Monday, June 17, 2013

How Can HR Increase Full-Time Employment in the U.S.?

In last week's discussion forum, my compensation and benefits professor posed the following question, "Fewer employees today have full-time jobs than ever before. The last statistic showed a 10% decrease in full-time jobs in the last 5 years. What can be done to reverse this trend and still compete internationally?"

U.S. Census Bureau. (2013). Table A. Household data, seasonally adjusted.
The question hit a nerve because I, like many others, have experienced the effects of "The Great Recession" and I understand how a long period of unemployment can adversely affect a person's job prospects in this very competitive job market.

Looking for Answers

Since my professor wanted us to discuss this topic academically, the answer "Employers are being picky" would not suffice, so I looked at another student's reply that discussed the skills gap in the U.S. workforce. My classmate made an excellent point; however I wasn't completely satisfied with the "skills gap" response. On one hand, the U.S. Census Bureau shows that more people have college degrees than before. On the other hand, we're talking about a skills gap...
"The Worlds Greatest Detective" by Klt CC By-NC 2.0

This doesn't make sense. Do we have a skills gap because people are attending college and not learning what they need to learn, or are students pursuing the wrong majors? I don't think that this is the case; I think that colleges are updating their curricula so that students are better prepared for the market after they have earned their degrees, and I do not think that students are pursuing the wrong majors in order to enter specific fields.

Please allow me to insert a slightly uninformed opinion here... I think that blaming this trend of decreasing full-time employment on skills gaps is a cop-out. It is an easy way to place blame squarely on the shoulders of the unemployed and underemployed workforce so that employers can get more work done with fewer people. I am not saying this is bad; after all, business is about getting more for less, but I am saying that some employers are taking a very narrow and short-term stance on this rather than looking at the situation from a long-term perspective.
"1-365 Contemplation" by Andres Por CC By-NC-SA 2.0


Back to the trend of decreased full-time employment...  Why is it happening? Here are some reasons I came up with:
  1. Lack of employee development
  2. Employers keep adding more "critical duties" to a position
  3. Contingent workers have discovered the joys of work-life balance 
  4. Some employers want to avoid providing their employees with health benefits and not be penalized for it.
It seems like candidates are expected to be a "Jack of all trades and master of them all." I understand that employers want more for less, and I also see the benefits of training employees who can perform the critical duties of the job to perform additional duties. This is what employee development is, and it has been shown to increase employee engagement and motivation because it motivates employees intrinsically. In short, just because Jack was able to perform duties above and beyond the position's critical duties does not mean that the employer can't hire Jill to take Jack's place because she doesn't have the necessary skills to perform those additional duties. It just means that the employer has an opportunity to engage and motivate Jill to perform as well as Jack.

Second, some people that found themselves out of a job during the recession decided to work as contingent employees out of necessity and discovered that they enjoyed the work-life benefits that freelancing or temporary work offered. Some of these people aren't anxious to get back to the work environments that they were released from because the work environments were dismal and oppressive.

Think about it... In the normal work environment employees are being told what to do, how to do it, how much time they have to do it, and have someone breathing down their necks until it gets done. If an employee's job isn't being threatened overtly, then it is implied that the employee may be terminated if s/he doesn't achieve the goals that have been set for her/him. There are some exceptions to this, but these employers are still in the minority. What it comes down to is that some of these employees have discovered that they can do a better job of motivating themselves than their former work environments could.

First page of "Compilation of PPACA" by

Finally, some employers have decreased employees' hours from full-time to part-time in an effort to avoid complying with the Patient Protection and the Affordable Care Act. As a person who has lived from paycheck to paycheck and relied on 40 hours a week, I can sympathize with the employees who have had their hours cut. As an HR student I find the practice unethical, demoralizing, and counterproductive. If the decrease in morale doesn't cause productivity to decrease significantly, then the increased stress from being expected to perform the same duties in less time will. Also, increased financial stress coupled with the stress from work will increase the chances that workers will become ill. If workers become ill and can't afford to see a doctor, then productivity will decrease due to an increase in absenteeism. I fail to see how this would benefit any company in the long-term, especially if the public were to discover that the employer acted in this manner (remember Wendy's).

Questions, Comments, or Suggestions?

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