A couple of nights ago I found myself sitting in the Volt Bar on the third floor of the Renaissance Center in Detroit drinking a way-too-expensive whiskey on the rocks with a friend, who like me, is a consultant. While we were talking work and life, one of his clients walked up and asked:
“Wait, who is billing who here?”
“I’m billing, he’s writing it off,” said my friend.
I chose to be a consultant for the typical reasons you hear: I want to be my own boss, I want a flexible schedule, I want to work with a lot of different people, I want time to pursue my own projects.
These ideas about freelancing and consulting show up in one of the dominant narrative about the changing nature of work (other narratives include the #RoboApoc).
Once upon a time middle and working class people desired long term employment in one job, which led to economic stability for a worker and their family. Now freedom from the shackles of a boss, from an office clock, from an office is what we should be desiring. This freedom gives us the flexibility to live grander lives, on our own terms, filled with family, friends, and creative projects, AND you still get to make money.
Join me in this utopian world of consulting.
But what happens when the flexibility and freedom some people choose is mandated by a boss? What happens when people actually still want and need long term steady employment, people who don’t have the personal safety net to make it through the “free time” of flexible work? Well, people get screwed, as reported this week by Steven Greenhouse of the New York Times.
In this dominant narrative of freedom and flexibility where is the space for workers who have jobs that don’t pay them what they are worth, don’t give them enough work, and set schedules that interrupt any kind of routine that is needed for a robust home life. Where does this reality lived by tens of millions of workers intersect with the fantasies we are telling ourselves as a country about our shared future?
This week the NPR program Planet Money posted an article proclaiming How the Millennials May Save America, which explains that the wave of millennials entering the workforce is large enough to offset the wave of retiring baby boomers. The question is if these new workers will actually find jobs that adequately generate income for themselves AND taxes for programs like Medicaid and Medicare that are needed to support the Baby Boomers. Contrary to what bosses say, at least 7.5 million workers in unstable part-time positions would prefer full-time jobs. People want stable incomes, and predictable schedules so they can deal with the unpredictability of the rest of their lives: love, family, aging, fun.
As a higher-paid/highly valued contingent, vulnerable, temp worker where is the narrative convergence with low-paid/undervalued contingent, vulnerable, temp workers? Or is the income difference enough to keep us separate and sacrifice the well being of undervalued workers and the future of our country?