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Managers Lose Confidence, The Office Gets Political, and How Work Has Become Transactional

Published 3 months ago • 5 min read

News Spotlight

Middle managers are getting squeezed. Confidence among managers has declined in the past year because they are under pressure to do more with fewer resources (Bloomberg).

The workplace will get political this year. With the 2024 U.S. Presidential elections on the horizon, there’s no doubt that organizations will have to navigate political tensions in the office and be ready for any conflicts that may arise (Fortune).

Americans live further from their office now. Employees are much less likely to live where they work now than before the pandemic in 2019 (New York Times).

Stat of the Week

38% of HR leaders are piloting, planning implementation, or have already implemented generative AI in 2024 compared to 19% in 2023, finds a new report.

More companies are exploring how GenAI can be implemented in AI in HR service delivery, operations, and recruiting to support employees, handle administrative work, and create job descriptions. HR leaders should continue to incorporate GenAI into their processes across the employee lifecycle to show their value and make a business impact.

Deep Dive Article

How the Employer and Employee Relationship Has Become Transactional

Over the past few decades, there has been a notable shift in work, moving towards a more transactional relationship between employers and employees. This shift is characterized by several factors, including changes in employment structures, advancements in technology, globalization, and evolving workforce demographics. Poor management, lack of pay, and a negative work culture are to blame for this shift in mindset and attitude towards work.

One of the findings in our research was that nearly 50% of employees don’t want to work anymore. They admit they have a transactional relationship with work — 61% say they go to work to collect a paycheck, ‘clock out,’ and go home. We also discovered that just 50% of employees report that they genuinely enjoy their work and are passionate about their careers. And, adding onto this, the quiet quitting trend is real and makes up at least half of the U.S. workforce or more.

But, work shouldn't be purely transactional because it undermines the value of human relationships, erodes job security and stability, and neglects the long-term development and well-being of employees. A transactional approach to work often prioritizes short-term gains over building meaningful connections and fostering a sense of community within the workplace, leading to decreased morale and satisfaction among employees.

Relying solely on short-term contracts and freelance arrangements can result in insecurity and uncertainty for workers, making it difficult to plan or access essential benefits such as healthcare and retirement savings. Additionally, focusing solely on immediate tasks or projects neglects the holistic development and growth of employees, leading to stagnation and disengagement. Instead, fostering a more relational approach to work, characterized by trust, collaboration, and mutual investment, can lead to greater employee satisfaction, loyalty, and organizational success in the long run.

The transformation of the workplace into a more transactional environment has been driven by various factors that have reshaped the dynamics of employment relationships. Here are 10 reasons why the workplace has become more transactional:

1. Economic Pressures and Cost Efficiency

In an increasingly competitive global economy, businesses face pressures to cut costs and increase efficiency. Adopting a transactional approach to employment allows companies to reduce overhead costs associated with traditional full-time employees, such as benefits, pensions, and healthcare. By hiring workers on a project basis or as independent contractors, employers can save money and allocate resources more flexibly to meet fluctuating demand.

2. Rise of the Gig Economy

The emergence of the gig economy has significantly contributed to the transactional nature of work. Platforms like Uber, Upwork, and TaskRabbit connect freelancers and independent contractors with clients seeking short-term services. This shift away from traditional employment structures towards freelance and gig work has blurred the lines between employers and workers, fostering a more transactional relationship based on project-based engagements.

3. Advancements in Technology

The proliferation of technology has facilitated the rise of a more transactional workplace. Digital platforms and online marketplaces make it easier for employers to find and hire workers on a temporary or contract basis. Additionally, automation and artificial intelligence have led to the outsourcing or elimination of routine tasks, further reinforcing the transactional nature of work by commoditizing labor and reducing the need for traditional employment roles.

4. Flexibility and Autonomy

Both employers and employees increasingly value flexibility and autonomy in the workplace. For employers, hiring workers on a project-by-project basis offers greater flexibility to scale their workforce up or down in response to changing business needs. Similarly, workers appreciate the freedom to choose when, where, and how they work, whether as freelancers, remote workers, or on flexible schedules, leading to a more transactional relationship based on short-term agreements.

5. Globalization and Outsourcing

Globalization has expanded the pool of available talent and lowered barriers to outsourcing, making it easier for companies to find skilled workers at lower costs overseas. As businesses expand their operations across borders, they often outsource non-core functions or tasks to third-party vendors or contractors, creating a more transactional relationship with workers who may be located halfway around the world.

6. Shifting Demographics and Workforce Preferences

The workforce is becoming increasingly diverse, with millennials and Gen Z making up a larger portion of the labor market. These younger generations often prioritize flexibility, work-life balance, and purpose-driven work over traditional long-term employment. As a result, they are more likely to seek out freelance, gig, or short-term contract opportunities, leading to a more transactional relationship with employers focused on meeting their immediate needs and preferences.

7. Rapid Technological Change and Skills Shortages

The pace of technological change has accelerated in recent years, creating demand for new skills and expertise. Employers may opt for short-term contracts or freelance arrangements to access specialized talent for specific projects or initiatives, rather than investing in training or hiring full-time employees with the required skills. This trend towards a more transactional relationship allows companies to quickly adapt to changing technological landscapes and stay competitive in fast-paced industries.

8. Legal and Regulatory Frameworks

Changes in labor laws and regulations have also contributed to the transactional nature of work. In some jurisdictions, there may be less stringent regulations governing contract work or freelance arrangements compared to traditional employment relationships. This legal flexibility allows companies to hire workers on a more ad-hoc basis without incurring the same obligations and liabilities associated with full-time employees, further reinforcing the transactional nature of employment.

9. Cultural Shifts and Attitudinal Changes

There has been a cultural shift towards valuing independence, entrepreneurship, and self-reliance in many societies. This cultural shift is reflected in the growing popularity of freelancing, gig work, and entrepreneurship as viable career paths. As attitudes towards work continue to evolve, the transactional nature of employment is likely to become even more prevalent as individuals seek greater control over their careers and work arrangements.

10. Demand for Specialized Expertise and Innovation

In today's knowledge-based economy, companies often require specialized expertise and skills to drive innovation and remain competitive. Hiring workers on a project basis allows businesses to access the specific skills and knowledge needed for a particular project or initiative, without the long-term commitment associated with traditional employment. This focus on specialized expertise and innovation further reinforces the transactional nature of work, as employers prioritize short-term engagements based on immediate business needs.

In conclusion, the workplace has become more transactional due to a combination of economic, technological, demographic, regulatory, and cultural factors. The rise of the gig economy, advancements in technology, globalization, and shifting workforce preferences have all contributed to the prevalence of short-term contracts, freelance work, and project-based engagements. While this shift offers greater flexibility and autonomy for both employers and workers, it also presents challenges in terms of job security, stability, and access to benefits and protections traditionally associated with full-time employment. As the nature of work continues to evolve, it is essential for policymakers, employers, and workers alike to adapt to these changes and ensure that the future of work is both inclusive and sustainable.

Thanks for reading — be sure to join the conversation on LinkedIn and let me know your thoughts on this topic.

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