Non-Standard Employment: When Even the Elite are Precarious

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Non-Standard Employment: When Even the Elite are Precarious
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    FACULTY OF BUSINESS AND ECONOMICS    D E P A R T M E N T O F M A N A G E M E N T   NON-STANDARD EMPLOYMENT - WHEN EVEN THE ELITE ARE PRECARIOUS Tui Mckeown Working Paper 5/03  March 2003 Abstract Overall, themes of marginalisation and disadvantage dominate much of the literature on non-standard employment and the studies which underlie these themes are generally restricted to the temporary, casual and  part time workforces. This paper presents results from a survey of 240 professional workers who have moved into arrangements of contract employment. A key focus of the paper is the establishment of the Push/Pull Matrix, a tool which analyses individuals’ movement into non-standard employment in a way which explicitly recognises and deals with the relationship between both personal and situational factors. The survey results suggest that themes of marginalisation and disadvantage are just as relevant to the professional contractor as they are to other forms of non-standard employment. This paper is a work in progress. Material in the paper cannot be used without permission of the author. I S S N 1 3 2 7 – 5 2 1 6    2 NON-STANDARD EMPLOYMENT - WHEN EVEN THE ELITE ARE PRECARIOUS INTRODUCTION This paper presents results from a research study of professional workers who have moved into arrangements of contract employment. While the growth in most non-standard work arrangements is most commonly explained as the result of employer demand, there is evidence that some workers choose this form of employment and, are well paid for it. This is especially the case for professionals who work in such fields as freelance editing, engineering or computer programming. Overall though, it is themes of marginalisation and disadvantage which dominate much of the literature on non-standard employment and the studies themselves are generally restricted to the temporary, casual and part time workforces. A common theme of the 135 studies reviewed as the background to this research project, was that: non standard employment.. more colourfully characterised as ..’marginal’ or ‘non-standard’ ..is directly associated with substantive features of disadvantage.. growth is directly integrated into a general arrangement of marginalisation and deprivation... non standard is directly equated with sub-standard (Campbell and Burgess, 1993:87). It is this polarisation of the literature on non-standard work, with a mass of casual, part-time and temporary workers in precarious employment on one hand and a smaller, advantaged, professional elite on the other, which is questioned in this study. Overall, the lack of investigation of the professional contractor workforce is at odds with the fact that it is increasing at twice the rate of the well-documented temporary workforce. Attempting to place the professional contractor within the non-standard workforce further exacerbates this gap in this literature as the view generally presented of this group is of an ‘elite’ or privileged group of workers who experience little of the negatives of working outside the bounds of standard employment. The types of occupation identified as being involved in professional contracting range from accountants (Sweet, 1994) and computer programmers (Lozano, 1989, Probert, & Wajcman, 1991) to chief financial controllers (Bridges, 1995). The professional contractor workforce appears to be unlike most other non-standard arrangements as it operates in an area characterised by high demand and short supply (Crean, 1995; EPAC, 1996; Jones, 1995; Van Huss, 1995). This provides a strong negotiating position for the individual  professional contractor. Further, drawing together the literature on self-employment, professionals and contracting provides an extremely optimistic picture of the self determined, self actualised worker variously described as a ‘symbolic analyst’ (Reich, 1992), an ‘intelligence worker’ (Handy, 1989) and a ‘knowledge worker’ (Jones, 1995). These terms clearly differentiate the professional contractor workforce and insulate it from many of the negative aspects that surround other non-standard arrangements such as exploitation, marginalisation and the involuntary nature of such. However, a notable feature of the workers in such studies is the domination by subjects in the middle management to professional levels with skills that are in high demand and the speculative rather than empirical nature of these (Bogenhold & Staber, 1991; Warhurst & Thompson, 1998). Further, the contrast presented is so great that it is possible to argue that the professional contractor may represent the high end of a continuum of non-standard work arrangements suggested by Milkman (1998). There are indications that there may be very important similarities between the professional contractor and other non-standard workers - similarities that may in fact be more important than the differences. This paper draws on one similarity identified, that of the reasons for individuals srcinally entering non-standard work arrangements. It is an area dealt with extensively by studies of self-employment and includes factors such as the push from prior employment because of redundancy or lack of career opportunity as well as the pull of more money and career autonomy. ELITE OR PRECARIOUS: DERIVING THE PUSH/PULL MATRIX Examination of the nature of the move into contracting necessitates consideration of the process of how individual professionals change or move from their previous jobs. The literature on self-employment and    3 future of work suggests professionals initially move into contracting due to advantageous labour market conditions and for career reasons. Furthermore, a fundamental assertion of much of the theoretical literature on the future of work is that professionals are well suited to take advantage of the changes occurring (see for example Broadbent, Dietrich & Roberts, 1997; McRae, 1996; Rifkin, 1995). There are two presumptions which underlie these views of the professional contractor. Firstly, it is assumed that a privileged labour market position is inherent in professional occupations and secondly, that these particular professionals have a strong and proactive affiliation