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As firms seek flexibility, traditional work force fades

Companies are realizing that alternative workers are better suited for the new economic realities of the increasingly global, technology-driven and highly competitive marketplace.

The number of part-time, contingent and outsourced employees and consultants may continue to grow while traditional, full-time employees could see their jobs eliminated.

Companies, in an effort to stay competitive, will adjust their work force as quickly as demand shifts. Especially as our economy falls further into turmoil, with the recent credit crunch and housing downturn, we are seeing record levels of job-cut announcements.

However, full-time, long-term employees will still be very important to organizations that want to be successful. It is this traditional workforce that provides the continuity to a business and keeps it from self-destructing.

The traditional work force will consist primarily of those workers who are considered to be indispensable due to their exceptional skills. Employees who look beyond their own jobs and feel the intensity of competition are likely to secure a valued niche in the changing workplace and will be the last ones replaced with temporary or contract workers.

The workers who will be the most valued:

Border crossers. Cost-conscious employers, especially smaller firms, can no longer afford specialists. People who display flexibility and perform several tasks well often can do the jobs of two or more employees, saving payroll. The most valued employees, no matter the size of the company, take the initiative to obtain additional work assignments; they do not wait to be assigned extra tasks.

Trouble seeker. These employees adopt an employer attitude toward problem-solving and seek out difficult assignments. Individuals who gear their work lives in this direction can help make themselves “untouchable” during a downsizing or reorganization.

The great facilitator. Today, diversity is more than a buzzword. Companies value those at all skill levels who can ameliorate differences among groups. Often the ability to resolve conflicts comes from experience in community and volunteer work. Companies rely on coalition builders in an increasingly team-oriented workplace.

Nonstop students. Enthusiastic employees who are eager to learn, especially in the areas of technology and global business issues, are more likely to find a secure niche within their companies. Employers place high value on an employee who soaks up new information and uses it to enhance the job.

Clockless workers. Employees who make themselves available for problem solving by adopting management’s “clockless” definition of the workday. They demonstrate a willingness to work management style, displaying an understanding of the competitive pressures and showing that the company’s concerns are their concerns.

Also, once you have secured a position, the following tips may help you keep it:

n Find ways to save money that require your doing. For example, if you can figure out a way or ways of accomplishing work in less time while maintaining output of the same or better quality, you will be making a significant contribution to profitability. Time is an important factor to consider because time means money at any company. When the savings occur in your own department, or under work you do or personally supervise, you are elevating your stature and strengthening your own case.

n Keep your boss informed. It is not enough in many companies just to do a good job and hope that someone notices or appreciates it. Particularly in the larger firm, the company may or may not know what you have done for it lately.

Make it a point to schedule regular meetings with your supervisor to keep that individual up to date on your activities and accomplishments. If that is impossible, fit your achievements into any conversation when it is possible. You tell them! By marshaling demonstrative evidence of your accomplishments, you will solidify your job security. Do not brag. Sell factual accomplishments.

n Keep your own personal checklist and update it. You can clarify your own thinking about the job by writing down a list of goals and how you expect to achieve them, or putting them on a PC and carefully following them. This list should be reviewed and updated periodically, hopefully at least once a week.

n Make sure you are well-liked. People who are not liked by someone in authority are always the first to go when business conditions become unfavorable. It is not enough just to do a good job. Find ways to increase your likability factor in the eyes of the employer.

You were liked when you were hired, and you want to maintain that same acceptance now. Continuing effort on your part is required to meet your employer’s expectations and establish good interpersonal relationships in the workplace. Avoid any tendency to become nonchalant and take things for granted.

n Do not criticize the company or anyone in it. Even in the best of times, employers do not like complainers or those who appear to have dissident views or difficulties getting along on the job, especially from a new hire. There may be a natural tendency to display certain behaviors because of the stresses and tensions of the work atmosphere to “let off steam” or indulge yourself in expressing your frustrations, or to attempt to prove your own intelligence by finding fault somewhere.

However, this is a very unwise course of action during the early stages of a new job. It is best to adopt the attitude that the employer is always right, and keep your opinions to yourself. Agreeable employees stay. You can always express opinions privately outside the company, but even then caution needs to be exercised. Negative comments often have a way of getting back to quarters where you would rather not have them repeated.

James E. Challenger is president of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

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