It’s understandable that when people see empty storefronts, they infer it’s the mark of economic malaise. It is not. What’s not taken into account by jumping to that conclusion is that times change, marketplace dynamics change, shopping habits change.
Consumers are spending money, all right, just in different places and in different ways. A storefront that made sense in past decades for a succession of business tenants simply may not make sense any more for any tenant. Looking at it another way, when was the last time you had milk delivered to your doorstep? How commerce is conducted is ever changing, as it should be. There will be collateral damage in the process, for sure. What’s the antidote? Change with the times.
The same goes for the workplace and those who work in it. Six years ago, speaking to journalism students as a panelist at my alma mater, the Newhouse School at Syracuse University, I speculated that, upon graduation, they shouldn’t necessarily count on landing a full-time gig at a newspaper or any other media company. Their best bet, I suggested, was to focus on becoming an “independent contractor,” a fancy phrase for freelancer, and peddling their journalistic skills to multiple purveyors of content.
It’s not as if I had consulted a crystal ball. At the time, staff positions for content creators already were evaporating, and so it goes today, not just in the media industry, but everywhere. It applies to just about every type of profession, and will continue at an accelerated pace into the foreseeable future.
Let’s face it. The 20th century’s precious notion of receiving a gold watch after staying loyal to one employer for 40 or more years is as antiquated as a grandfather clock. Companies themselves don’t last that long, let alone careers at one company.
As with the illusion of empty storefronts, though, fewer jobs does not mean fewer opportunities for work. Research data shows that between 2005-2015, all net job growth was attributed to what is called “alternative work arrangements,” which means something other than a full-time job in the employ of one company. The number of Americans working under those conditions—which most feel is preferable to the customary constraints of the cubicle—has increased 50 percent during that decade, to 15.8 percent of the workforce.
Welcome to “The Gig Economy,” to quote the title of a fascinating best-seller by Diane Mulcahy, who teaches an MBA course by the same name at Babson College in Massachusetts.
Ms. Mulcahy herself symbolizes one of the cornerstone premises in her book: More and more people choose not to be moored to one dock (or time clock) all day long. She is not a full-time professor but an “adjunct lecturer.” That’s an employment designation more colleges are embracing. It benefits employer and employee both: more flexible for the employee, who can work other gigs as well, and more affordable for the employer, which doesn’t have to bear the considerable cost of benefits, which easily can increase payroll expenses per head by 35 percent to 40 percent above base salary.
Behind this Zeitgeist in how we go to work is a socio-economic trend away from the famously American love affair with materialism. For all the bad press millennials seem to attract—from older generations who ruefully think their cohorts did everything better—we can credit them with looking for more meaning in their lives than what accrues from cars and houses and salaries.
To them, relationships are more important than sheer materialism. As Ms. Mulcahy points out, money and career success cannot be counted on to generate greater happiness or fuller meaning. That’s not a theory. There is ample proof of it in the copious scholarship that has been conducted over many years tracking what makes us happy. I recommend her book for the details and for valuable advice, to boot.
Whatever your age, anybody can get with the gig economy. A first step, as the author advises, is to shift from an employee mindset to an opportunity mindset.
I’ve read only the first chapter of her book, and it’s already given me much to think—and, as the above attests, to write—about.
I’ll be sharing more of it with you in other columns…
Bruce “The Blog” Apar promotes local businesses, organizations, events and people through public relations agency APAR PR. He also is an actor, a community volunteer, and a contributor to several periodicals. Follow him as Bruce The Blog on social media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 914-275-6887.