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Employment Today, HR Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Employment Today, HR Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Employment Today Magazine

Changing times for HR

John Belchamber looks at how the HR industry is keeping pace with an ever-changing workforce. Now more than ever, employees are expecting their employer to “make work work” for them.

The workplace is experiencing a new world order. Rapidly developing digital technologies are simultaneously removing traditional jobs, creating new ones, and completely transforming the attitudes of workers.

At the heart of keeping pace with these changes are human resources managers and other human capital partners within government and private enterprise organisations who are responsible for talent identification, hiring and management.

Now more than ever, there is an unprecedented demand on HR to support and enable these changing workplace structures, along with the needs and expectations of workers that have never previously existed.

One such phenomenon is the shift away from full-time work and the emergence of the “gig economy”. This trend refers to an increasing number of workers abandoning the traditional 9 to 5 working hours and moving to freelance or temporary arrangements, often decentralised or working from home. This shift has given prominence to a freelance market globally—including New Zealand—and has completely transformed the job market.

Members of the gig economy can choose who to work for, and how long they wish to be there. Workers get the freedom they need while employers get cost-effective access to experienced, expert staff without the hefty salary and employer commitments.


According to Statistics New Zealand, a third of working New Zealanders are self-employed, temporary or part-time. The report noted “major changes in the composition of New Zealand’s workforce, including increases in self-employment and temporary employment.”

A similar scenario is evident in Australia. According to the Bureau of Statistics, one in three working Australians are now employed on a casual basis. Twenty-five years ago, this statistic was more like one in ten.

While some may assume a gig economy worker is referring to something like ride sharing service Uber, this isn’t always the case.

Recently the OrgDev Institute gathered HR leaders to explore the effects of artificial intelligence on the workforce—including the rise of the gig economy—and the implications on the future of human resources, which has been converted to a whitepaper.

The gig economy has extended into a variety of roles from admin and hospitality right up to specialised and skilled designers, IT developers and communication specialists.

The expansion of the mobile workforce is largely due to digital capabilities. Digital platforms allow freelancers and contractors to connect with potential employers to simultaneously seek assignments, promote their skills and services and manage a number of clients. The vast number of roles makes freelancing accessible to increasing numbers of people in the workforce, regardless of skill level.

With the cost of living increasing year-on-year, some workers undertake free-lancing to supplement their income, while others are able to make a full-time job of it and even build their own businesses. is the world’s largest freelancing and crowdsourcing marketplace, connecting over 19 million employers with workers in 247 countries. Between 2009 and 2014 its number of users increased 10-fold—from one million to ten million.

While the gig economy was very much created by workers for workers, there are a number of perks for the organisations and companies that take them on. For example, hiring at an executive level can give companies the opportunity to “borrow” the expertise and experience of a contracted employee if the business is lacking in a certain area.

The same principle applies particularly for smaller companies. Depending on budget, they can hire a senior executive for a short period, absorb their expertise, use them on projects or for mentoring and training.

However, the new world order isn’t without challenges. The changing full-time/part-time mix, or balance, of employees is increasing the pressure on both HR managements and their permanent employees who look to them for leadership and guidance.

There are some factors that HR management teams need to account for when planning this model of staffing. These factors include staff performance and maintaining a strict quality of the work, staff engagement and ensuring part-timers feel valued and a part of a team.

Many HR management teams are reacting positively to these challenges, addressing any issues at the time of bringing the gig worker on board. When it comes to staff performance and maintaining a strict quality of work, HR must ensure there is a cultural alignment between the employer and the employee and that they understand the overarching business goals and values.


In response to ensuring part-timers feel valued or part of a team, HR divisions have discovered a new, extremely valuable, currency of the gig economy—giving workers positive job meaning, or purpose, in their daily roles.

“When an employee feels that what they’re doing is really having an impact, that’s when they feel their best. You can bring on everything else, but it means nothing if the job they’re doing is a job that they really love doing and they can see the results. That’s when you’ve got them,” said Lexmark human resources director, Maryanne Abdullah.

