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Cancer of Uncertainty

· Steve Cusworth,Employment

Insecure work as manifested through infrequent and inconsistent hours of an insufficient amount to what an individual employee would prefer creates broader challenges for workers in addition to income constraints.

Insecurity of hours or employment status prevents forward planning – either through direct barriers such as an inability to secure finance for assets such as a home or indirect barriers such as a ‘paralysis’ of decision making where individuals cannot invest in themselves or their families because they simply don’t know when or where the next dollar will come from. I call this (deliberately evocatively) the ‘Cancer of Uncertainty’ as the pernicious impact of this dynamic on every aspect of one’s life cannot be underestimated.

This is not new, nor is it terribly insightful, and anyone who has been caught in a period of their life not knowing what is next for them during a period of turmoil would empathise with the debilitating effect of uncertainty of income. When the deafening drumbeat of bills and expenses makes managing today difficult enough, future planning is left by the wayside.

However, observing the debate over recent years with respect to the commentary on a casualised workforce and the associated positions taken (either there is no problem with such insecurity and it reflects a fully flexible labour market or it is a deliberate approach from employers to gain at the expense of employees), my thoughts have turned as to what is the actual state of play here as it impacts people on the ground.

Beyond the problem, we are exploring what practical, tangible solutions can be brought to bear to address these issues and at least explore some alternative models aligned with the labour market as it currently stands that can offer a real difference to an employee looking for greater certainty of employment status and income that allows them to plan their life.

However, we have struggled to see through the claims and counter claims to create a more complete picture of the current environment with respect to the insecure workforce and whom exactly is most impacted by such issues and how.

There is also the dynamic of those who embrace the flexibility and freedom of their own work hours (those who embrace the ‘gig economy’) and if they feel empowered to proactively pursue such opportunities through their value in the market based on professional skills or experience, it is reasonable to assume they are not concerned the same way others in the labour market may experience such uncertainty. Many (if not most) working people do not have that luxury.

In 2017, FPL Advisory commenced a project to better understand this dynamic with a view to developing an innovative yet practical solution to addressing this insecure and uncertain future. We will have more to say on this project shortly after further research but one thing is clear – insecure work adds fuel to the fire for broader problems for society beyond investment, consumer confidence and retail spending. Just ask a blue-collar Trump supporter.

Steve Cusworth is Managing Director of FPL Advisory.

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