In The Flow

The new contract for a better experience at work

In a traditional contract of employment, the employer has virtually all the control. Even as expectations of the workforce change, there’s little input from employees, and often no room for autonomy. As a result, the power struggles of the past will continue to play out in the workplaces of today. It’s time to do something different.

It begins with something that’s long overdue: a more open and grown-up conversation between employee and employer. It’s built on creating a new alliance between the two parties, as today’s employees grow increasingly aware of the value they can bring. Crucially, there’s a recognition that power does exist and can be exercised on both sides. We call it the people first contract.

The core of the new alliance is true partnership. On the employer side, operating a workforce is replaced with working together to enhance the business – a new arrangement that offers workers something beyond wages. They get more fun and fulfilment, plus the chance to grow skills as part of the contract.

While this suggests some of the playfulness associated with working in Silicon Valley, it’s in a sustainable way (e.g. without the all-nighters that lead to burnout). The people first contract is employee-centred while always keeping its commercial outlook.

We will create an environment where you can be absorbed in the best of your work. This is about managing the level of workplace ‘noise’ – eliminating unwelcome distractions and needless tasks, leaving people free to focus and make real progress every day.

And recognising that nothing lasts forever, the contract ends with a level-headed look forwards for both parties: if a future alignment between us cannot be found, we will amicably give you good time to find another opportunity that fits you better.

 Whether employees find a position in a different department, or leave the company altogether, the focus is on ending every relationship on good terms. In fact, with the edges blurring between permanent and contract employees, between our work and social lives, it makes sense to develop a network of advocates outside the business. These well-treated alumni are more likely to be positive on social media, and to recommend the company to future employees and even potential customers.

I will consistently explore for myself how best I work, what skills I am best at, and those I want and need to improve. The emphasis for employees shifts to self-exploration, but not the woolly, ‘student-on-a-gap-year’ kind of exploration. It’s an ongoing evaluation of practical strengths and areas for growth by every workers’ fiercest critic and staunchest supporter – themselves. An activity that’s both rewarding and empowering.

I will listen and respond to constructive criticism. In our new alliance the employee is working together with their employer, so anything that prevents this team achieving their shared goals must be identified and addressed fairly before moving on. Suddenly criticism at work feels less personal and more balanced.

And finally: I will be flexible, enjoy new challenges, and tackle them to the best of my ability and effort

The expectation is not perfection but something more powerful: flexible, engaged employees. After all, in a world where organisations must remain change-ready to survive, this is how to build a workforce to be reckoned with.

Mark Williams