Published 4:24 PM EDT Sep 15, 2019
Imagine working whenever you want so that you can find the time to take care of kids or elderly parents. Or maybe just because you don’t like punching a 9-to-5 time card.
More people are citing flexibility, including temporary assignments, as a key workplace desire — a trend that appears likely to continue thanks partly to technological advances.
These individuals look for “work that they enjoy, fewer hours, more flexibility, and less stress,” wrote researchers at the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College in a recent blog post. On the flip side, some could be sacrificing employer-provided health insurance and other benefits, possibly pay and perhaps even status and prestige.
Flexible-schedule positions often overlap with “gig” or short-term jobs, as both typically deviate from traditional 40-hours-a-week employment. Both also reflect new ways of thinking about jobs from the perspective of companies and workers.
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The two developments often intersect with telecommuting and other ways of getting jobs done outside of a standard office, store or factory setting.
At large employers with 1,000 or more workers, the proportion of contingent, non-traditional jobs his risen to about 22% on average, stable over the past couple years but roughly double the percentage from a decade earlier, according to Staffing Industry Analysts, an employment-research firm.
But this only reflects the trend at large employers.
“Other surveys suggest that the number of freelancers, used by companies of all sizes, is rising,” said Jon Osborne, vice president of strategic research at Staffing Industry Analysts, in an email.
If you include independent contractors such as Lyft or Uber drivers along with people striking out on their own, flexible schedules count even more adherents.
Being there for kids
Sarah Vert is one of those people.
She said she greatly values flexibility in her job as a personal shopper for Shipt, a delivery service owned by retailer Target. Two years ago, she was working in an office but decided to find something more flexible so she could spend time with her two children, now 10 and 15 years old, one with special needs.
“I needed something that was flexible,” said Vert, 37, who is married and lives in San Tan Valley, Arizona.
Flexibility doesn’t necessarily mean fewer working hours — just something outside the typical 9-to-5 routine. Vert said she works about 40 hours a week spread over parts of seven days. “I’m OK working seven days a week because it’s my own schedule,” she said. “It’s perfect for someone like me.”
Vert describes her duties as being on a constant “treasure hunt” to find all the items, mostly groceries, that customers order. Shipt fulfills orders at Target as well as at CVS, Petco, Safeway, Fry’s and other retailers.
“Either my customers hate shopping or they don’t have the time,” said Vert, who doesn’t like shopping that much for herself. As a side benefit, she has become friends with some of her regular customers.
Helping to fill needs
Flexible-schedule jobs, including temporary gig positions, are one way employers have scrambled to fill vacancies in a tight labor market. Yet the trend could be permanent, even when the job market softens, said Travis Laird, a regional vice president at staffing agency Robert Half in Phoenix.
“A lot of people just don’t like being on an eight-hour shift,” he said. “They like to turn on or off the work clock, when they want.”
Osborne cautions that people working flexible schedules could be more vulnerable the next time the economy slips into recession.
“Contingent labor is often first hired, first fired,” he said. “It’s here to stay for the long run, but in a downturn it will suffer disproportionately.”
Laird credits technology, especially cell-phone apps, for making it easier for employers to connect with workers for flexible scheduling or for people to pursue other business opportunities on their own. Several cell-phone apps allow people to search for part-time or gig jobs, sometimes just hours before they need to be filled.
Myra Gonzalez has used her cell phone to build a part-time business selling women’s clothing and accessories, both used and new. A job with traditional hours wouldn’t fit her needs.
“I have five children, two are twins, so I’m pretty busy at home,” said the 32-year-old Phoenix woman. “This has allowed me to have income yet stay at home to nurture them.”
Using her cell phone, Gonzalez uploads photos of clothing items, often modeling them herself, and posts them on social marketplace Poshmark.com, where she has been a seller for the past three years.
“At first, I just wanted to clean out my personal closet,” she said. “In my first week, I made $1,000 (in sales) so I thought, ‘OK, I’m going to stick with this’.”
Her husband, who owns a landscape-gravel business, is the main breadwinner, but her side job provides extra income.
“I enjoy it a lot — I’m super into fashion,” Gonzalez said, adding that she sells on Poshmark a couple hours a day over a few days each week.
Potential for retirees, too
A desire for flexibility cuts across demographic lines, said Laird. It includes middle-aged workers and baby boomers now reaching traditional retirement years.
Many people in their late 40s, 50s and 60s might be facing burnout or seeking to leave physically demanding jobs, according to the Boston College report. For them, other lines of work, including those with flexible schedules, can be the ticket.
While job changes for older workers often entail financial sacrifices — lower pay or reduced benefits in particular — that isn’t always the case. At any rate, going back to work for a few extra years, even in part-time, flexible-schedule positions, can help many of these individuals shore up their finances.
For example, doing so might allow a person to delay claiming Social Security, thus qualifying for higher retirement benefits later, or avoid tapping into personal retirement savings prematurely.
But finances are only part of the story. Lifestyle concerns also weigh heavily.
“One thing that nearly all (categories of workers) agree on is the growing importance of adaptive work schedules,” said a recent report by Mercer, a workplace research and consulting company.
In a survey conducted by Mercer, 54% of respondents said managing work/life balance is one of the top things their companies can do for them. That was up from 40% in 2018 and 26% in 2017.
That sentiment is “reflected in the 82% of employees saying that they would be willing to consider working on a freelance basis,” the Mercer report said.
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