Head of Badenoch & Clark
These are interesting questions to ask at a time when buzzwords like "digital nomad" or "gig worker" are used to describe the radical transformation underway in the labour market. We are entering the age of the freelancer and informal worker here in Switzerland.
In the past, flexible contracts and freelance work were often considered a last resort to full-time work for both workers and companies. Nowadays, however, it’s increasingly being seen by both parties as a way to achieve greater flexibility.
In Switzerland, where there has always been a shortage of talent, Swiss companies are set to experience even greater scarcity. Nowadays, highly skilled workers in Switzerland have far more choice on how, where, and when they want to work when compared to the past.
In a candidate-driven job market like Switzerland, skilled workers have found that they have the power to ask for flexible work contracts and even switch to freelance work arrangements.
Why is this trend taking place now?
The coronavirus pandemic if anything has raised awareness on flexible working and intensified interest among top candidates during the negotiation process.
The fast pace and complexity of life are driving many skilled workers towards flexible work because it allows them to balance work and home life far more easily.
Mental health issues, long commute times, and huge advances in technology have driven skilled workers to demand more flexibility. The traditional eight-hour workday in the office may also not be as productive as once thought: short breaks and choosing which time of the day to work can often boost productivity.
The other reason for this trend is down to choice. According to a survey carried out by Adecco Group, 54% of those involved in flexible work are doing it to pursue further goals such as studying, reskilling, or a steppingstone into another chosen field.
Consequently, flexible workers are now an established part of the workforce. According to Adecco, 20-30% of the working-age population in developed countries are involved in flexible working arrangements. This type of work has added $1.4 trillion to the US economy and €270 billion to Europe’s economy. It could also add significantly to the Swiss economy too.
Many Swiss companies see the benefits
Swiss companies that embrace these arrangements have greater flexibility with how they hire their workforce. They also gain access to a talent pool that might not have been accessible before.
Employees who have flexible arrangements tend to take fewer sick days, partly because they can also work from home if they are only experiencing minor symptoms. Furthermore, flexible work reduces the cost of fixed desks and office space.
They also benefit from better diversification. After all, why should companies put all their eggs in one basket by just hiring full-time employees? By moving beyond this approach, it relieves some of the pressures of trying to secure skilled workers in a talent-scarce environment. Plus, it helps increase diversity inside a company and creates a much nimbler and more dynamic workforce.
Flexible working has become the accepted norm
This trend is largely being driven by candidates in Switzerland, as they have a lot of power to negotiate. Salaries have been traditionally high in Switzerland in comparison to other countries, due to the scarcity of skilled workers. However, these high salaries and corporate perks are now no longer the main deciding factor for top candidates.
Many candidates who decide to work in Switzerland, do so for the quality of life. The focus has never fully been just about earning a good salary. Good healthcare, brilliant schooling, safety, cleanliness, and stunning nature represent just some of the benefits of working in Switzerland.
It is all about providing choice to skilled workers
Overall, I believe flexible working and freelance arrangements are a positive development for workers, companies, and society as a whole. There will be challenges along the way and new regulations and labor laws will need to be designed to protect workers here in Switzerland.
However, the technologically driven transformation of the global economy is pushing the labor force towards this direction. The future I believe is therefore a mixture of full-time, contract and freelance work which will give both workers and companies more choice than ever before.
It will be extremely liberating, which is exactly why skilled workers choose to work in Switzerland in the first place.