Work Future 7: Anchor Institutions Need to Lead

Anchor institutions are important for economic or community development1. For those not acquainted with the term, anchor institutions are organizations that are stable in their current position and are expected to successfully carry out their missions over long periods of time. Examples of anchor institutions are hospitals, universities, and large corporations. These organizations tend to be less affected by local conditions due to their scale. They tend to have the ability to experiment to a degree without threat to their bottom lines. Anchor institutions are often pillars of development strategies because of their relative predictability and ability to experiment. The premise is anchor organizations can implement desired changes that would potentially sink less stable and smaller organizations. This leadership role needs to be embraced by anchor organizations when it comes to laying the groundwork for how work is done in the future.

Many anchor organizations have already implemented certain aspects of the gig economy. To meet the scheduling demands of running a 24/7 operation, hospitals routinely offer positions of 20/hr/wk, 24/hr/wk, 28/hr/wk, 32/hr/wk, 36/hr/wk, and 40/hr/wk along with pool and on-call positions. According to the American Association of University professors, over 50% of faculty are contingent (meaning part-time or non-tenured).2 Similarly, industry-funded research has found that 32% of workers at companies are contingent or contract-based.3

It is again important to note that the shift in the nature of work spans the spectrum from traditional employees to Uber drivers to workers provided by staffing agency. This isn’t something happening to the proverbial “them.” It is something that is happening to all of us.

Unfortunately, the Industrial Age hangover of “efficiency gains” is currently driving a race to the bottom through contingent work. Hospital nurses are chronically understaffed,4 adjunct professors on average earn $20,000 to $25,000 a year5, and corporations routinely use third-party agencies to effectively employ workers without incurring the fixed costs of actual employment. For every dollar paid in wages, employers can save 29 to 39 cents on taxes and benefit costs by using non-employee workers.6 This focus on 20th Century efficiency by anchor institutions largely overlooks the true costs of talent churn and lost productivity. (It turns out efficiency gains that are not built around human considerations aren’t all that efficient.) Due to the size and influence of anchor organizations, their approach effectively determines the norms by which all others must abide. This is especially pressing because productivity gains in the last decade are only half of what they were the previous decade7. Productivity gains are a core component to supporting a healthy middle class.

Open work up to the world.

The single biggest thing anchor institutions can do to improve both their own situations and the general state of the economy is to open their work up to the world. Organizations must realize that the talent outside their doors is as important of an asset as the talent inside. The full-time mold of 40 hours a week needs to be set aside. Anchors should make a portion of their work and vendor contracts public. Moreover, a certain percentage of them to be issued to local vendors. This will help invigorate the local economy. (We already know high quality talent is attracted to vibrant locations.) These actions will also provide work to the talent ecosystem outside the anchor and thereby improve the talent pool they have available to draw from.

Anchors can also get creative about time commitment. If algorithms can schedule retail workers based on real-time demand8, anchor organizations should be able coordinate someone who wants to work 15 hours a week with someone who wants 25 hours a week with someone who wants to work 45 hours a week. By doing so, suddenly those who don’t have the desire or ability to work 40 hours a week become part of the talent pool. Anchors also need to learn how to give workers more extended time off. This could mean jumping on the 4-day work week train9. This could also mean spreading payments for nine months of work over a 12 month period so worker can take three months a year to refresh, reflect, and grow. Talent would be enabled to take a significant amount of time off while knowing there is a job to return to.

Anchors need to get serious about time commitment as well. This means creating a work environment that doesn’t let a commitment of 40 hours of week creep up to 50, 60, and beyond. Organizations need to support and respect the time commitment of their talent. Taking time to live a full and whole life needs to be promoted and celebrated by anchors because fulfilled workers will increase productivity.

Just as anchors need to adjust their ways, so do workers. Workers need to realize that $60,000/yr with more control of their time can be equal to or greater than $100,000/yr for 50 hours of work a week. This frequently means lifestyle adjustments such as smaller home, home cooking, and less stuff!

  • 7.1 What tools do anchor institutions need to help them open their work to the world? These tools need to address considerations such as intellectual property, contracting, and project management with a more dynamic talent pool.
  • 7.2 What adjustments does talent need to apply to meet anchor institutions in the middle and create a vibrant talent pool outside the organizations themselves? How does talent need to adjust expectations?
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