Opinion/Solutions: New work identities take shape

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Are you a Learner, a Leaver or an In-Betweener?

Three years after COVID-19 ushered in the most tumultuous period in the history of modern work, it isn’t just the place of work undergoing a fresh identity crisis, but the person doing the work.

As leaders mix the right cocktail of policies to bring teams back together again in a rhythm approaching predictability, they should look at the way people have now come to live and work – as well as the increasingly different needs of employees depending on their career stage and age.

Those in the early stages of entering the workforce are the “Learners.”

They need mentoring and immersion into the culture of office life more than the cohort who are mid-career. “Leavers,” on the other hand, are typically older and not looking to build and stay in their careers in the same way as Learners.

While “Learners” want freedom to have the best of office life, “Leavers” need flexibility to dedicate time to responsibilities other than their jobs.

They benefit from communicating with and mentoring the “Learners” and the social interaction that comes with in-person work – some of their time. As their demographic often includes those with heavy caring responsibilities – both for children and parents – their headspace is different as are in some case their income needs.

They can either afford to opt out or are more prepared after the pandemic experience to work and live differently and downsize.

In Britain, an argument is raging right now about the best way to lure back over half a million people in their 50s and older who have left the job market since the pandemic.

Then there are those who are among the growing number of “solopreneurs” who are freelance or part time, and for whom dropping in and out of a fixed place on a fixed schedule matters less.

More than a third of the U.S. workforce was freelancing six months into the COVID-19 pandemic. The solopreneur is the white-collar equivalent of the gig economy blue-collar worker and a group I also call the “In-Betweeners.”

They operate in patterns based on asynchronous work, requiring attendance some of the time and not necessarily at the same time as their co-workers.

The good news is that the trend for declaring your status in relation to how you work is growing.

As I was writing this article, I received my first automatic reply from someone with the following message: “I support flexible working and I’m sending this email now because it suits the hours I’m working today. Please don’t feel obliged to reply straight away if is outside the hours you’re working.”

That email line, which I hadn’t encountered before, feels like progress.

Just as office buildings and dress codes are morphing, workers are assuming new identities as the next phase of post-COVID work begins.

Julia Hobsbawm is a columnist for Bloomberg Work Shift and a speaker, broadcaster and consultant on The Nowhere Office.