The UK has developed into an increasingly polarized workplace. Unemployment has fallen and formal employment has grown, but conversely there has been an absolute boom in a new kind of work. The number of sole traders have exploded and ‘zero-hour’ contracts has boomed.
The fact that the number of small UK firms has now reached 10m, from just 4.9m five years ago is testimony to the success of economic policies that have given a knees-up to commerce. The self-employed now represent double the number of those working for government.
But, the fact that roughly half of all these businesses have no employees, shows up two pervasive 21st Century trends. Firstly, as sole owner of a small business the idea of defined work hours and job definitions has gone – you work 24/7 and do ‘everything’ that customer preferences demand. Secondly, as these small businesses grows it has become extremely unlikely that they will create any new formal jobs – you simply source your labor needs globally and bind them to you with ‘zero-based’ contracts – a field previously only associated with fast-food giants such as McDonalds.
Essentially, contracts no longer define how many hours you are expected to work, but you are measured and paid exclusively on results. Formal employment contracts are a thing of the past. The ability to balance work and lifestyle has made this attractive to many.
The UK’s economy is now regarded as an example to the rest of the world – resurgent, flexible, entrepreneurial and resilient. But, it is not the same kind of labor-market anymore. Something has changed and things may never be the same again. It is now generally understood that there is work out there even if the number of jobs is not growing. You may have to back yourself and go it alone. Today you’re more likely to be working in a network rather than a hierarchy.
If you’re not taking personal responsibility for your future, you may find this to be a scary place – rather than exciting and full of opportunity.