Purpose is certainly the currency in the Government sector, said NSW Department of Planning Environment executive director, Helen Lyons.

“We don’t pay bonuses or commissions or anything like that. We have engineers and architects who work on projects and they can say things like ‘see that light rail, I was part of making that better’,” she said. “So, it’s those non-monetary things that allow us to get the heart as well as the head.”

While purpose remains a powerful draw card for HR management teams, employees are still challenging them to deliver their “ideal workplace”. Now more than ever, employees are expecting more flexible work environments and variable employment arrangements.

A global report by Mercer this year, based on 5400 employees and 1700 HR professionals from 37 countries and 20 industries, reported a rise in people expecting their employer to “make work work” for them as individuals.

According to a recent study by recruitment firm Hays, 55 percent of Australians would take a 20 percent salary cut in order to work from home. A further 22 percent would sacrifice 10 percent of annual income in return for flexible working arrangements.

The ever-changing dynamic of the workforce with a full-time/part-time/freelance mix of employees has also prompted HR management to abandon the ideals of loyalty.

Ben Morris, construction company, Mirvac’s co-head of HR and GM performance reward has questioned its very existence. “What is loyalty these days?” he says. “If I was coaching someone around commitment to their employer, I’d say their commitment to you is four weeks and I think that is just the reality of how we work.”


To counter this changed perception of employees, HR divisions are no longer stressed about the higher turnover of staff—they’ve embraced it.

“Since the concept of loyalty is diminishing, it’s time for us to reframe and say, however long you want to be here, we hope it’s a good time and we can utilise you effectively,” said Morris.

“Changing this perspective means HR divisions will no longer get frustrated by the fact that people aren’t staying and you’re just providing a great experience for them, however long they’re there for.”

Senior HRBP organisational development of Volkswagen Group Australia, Paula Tufa, says her employee tenure is typically capped at around three years.

“We know that they’re not going to be there forever, whereas if you came to Volkswagen 10 years ago, it was a very different story,” she said. “It used to be, what are you doing for me until I retire? But you can absolutely see in the last few years that’s changed exponentially.”

“We just look at it like, how can we track you for this ‘tour’ and then move you on, instead of trying to hold on. This is especially relevant in marketing and IT departments.”

HR professionals such as Tufa have discovered the existence of a more powerful long-term loyalty that has the capacity to support company growth and brand capital far more than the traditional concept of keeping staff on board for longer.

Coined “employment branding”, this trend is all about ensuring that a positive message about the company stays with an employee once they walk out the door.

Maintaining a positive employer brand is critical to a business, their current and potential employees. According to LinkedIn research, a candidate will trust a company’s employees three times more than the company itself in providing credible information on what it’s like to work there. The study also found that 75 percent of job seekers would consider an employer’s brand before even applying for a job.

Senior vice president of human resources at Cochlear, Anna O’Shea Leslie, said this is a priority for their division. “When people leave, that’s our brand, so we want to make sure that we engage with them so that we have those people out there promoting our company. So, loyalty is important, but it’s loyalty beyond Cochlear,” she explained.

While it may appear turbulent in nature, the phenomenon of the changing workplace offers remarkable opportunities for both employees and employers—provided the correct systems are put in place. It’s never been more imperative for HR to remain ahead of the curve.

For HR to truly succeed in the workplaces of tomorrow, employees needs to remain and increasingly become more flexible and mobilised. By offering flexibility and meaningfulness, HR will receive maximised employee engagement—regardless of their position within the company—satisfaction and productivity.

The OrgDev Institute whitepaper—The Future of HR: Rising to the challenges of AI, staff retention and the longevity of a critical industry—is available to be downloaded free at

JOHN BELCHAMBER is the chief development officer of the OrgDev Institute which provides best of breed tools and solutions to HR professionals across the world.

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