with a chosen ‘career’. The notions of labour markets and individual careers obviously do not operate as completely distinct factors and the push/pull dichotomy is the concept that this study uses to unite them and provide the basis for the theoretical framework of the Push/Pull Matrix. Briefly, the push/pull dichotomy arises from the classic economic theories of ‘career’ (Knight, 1933) and ‘default’ (Schumpeter, 1934) and is essentially a self-employment/paid-employment choice, based on the individual identifying the opportunities and constraints associated with each (Rees & Shah, 1986:95). A common theme of mainstream views is that professionals have an advantaged labour market position and that this advantage is primarily the result of skill shortages. Supply side factors were found to cause employers considerable difficulty, especially where labour market conditions were tight and skill levels high. Contract work with high levels of pay becomes more prevalent under such conditions, particularly for the specialist skills associated with information technology, telecommunications and information systems (Atkinson, Rick, Morris & Williams, 1996: 27-28). However, there are suggestions relative scarcity in some  professions may, in fact, be giving way to surpluses (Atkinson et. al., 1996; Bosworth, Broadbent et al, 1997). Job loss through redundancy, either actual or perceived, is now the single major factor associated with the move from previous employment (ABS, 2000; EPAC, 1996). Relating this to the professional contractor workforce, it seems reasonable to assume there will be a proportion who experience increased vulnerability due to redundancy. Furthermore, in common with general studies on non-standard employment, such moves are likely to be associated with downward mobility, particularly for childbearing women (Dex & McCulloch, 1997; Morris, 1995). This notion of contracting as a planned, versus an unplanned move, is important as it introduces the concept of career. Both traditional career theory and the professional worker are the subject of well developed bodies of literature which focus on concepts familiar to writers on the future of work (see for example Herriot & Pemberton, 1996; Reich, 1992; Rifkin, 1995). One well-known example is where professionals in the first stage of their career seek self-actualisation and autonomy by changing jobs and/or organisations. This is called the ‘trial’ stage and lasts to about 35 years of age. The next stage lasts about fifteen years and is characterised by individuals seeking achievement. After the age of 50, security becomes the dominant concern (Hall, 1986:113). More recent studies of professionals have also added an age and stage factor,  proposing ‘routine busting’ as a mid-career identity change process, facilitated by the desire for autonomy, feedback and support (Mirvis & Hall, 1995). However, challenges to the traditional notion of career arise as the importance of unemployment and, particularly for females, the role that caring for dependents may have  prior to entering contracting, impact on the world of work. Furthermore, while childbearing has typically  been associated with life stages for females, more recent moves towards paternity leave and caring for the elderly and disabled within the family home, now challenge the validity of traditional career models. These have been further weakened by the organisational restructuring of the 1980s and 90s and the large-scale retrenchment of management and professionals within organisations (Buchanan et. al., 1992; Holbeche, 1997; Warhurst & Thompson, 1998). A key contribution from the career literature is that endemic, dynamic change and individual insecurity no longer have to be examined against supposed norms of stability, upward mobility and self-actualisation. Removing these constraints provides the basis for combining the concept of career with that of labour market movements and asking whether professionals make the move to contracting by choice, because they are drawn by the intrinsic ‘pull’ of the potential benefits. This is what Bogenhold and Staber (1991) call the “logic of autonomy”, or because they are ‘pushed’ into it by economic necessity arising out of their poor labour market standing or redundancy for example. While this summarises the ‘push’ versus ‘pull’ dichotomy of the self-employment choice, it also explicitly assumes that the decision to enter an employment arrangement is the result of rational, calculative decisions.    4 Schumpeter’s (1933) theory of default adds another dimension to the dichotomy with the suggestion that  push factors associated with self-employment can be extrapolated further to reflect structural constraints. Building on this notion of self-employment as a default option, Philips (1962 cited in Carr, 1996:29) concluded that it acts principally as a defence against unemployment or as a refuge for groups such as older workers, ethnic groups and the disabled. The difference between push and default is developed further in Carr’s (1996) examination of self-employed women which found that women do not default to self-employment because they have no option. Rather, they opt for self-employment because of structural constraints (most notably, young children) and the opportunity for flexibility and greater autonomy. The push/pull dichotomy, with the addition of the default, provides a diversity of motives for professional contracting. While there may be some individuals who are pushed into contracting as a defensive move against unemployment, for the most able and ambitious it may be a proactive career option. Furthermore, there could also be professionals whose moves “may actually be seen as a default career choice - the result of organisational retrenchment rather than individual initiative” (Carr, 1996:48). It is an option distinct from those clearly pushed as it still suggests that either some choice or control may be exercised – as opposed to the lack of both choice and control for those pushed. Another aspect of the decision process is less explicit and this is the timing of the move, either direct or delayed. As the focus of this research is the antecedents to the srcinal decision, the timing of the move is important. It is this aspect which should differentiate between individuals who make a planned career move straight into contracting, perhaps from an ‘incubator’ organisation (Birley & Westhead, 1993), and those who move for reasons such as caring for dependents or a return to study. It is a distinction made clear in the matrix structure illustrated in Figure 1 below. This translates the aspects of the push/pull dichotomy and default theory into a structure that can then be applied to the arrangement of professional contracting. The factors of timing and the choice provide clear distinctions between the four options in Figure 1 as well as between each  pairing and expands Schumpeter’s default hypothesis to distinguish between two quite distinct alternatives. Figure 1: The Push/Pull Matrix Left to Become a Contractor Left and Later Became a Contractor    Contractor By Choice PULL DEFAULT 1 Contractor Not by Choice DEFAULT 2 PULL The first, the Default 1 option is where the individual professional became a contractor by choice but only some time after the termination of the prior employment arrangement. Reasons for such a profile may be an individual choosing to return to studies or caring for dependents. It is quite distinct from the Default 2 option, where the move into contracting is immediate but not by choice. Examples from the literature suggest that such a profile may be the result of organisational outsourcing, where former employees are transferred’ to the outsourcing company with the functions or, where employees are forced into becoming ‘pseudo-contractors’ (Casey, Metcalf & Milward (1997). The matrix also makes explicit the large-scale uncertainty about ongoing employment within the ranks of the  professional workforce and makes it clear that the plans and motivations for exiting one form of employment may not be the same as those for entering another form. A number of studies have investigated non-standard employment options as a ‘trap’ or a ‘bridge’ (Burgess & Campbell, 1999; Carr, 1996, 1989; Natti, 1993; 1995). Interpreting this in the context of the professional contractor, contracting is seen as a ‘trap’ if it is associated with unemployment, is involuntary and provides few opportunities for more permanent employment. If the converse should be true, it is seen as a ‘bridge’.    5 SURVEY RESULTS Five hundred surveys were distributed to professionals currently in contract employment. Of the 240 returned, 179 were from males and 61 from females. The results discussed in this paper arise from the first four items of the survey and these establish the individuals exit point from prior employment as well as the  point of entry into contracting. The items build consecutively on each other to provide a snapshot of the srcinal move as one of either being ‘pushed’ by constraint or ‘pulled’ by opportunity. Together, the four items develop the basic structure of the Push/Pull Matrix illustrated in Figure 1. Date of Initial Move into Contracting The first item established the date of the srcinal move into contracting. Note that this date may not necessarily relate to a continuing or unbroken career as a contractor. As shown in Table 1, the elapsed time since first entering contracting reveals some clear patterns when age and sex of respondent are examined. There appear to be two distinct groupings for males. The first of is a cluster of 58 who entered contracting  between two to three years ago and the second, a group of 60 who entered between five to fifteen years ago. These two groups account for over 56 per cent of the total male population. Examining the composition of these two clusters in Table 1 below reveals a fairly general distribution over the age range for the first cluster (of 58) but two concentrated age groupings within the second (of 60). The 30-39 age range in the 5 to 10 years of contracting option captures 11 of the 39 responses while 40-44 year old males with 5-15 years since entering contracting account for 22 of the 60 responses. These two age related clusters within the male population provide evidence of a solid nucleus of male professionals dedicated to working as contractors and who made this decision in their early to mid thirties. Women also fell into two distinct groupings, one at between 1 and 2 years since entering contracting and a second at between 4 to 10 years. While this second grouping falls in a lower “time spent contracting” option than it did for males, these two clusters of women account for 18 per cent and 41 per cent respectively, making up 59 per cent of the total female population of the survey. As with the results for males, females in the first cluster are distributed throughout the age groups. Twelve of the 15 females who entered contracting 5 to 10 years ago are aged between 35–44. Prior results from an earlier study indicate that dependent children are a feature of female professional contractors within this age ranges so both occupation and dependents need to be included in the analysis. Table 2 combines occupation, gender and date of entry into contracting. The main point to arise from these results is that only a small proportion of the total population appear to have a long-term attachment to contracting. Also, the concentration of males in Information Technology (IT), Business, Management and Administration (Bus/Man/Admin) and Engineering identified as dominant occupations, display quite distinct  patterns in terms of initial time since first entering contracting. Firstly, Bus/Man/Admin. Professionals are fairly new entrants in the contractor workforce. Combined with the fact that this occupation represents over 25 per cent of the total contractor population in the survey, there is indication that growth in this occupation within contracting is the result of recent labour market activity. Whether this is the result of push or pull factors will be examined shortly. Table 2 displays quite a different distribution for the IT profession where the overall is one were longer-term attachment reflects the widely cited position of labour market advantage as well as perhaps providing evidence of an occupation where contracting is sustainable as a long term employment arrangement. The results also support the ‘occupational norm’ explanations of contracting expressed by the IT participants in the interviews that assisted in the development of this survey. This is demonstrated for the occupation of engineering in Table 2 where a group of 18 males entered contracting in this profession 5 to 10 years ago.
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