On the Evolution of Work Systems in the Digital Economy
Freedom = Loyalty: Understanding the Self-Employed Mindset
Since the rise of the Industrial Age, the vast majority of the population have chosen to go with regular employment in order to make a living due to existing incentives (e.g., pensions, benefits, etc.). Since this trend has been the norm for quite some time, self-employment has become perceived as “the ugly stepchild” – something people turn to when they “can’t get a job.” It’s true that a good contingent of people are forced into this situation, however there are still many who purposely choose it. Are they crazy?
Often I’ve heard that those who prefer regular employment and those who prefer self-employment don’t understand each other. Indeed, it seems to be the case of different values, motivations, and fears. I believe this gap between those who have an employee mindset and those who have a self-employment mindset is encapsulated well by one of my favorite Aesop’s fables, “The Dog and the Wolf.” For those who are unfamiliar with this story, here it is in the video below:
I find it pretty easy to understand the wolf actually. Think about how easily some people habituate to repetition than others. Is there a point at which the reward centers of your brain no longer scream “Yay!” when you receive that reward for performing that same task over the same amount of time for the nth time? During these times, it’s great not to be lacking a source of income of course, but what I’m talking about is the role our neurocircuitry plays in making variable experiences and rewards more pleasurable in the long-run. This is tuned way up for some more than others. That is, some of us are more easily bored than others. Generally speaking however, it’s in our nature to seek out opportunities for growth, and needless repetition isn’t growth-inducing. With more freedom, comes more variation; and with less freedom, less variation. See the following for information about schedules of reinforcement:
- Instrumental Uncertainty as a Determinant of Behavior Under Interval Schedules of Reinforcement (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/)
- Schedules of Reinforcement (psychology.about.com/)
- Positive Reinforcement (animalbehavior.net)
- Theories of Learning in Educational Psychology: Operant Conditioning (lifecircles-inc.com/)
Note that I’m not advocating variable pay for steady work here. Rather, this is how I would explain how some come to prefer a more variable life overall. Additionally, I believe that there can be gradients between the extremes symbolized by the dog and the wolf. (In fact, said wolf was interested in more regular work but not at the price of constraints that would be imposed.) Autonomous workers have much to offer and life as a member of an organization no longer has to be so confining and structured.
Finally, as mentioned in a previous post, you don’t have to search very hard to find projections indicating that jobs will become less secure as organizations’ half-lives shrink due to worldwide competition. With this situation unfolding, the will and initiative to be your own person and work for yourself become critical assets. Even if you intend to job hop through this scenario, it’s apparent that adopting a business mindset when it comes to your career is advantageous. This means taking a proactive stance in managing your career path and “branding” yourself.
For organizational leaders seeking to retain their best workers, this scenario means realizing how to harness the skills and talents of a good contingent of workers who would be more loyal when offered more freedom. At Better Collaboration, we are committed to helping organizations develop the necessary infrastructure to support dispersed team productivity and collaboration. So visit our website and check out our video conferences soon!