2011


You may have never heard of the term fractional work, but you will. It is the new paradigm that is spreading across the globe and serves as a contributing factor for the lack of full-time jobs in this country.  Here’s the dirty little secret, the full-time job model as we know it is an outdated dying concept and it’s not coming back, despite what anyone says.  Kelly Services CEO, Carl Camden, recently said at a conference, “This country is failing to recognize a fundamental shift in employment.  Today, job life cycles have become incredibly short.  The ability of a job to appear and disappear, either in terms of location or category is extremely rapid.  Jobs aren’t permanent, locations aren’t permanent and workers are returning to a free-agent type of work style.”  Mr. Camden goes on to explain that fractional workers already make up 25% of the global industrial workforce and will be at least 50% within a decade.

The concept of fractional work is the new idea that the unit of work is no longer a whole job.  A unit of work today can be a project in which a team of workers is created to see the project to its fruition.  It can even be a task such as the job of migrating a computer network to a new operating system or creating the advertising slogan for a new product.  In this new fractional paradigm, employees will not work for a single
employer, but will work for multiple employers, juggling a variety of projects and tasks, offering their skills on an as-needed basis.

So how did this new way of work come about?  It is a result of the culmination of the global economy and technology, specifically “the cloud.”  With product margins continually growing smaller, businesses must turn to flexible adaptable work forces that can be created and terminated in break neck speed.  Let’s face it, in a highly competitive world with razor thin margins, your employer can no longer afford to pay for your time when you are at the water cooler, talking about the game last night with
your co-worker or letting you bow out early to go pick up your sick child at school.  The 80’s brought us just—in-time manufacturing, which led to just-in-time product delivery for chains such as Wal-Mart.  It was only a matter of time until just-in-time employment came to fruition.  It is technology and the Internet which has provided business the tools to create this new delivery system of work.  Mark Kobayashi-Hillary (the author of Who Moved my Job?), recently wrote:  “The internet has created a delivery mechanism allowing companies to find skilled workers wherever they are in the world… We are all truly competing with the world for a job today and there is little
sympathy from employers.”

Computer Weekly Magazine recently reported that IBM is considering cutting three-quarters of its 399,000 permanent staff in the next seven years and re-hiring them for projects as part of an HR strategy due to end in 2017, creating a new model of work that they call people on demand.   Companies, governments, small businesses and
individuals, the article says, must start to realize that a ’career’ has ceased to be a feasible way to organize working life.

Ironically, it is the fully-employed who seem to be taking advantage of this new paradigm. While millions of unemployed workers across the globe are vying for
traditional full-time work, millions of fully employed professional are trading
their skills on fractional employment websites across the globe, working
part-time at night to make extra money to get through tough times.  A popular website in England, recently discussed on the BBC network is  I know several people  here in Georgia who work fractionally around their full-time jobs here, thus increasing their household income and allowing them the opportunity to hone their skills.

One of the advocates of the new fractional workforce is MIT professor, Thomas Malone, who writes, “Imagine organizations in which most workers aren’t employees at all, but electronically connected freelancers living wherever they want. And imagine that all this freedom in business lets people get more of whatever they really want in life -; money, interesting work, the chance to help others, or time with their families.  Is this such a bad outcome for society and humanity to aspire to?”

This quote by Malone brings us to the other side of fractional employment.  For just as
employers will benefit greatly from the new paradigm, employees will as well which I will discuss later in part two of my column on the new paradigm of fractional employment.