The gig economy is only one of the reasons that workers of the future will not have close connections with one employer or business – another is the movement towards arranging their life so that they spend substantial periods of time not working at all.

The trend towards regularly spending long periods of time away from the workforce is highlighted in an article by Christine Long in the Sydney Morning Herald considering people who only work a few months of the year, and the renowned demographer Bernard Salt’s column in The Australian that looks at changes that millennials will bring to the workforce. Both identify movement towards:

  • workers wanting to spend significant time doing other things – beyond the traditional two year stint in London, many millennials (and even Gen-Xers) want to spend months every year travelling or pursuing personal interests. Workers no longer feel a need to hold down a steady job the whole year or to take only four weeks leave per year
  • to achieve that goal, workers seek flexibility by negotiating specific employment arrangements or engaging with businesses strictly on their own terms – eg establishing their own service business and working where and when (and for how long) they choose
  • for the above reasons, workers will interact with organisations on a sporadic basis – they will not have long-term or even regular engagements with one business.

The stability employees once sought through steady employment with large companies, to support nuclear families, will be relegated to the history books for an ever increasing number of Australians. And as more and more millennials enter the workforce, we will continue to see business practices needing to adapt to these changes.

As we‘ve mentioned, substantial legislative reform will be necessary to make sure that these developments are properly catered for – and balanced against social expectations about minimum wages and other entitlements.

But, how will your organisation cope in the meantime? From our work with clients, and our own experience starting from the ground up in Australia four years ago, we have identified a need to:

Consider business need before engagement. Mindful of the nature of your business, your legal risk profile and appetite for change, consider if your current business need can be properly supported with workers taking substantial periods away. Carefully examine whether it is best to engage such workers as independent contractors or employees and if you’re ready for the administrative overheads involved in a change to the way workers are engaged.

Think about how the arrangements will work in practice. You need to examine the legal implications of the treatment of time away from work. If you use employment arrangements, consider how unpaid leave can be handled, as there may be impacts on length of service (which may impact things like accrued leave and access to unfair dismissal). Think about ways you might be able to build connection and loyalty so that the worker is willing to be there for you at short notice.

Re-visit your contracts and workplace policies. You will need to ensure your contracts and policies clearly and comprehensively deal with the organisation’s expectations about long-term absence and when it is prepared to enter into flexible arrangements, preferably at the organisation’s discretion.

Business continuity. While no business is assured continuity, you must consider how you will manage operations on critical processes and projects when workers want to take substantial periods away, including how you will achieve satisfactory knowledge transfer. You will need to look at whether you can support business continuity by covering long periods of absence with another flexible worker – including, perhaps, using job share arrangements or short-term engagements.

On-boarding and off-boarding. Resources should be allocated to processes to on-board and off-board workers on these arrangements. For roles that have critical safety risks, you must ensure you fully understand your duties to protect yourself from legal risk.