Should you only work once?

How many jobs should one person have? I don’t mean in the entirety of their life, but at any one time. My default belief, probably like many of you, is one. I mean if you can’t get paid enough from one job, then there’s probably something wrong with it. Isn’t there?

As contracts change and employment practices vary to meet with the needs of consumer demands, as different expectations become the norm I wonder whether we are placing a value judgment on the singularity of employment that needs not be the case. Of course, where there is a requirement to work two or more long, unpleasant jobs to make ends meet, then this is never going to be ideal. Where contracts are exploitative or overly balanced in favour of the employer, we should seek to question and challenge.

But could good work be possible across multiple employers? It feels ironic in some ways that at the upper end of the employment hierarchy we see people aim for a “portfolio career”, where they can engage and work for a range of different employers. Yet when we see this occur in more manual roles we assume the arrangement to be exploitative. And maybe that’s because it has been, but does it need to be?

I wonder whether the debate that we need to have is not about the quantum of hours per se, not about the structure of contracts but instead about the working relationship. About the balance of power and the clarity and equity of requirements from both parties on one another. You don’t have to look far back into the history of the world to see a time where people would have one or more occupations or means of putting bread on the table. The idea of a single employer is relatively recent.

And of course, if we do see ourselves (as I believe is inevitable) go down this route, the challenges to employers, to HR functions and leaders will become increasingly complex. Where a relationship exists with more than one company, the relationship does becomes entirely different – but not necessarily bad.

Inclusion means acceptance

I’m going to let you in to some secrets, just don’t tell anyone you heard this from me….

  • Not everybody wants to work flexibly. Some people like being in the office every day.
  • There are people who come to work each day for the money. They don’t care who for.
  • Some people don’t want to be promoted, their ambition is to be left alone to do their job.
  • Self development doesn’t have to be about work. Some people learn all the time without you.

I could go on….

The thing is, just because we think it’s valuable, doesn’t mean it is.

As HR professionals, as professionals in the world of work we have to be incredibly careful that we don’t affirm our own and our professional biases on the workplace. We happily argue that we need to be more flexible, that we need to develop flexible organisations, but then we tell people that we’ve benchmarked our pay and that we are a median to top quartile payer and look with disdain at anyone who suggests they should have more. Why is one more important to us than the other?

We talk about inclusivity, without realising that means we need to create the environment that allows people to value the things that we don’t. That it means we need to accept that not everything will conform to the HR 101 Model Workplace and that we will need to accommodate a genuine breadth of needs and requirements.

Who says the person that needs extra money in order to pay for their family to go on holiday is more unreasonable, less worthy or more indulgent than the person who asks for flexible working to spend a day at week at home with theirs?

Who says that the person that comes in at 9 and leaves at 5 and doesn’t want to attend any of the learning and development courses, but spends their evenings learning different languages, has less potential than their colleague that takes any opportunity to advance their career?

When we think about the world of work, when we think about our organisations and workplaces, we need to check ourselves and ask which lens we’re looking through. Are we really making decisions that allow all to benefit? Or just the ones that we agree with.