Published on Wednesday, August 06, 2014
by Professor Jay Prag
[From the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin]
In my last column I discussed one advantage that US workers have over workers in many other countries: A true passion for the work that we do.
It is often said that Americans live to work while much of the rest of the world works to live. This passion, I suggested, is one powerful reason that companies stay in and move to the US.
But the workplace has changed over the past decade. Many more jobs are part time, temporary or what’s being called “project based.” People are no longer working for one company for most of their life but rather they are consultants and other free agents who are employed by a company only until some project is completed.
This employment trend started more than a decade ago but it skyrocketed during the past five years as we recovered from the recession and a raft of new employer-based mandates kicked in.
So here’s what I’m trying to figure out: Do temp work and those related workplace trends hurt passion for work?
There are ways that I can see a more temp-based workforce as good. Because you aren’t connected to any one company you have to keep your fire lit all the time. You cannot let your passion wane. You can’t get complacent. So a temp-based workforce has some good competitive pressures.
I can see another possible positive. Fostering and stoking that passion for work requires a positive corporate culture and capable, inclusive leadership.
Here at the Drucker School we are constantly trying to teach executives how to be good employers so that their employees won’t feel like the only reason they work is for the paycheck. But the reality is, lots of companies struggle with this sort of thing. Business stresses like the recession and foreign competition make soft-skill outcomes like maintaining a positive workplace hard to maintain.
Given that, many companies do not have a great corporate culture. So not being permanently connected to any one company might actually work out better for employees.
I was thinking about this a while ago by way of a funny domestic example.
The 1960s US housewife, my mother, was, according to some stories, an underappreciated nervous wreck. I can see how that might happen. Mom had just finished mopping the kitchen floor when four kids came scampering in from playing instantly her work was undone. The nature of her “job” made it temporary and unappreciated.
Scroll ahead to my life. I hire a couple of people to clean the house once a week. They come in and do a great job and leave. They don’t hang around to watch the dogs (my two very big wonderful dogs) trash everything by the next day. Because they are temp workers doing an inherently temp job, they can take pride in what they did and not see it undone.
Lots of temp workers can experience that positive. Many things can go wrong for a company and its permanent, full-time employees, even the highest skilled and most passionate, see their work screwed up by others or by the vagaries of the economy.
The nature of some work in the modern, service-oriented, highly skilled world just might be that having hired guns doing that work maintains a higher level of performance.
But I will admit some skepticism about this. I do think that part of passion for your work comes from seeing the end product and feeling like you were a part of it. The old-time blue-collar manufacturing workers, construction workers and craftsman could be doing a small job but at the end they could see the car coming off the assembly line or the skyscraper completed. Part of that passion, I think, is pride is seeing what you were a part of and the temp-based labor force isn’t likely to feel that.
Jay Prag is a finance professor at the Peter F. Drucker and Masatoshi Ito School of Management at Claremont Graduate University.