Frankfurt (ESB Professional/Shutterstock)
Nearly five months after being elected to a fourth term last September, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Christian Democratic party finally reached a deal earlier this month to form a government with their traditional rivals, the Social Democrats. One of Merkel’s policy goals in her final term in office is to modernize Germany’s very strict employment laws, which haven’t been substantially updated in a century. Currently, the law states that workers cannot be forced to work longer than eight hours in a day and that they get a 30-minute break at least every six hours, in addition to 11 hours of off time between shifts, but there are no provisions for freelancers or to accommodate the flexible work schedules that are becoming more common in the 21st-century economy.
Merkel’s policy advisors want to shift the maximum hours timeframe to one week instead of one day, thereby abandoning the eight-hour cap on the workday, and cut the mandatory break between shifts to nine hours. Germany’s influential labor unions, one of which recently secured its members the right to a 28-hour workweek, oppose these proposed reforms, which they fear will weaken the protections German employees currently enjoy.
In one case, however, weakening those protections is precisely the point. The coalition agreement inked this month includes an outline for loosening job security guarantees for highly paid employees at banks, the Financial Times reports. The plan is intended to make Frankfurt, the main financial hub for both Germany and continental Europe writ large, more competitive with London and New York, particularly as international banks prepare to shift their EU operations out of the UK after Brexit.
The European Commission, the executive governing body of the EU, is concerned about the status of gig economy workers and wants to see them granted new rights and protections, Reuters reports, citing a new consultation document issued this weekend:
The document proposes a substantial review of EU social rights that could partly limit employment flexibility and ease insecurity caused by new types of “gig economy” jobs offered by firms like Uber and food-delivery service Deliveroo. Brussels is proposing to extend full social protection and other forms of security to all workers, including those on very short-term, part-time and zero-hour contracts who in some EU member countries have lower safeguards. …
The Commission is proposing that workers should be properly informed about the conditions of their employment and given explanations by employers for not having a permanent contract after a few years in the same job. Casual workers should also be entitled to a minimum number of guaranteed hours “after a predefined continuous period,” the Commission said. But the enhanced protection would not be applicable to self-employed workers, which could provide a loophole for employers such as Uber and Deliveroo.
The commission has expressed concern about the job security and precarious income of gig economy workers before, noting in a proposal in April for a “European Pillar of Social Rights” that the changing nature of work in the 21st century required a new approach to employment regulation and the social safety net. That proposal included a “right to adequate social protection” for both regular employees and self-employed workers “regardless of the type and duration of their employment relationship.”
After six straight years of improving numbers in its annual job satisfaction survey, the Conference Board announced last week that more than 50 percent of US employees are happy with their jobs for the first time since 2005:
The increase in job satisfaction is largely due to the improvement in the labor market in recent years. “Workers are benefiting from historically low layoff rates, which adds to a greater sense of job security,” said Michelle Kan, Associate Director, Knowledge Organization, and a co-author of the report with Rebecca Ray, Executive Vice President, Knowledge Organization and Human Capital Lead, Gad Levanon, Chief Economist, North America, and Allen Li, Associate Economist at The Conference Board. “Employees have more opportunities at other companies and more confidence in pursuing those opportunities. And, as it becomes harder to find qualified workers and retain existing ones, employers are gradually accelerating wage growth and improving other job features.”
“The US labor market will likely remain tight for most of the next fifteen years,” said Levanon. “With the massive retirement of baby boomers continuing through 2030, we expect the US labor market will be quite tight during that period, contributing to higher job satisfaction levels in the coming years.”
Despite the expectation of a continuously tight labor market, Levanon notes that US job satisfaction is unlikely to rebound to the levels seen 20 or 30 years ago, a prediction he attributes to other factors such as “the emphasis on maximizing shareholder value, declining unionization, outsourcing (both domestic and foreign) and market concentration.” While job satisfaction climbed from 49.6 percent last year to 50.8 percent this year, that’s a far cry from the 61.1 percent who said they were happy in their jobs in 1987, Washington Post columnist Jena McGregor points out.
The European Commission, one of the central governing institutions of the European Union, is starting talks with unions and employers throughout the 28 EU member states about ways to protect employees from deterioration in their work and living conditions in a working world increasingly dominated by irregular and alternative employment, the Associated Press reported on Wednesday:
The EU Commission said Wednesday that debate is needed across the 28 nations as job market changes increase the risk that people might be deprived of unemployment benefits or health insurance. It would also take account of the many families with two working parents or home help needs as well as minimum standards for maternity and paternity leave.
Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans said: “Living in the 21st Century means we need a 21st Century attitude toward life and work.” The Commission aims to establish common principles and rights on equal opportunities, job access and fair working conditions.
To that end, the commission published its final proposal for a guiding document dubbed “the European Pillar of Social Rights,” which lays out 20 principles for preserving European citizens’ rights in the 21st century economy, organized around three core themes: equal opportunities and access to the labour market, fair working conditions, and social protection and inclusion. Under the theme of fair working conditions, the commission proposes a principle of “secure and adaptable employment,” which touches on the unique challenges posed by the advent of the gig economy:
The notion that millennials are uniquely prone to job-hopping has always been based more in stereotype than fact, but a new analysis from the Pew Research Center provides yet more reason to doubt this millennial myth. Looking at historical data from the US Department of Labor’s Current Population Survey, Pew’s Richard Fry discovers that millennials don’t seem to be changing jobs any more often than members of Generation X did at the same age. In fact, they appear slightly less likely to leave their employer in less than a year:
In January 2016, 63.4% of employed Millennials, the generation born between 1981 and 1998, reported that they had worked for their current employer at least 13 months. In February 2000, somewhat fewer 18- to 35-year-olds (59.9%) – most of whom are today’s Gen Xers – reported similar job tenure. Looking at young workers with longer tenures, 22% of Millennial workers had been with their employer for at least five years as of 2016, similar to the share of Gen X workers (21.8%) in 2000.
One factor that may be contributing to Millennials staying with employers longer is their relatively high levels of education, which is typically associated with longer tenure. Among 25- to 35-year-old workers in 2016, 38% of Millennial men and 46% of Millennial women had completed at least a bachelor’s degree. The Gen X workforce back in 2000 had significantly lower levels of educational attainment: 31% of male 25- to 35-year-old workers had finished college, as had only 34% of female workers. These college-educated Millennials are sticking with their jobs longer than their Gen X counterparts.
The latest research from Fidelity Investments and the National Business Group on Health shows that 84 percent of American companies now include some form of financial security programs for employees as part of their overall wellbeing strategies, up from 76 percent in last year’s survey, Employee Benefit News reports:
The most popular financial security programs are seminars and “lunch-n-learn” programs with 82% of employers expected to offer these this year. Nearly three-fourths also say they will offer access to tools to support key financial decisions including mortgages, wills and income protection. Further, another 71% expect to offer tools and resources to support emergency savings, debt management and budgeting. Student loan counseling or repayment assistance programs are also expected to be offered by roughly a quarter of the employers surveyed.
Physical and emotional wellness also continues to trend upward in program offerings. Currently, 55% of companies offer a “sit-to-stand” ergonomic desk or treadmill workstation, up from 43% last year, the research says. Wearables also remain impactful to these programs, and more employers are tapping into that technology, with 30% saying they will offer subsidies or discounts on wearables this year.
Financial wellbeing benefits can take several different forms, from educational offerings to financial advising, and different cohorts of employees will have different needs in this regard—just as employees’ physical and mental health needs may differ by age, gender, or other factors. That’s why employers should think twice before adopting a one-size-fits-all approach to financial wellness; instead, progressive companies are incorporating these benefits into a holistic wellbeing program built around employees’ needs and measured by how well they meet those needs.
In a recent feature at the New York Times, Liz Alderman shed some light on the experiences of young European professionals who have struggled to cobble together steady incomes in an economy where full-time, permanent positions are scarce:
While the region’s economy is finally recovering, more than half of all new jobs created in the European Union since 2010 have been through temporary contracts. This is the legacy of a painful financial crisis that has left employers wary of hiring permanent workers in a tenuous economy where growth is still weak. Under European labor laws, permanent workers are usually more difficult to lay off and require more costly benefit packages, making temporary contracts appealing for all manner of industries, from low-wage warehouse workers to professional white-collar jobs. …
The temporary-work trend is accelerating around Europe, as employers seek more flexibility to fire and hire workers, and shun permanent contracts with expensive costs and labor protections. In Spain alone, the government reported that 18 million temporary contracts were handed out last year, compared with 1.7 million long-term jobs.
There are signs of this phenomenon in the UK as well as continental Europe. Annie Makoff at People Management recently flagged new research from the Trades Union Congress claiming that three million UK workers are now in what the TUC calls “insecure work”: a 27 percent rise from 2.4 million in 2011. The TUC defines insecure work as “seasonal, casual, temporary or agency work, as well as those on zero-hour contracts and low-paid self-employed workers,” Makoff explains, though there’s some debate over how to define “insecure”: