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Workforce

The Blurring of Work

Progressively part-time multiple job workforces and flexible automated workplaces will become common, but some will find them difficult to adapt to.

It’s not only the Armed Forces that are experiencing change. The workforce and the workplace are also undergoing transition. In particular, accelerated by the pandemic, formal office work is in decline, as more people are able to work from home, and there is an exponential growth in non-standard forms of employment, including project-based work and the on-demand or gig economy.

Corporates are also becoming more flexible. Many younger workers, particularly those who are higher earning and technology literate, prefer to set their own schedules. Independent workers are increasingly choosing to offer their services on digital platforms, including Upwork, Uber, and Etsy, and in the process, challenging conventional ideas about how, when and where work is undertaken. Even before the pandemic, the number of digital nomads who, rather than limit themselves to a 9-5 existence, choose to work where they can find the best Wi-Fi, was growing. Increasingly, companies are supportive, even pitching their remote workers “de-location packages” to move away from overcrowded urban cities.

Looking ahead, although anecdotally “gigging” began as something that young people do, in many ways it may be more suited to older workers who may be more content to work part-time, are not looking for career progression, and are better able to deal with the precariousness and timing of such jobs.

Although this style of working has some benefits for companies, as they can keep a smaller core staff of regulars and augment the team when needed, for those more used to the paternalistic support of life in the Armed Forces, adjusting to a society in which work is fragmented and irregular presents very particular challenges. While at times hugely challenging, the military is based on an inherently structured and formal work environment.

Indeed, one of the reasons some join up in the first place is because of its structure and stability. It offers formal employment, a stable income and pension contributions, a well understood hierarchy, explicit training and a clear career progression. We heard, “People coming out of the military have been surrounded by enormous certainty from an unambiguous environment with clear relationships, operations and emotional support. A lot of that can disappear when they leave.”

As careers and workplaces become increasingly disaggregated, and automation increases the need for flexibility, ex-Service personnel are likely to find the gap between their experiences within more rigid military structures and civilian work, ever more jarring. Whilst the ability to adapt to find suitable employment may well be something that they have prepared for, and already exists in the ‘Integrating’ phase of today’s transition journey, this continuous uncertainty may make the ‘Integrating’ and ‘Settling’ phases of the journey more difficult, and could potentially lengthen the time it takes them to recover the stability they lost when leaving the Armed Forces.

That said, it is dangerous to assume that the military will not change. As has already been discussed, the character of warfare is changing, and this will affect how the Armed Forces are organised to respond. The gig economy, for example, may well suit the needs of those who wish to retain some connections by joining the reserves. The Armed Forces (Flexible Working) Act already allows part- time working for Service personnel. We also heard the suggestion that “there should be a wholesale modernisation of the career structure to allow us to embrace the skills of the gig economy when we need them.” Looking ahead, although working practices in the Armed Forces are unlikely to be as fluid as those of civilian workers, and there are obvious challenges around security that will need to be addressed, it may well be that a more flexible approach to working will make it easier for those leaving the Services to adapt to a civilian world.

Example Implication: In order to attract a widening skill set, the Armed Forces continue adapting towards a more flexible workforce in which personnel can bridge between part-time civilian and military roles. This facilitates a smoother transition for some.

 

 

Discussion

3 Comments

Anonymous

The shift from being part of a community, where togetherness matters, to being in a more isolated world feels very different. What does a career mean, what does a job mean? Working from home, being with the family. The fluid nature of this will be even harder for those from the military.

Anonymous

In the military there is a ‘one team’ culture which is brilliant…and yet it can be harder to be an individual. In the civilian world, there is an individual focus and organisations find it hard to generate that ‘one team culture.