How the 24/7/365 consumer is driving the new world of work

I read an interesting article recently that I think opens up a big debate about the new world of work. The article is based on research that suggests many UK workers are working many hours for free.

What I think we need to recognise is that we’ve moved away from a world where we are paid largely for inputs. As a child in the 1960’s I could set my watch by the time my Dad came through the back gate. It was always 4.20pm (or so it seemed to a child). Never 4.15 or 4.25.

This was the era when 9 to 5 (or in Dad’s case 8 ‘til 4) really was a realistic expectation of work. We lived in a world where half day closing was still common and nothing of any note was open on a Sunday. Our world was far less complex back then, and changing much more slowly. Whether life was better I leave others to judge.

Jump forward to 2016 and things in the new world of work couldn’t be more different. Everything from globalisation to the internet has changed our society for ever. And that includes the world of work.

We increasingly live in a “convenience world” where we expect to do just about anything, just about anywhere at any time. Booking a holiday at 5pm on a Sunday afternoon, no problem. Buying the latest music download at 3am, easy. All unthinkable in the 60’s.

Somewhere out there are people working to make it all possible. They may be in a data centre in Idaho, a call centre in Sydney or a 24-hour supermarket in Scunthorpe. Whatever the time of day, day of the week or location they are doing part of their “normal” job.

Sectors like hospitality and retail are at the vanguard of responding to this change in consumer expectations. So far at least, many professions have been able to evade the issue and stick to the “old world” thinking of work as a Monday to Friday thing. But how long can it be until the new world of work catches up with them?

If we continue to expect “normal service” at all times, then the inevitable outcome is that all times became part of the normal working day. Once that notion is established then it can only be a matter of time until being automatically paid enhanced rates for working evenings and weekends becomes a thing of the past. All working hours will be “normal hours” in a 24/7/365 economy.

Of course employers may still have to offer enhancements if they can’t get the labour they need. That though is market driven – not “custom and practice”.

To see this “old world v new world” tension being played out for real you need look no further than the recent stand-off between junior doctors and the Department of Health. On one side a Government that has pledged a 7 day NHS. On the other employees who want to retain enhanced payments for weekend working.

Look wider and I think we can see that the fundamental nature of what we pay people for changing. In the 60’s it was definitely inputs. You turned up on time, left on time, got paid a fixed amount per hour.

Today in the new world of work the thinking is shifting. Now, more and more, we focus on outcomes. Just turning up and doing the bare minimum to survive isn’t acceptable in a competitive and fast changing landscape. Increasingly we pay people to deliver outcomes in ways that are consistent with our values. How long those outcomes take to achieve is increasingly a shared risk between employer and employee. A risk recognised in an “all inclusive” salary, not in terms of overtime or time off in lieu.

If we accept work in organisations that have values like customer-focused, responsive and caring then we have to accept the responsibilities that go with joining. It won’t be 9 to 5 as customers – including us when the roles are reversed – won’t accept that. How long will it be before Monday to Friday jobs with defined hours are a thing of the past? That’s the real story.

Already many people live and work in “always on” cultures. Email doesn’t stop when the clock hits five. Customers don’t stop spending. We now have 24 hour restaurants – and not just at the chain “fast food” end of the market. If the trend towards 24/7/365 consumption continues the world of work will have to change too.

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