The words “workplace” and “office” don’t conjure up simple imagery quite the way they used to. Some people work for startups that grow and change faster than employees can adjust. Other folks are freelancers or work from home for their companies. Still others are working full-time while also pursuing degrees, and trying to find a way to make it all work. No matter the case, the office life of today is very different than it used to be. And, no matter which work situation you find yourself in, that particular environment has its benefits and its drawbacks. Let’s take a closer look at a few of the nontraditional employment situations available to today’s workers. There may be more to these arrangements than meets the eye.
(Photo Credit: deldevries/Flickr)
Before we jump into the changes and challenges facing the modern worker, let’s take a quick peek at the lives of students, because they’ve changed quite a bit too in recent years. First of all, the cost of college has more than tripled since the mid-1970s, and the importance of attending in order to secure a career has skyrocketed right along with it.
Today, nontraditional college students are the new normal. Only a third are what we used to consider “traditional” – 18- to 21-year-olds enrolled full-time. Thirty-eight percent of today’s students are older than 25. And, while their employment isn’t as tied to their career goals as it should be, the average college student works an average of 19 hours per week. Students today commonly face a very real financial struggle. In 2015, 42 percent of first year students live near or below the poverty line.
2. Startups and breakdowns.
Startups have a reputation for being exciting places to work. But, working for a startup come with a whole host of problems like long hours, loads of risk, and a nice hefty dose of pure unbridled chaos. The thing is, there is almost nothing stable about working for a startup. The pay, job description, hours – you name it – it all is up for debate and shifting all the time. One thing that does seem to be fairly consistent is the challenging schedule: workers often toil for long hours while shouldering tremendous expectations and pressure.
“I’ve done 28-hour stints, sleeping on the floor in my office, stuff like that,” a developer told Lily Hay Newman of Slate. “Once I asked my manager where I could take a nap and he suggested the utility closet at work. So I did and I woke up with mild acid burns from the cleaning agents in the closet. That actually happened.”
The idea of working from home is appealing to a lot of people, and the data suggest that this kind of arrangement is definitely on the rise. The number of folks who work at least one day a week from home is up 35 percent in the last decade.
Freelancing is also part of the new normal. A recent survey indicates that as much as 34 percent of the U.S. labor force now work as freelancers. But, these kinds of work situations are calling up some new challenges as well. Some argue that the lack of social interaction could be causing increased loneliness, and even taking intellectual and physical tolls on these workers. There are also other hidden downsides, like the difficulties freelancers often face when trying to get a mortgage, for example.
The world of work is a little different today. Even more “traditional workers” face unique challenges. Unemployment or underemployment due to outsourcing and other market forces (especially in manufacturing) is one such challenge. Another common difficulty is that workers find it difficult to ever truly “clock out” with technology keeping them tied to the office day and night.
Today’s workers often find themselves in new (but not uncommon) professional arrangements that come with their own strengths and challenges. It will be interesting to continue to track these changes, and these workers, in the years and decades to come.
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