Gartner: The 40-Hour Workweek Era Is Ending

By 2015, there will be more workers who interact with technology, but they’ll be working a whole lot less hours each week, finds a Gartner research report released on May 30.

Gartner argues that three of the four traditional pillars of work—the living wage, long-term relationships with loyal employers, and government- or company-provided pensions—have already gone the way of the dinosaurs, leaving only the 40-hour workweek.

But this, too, is not long for the employment economy, the report said. Societal views on primary wage-earner and caregiver roles, as well as on retirement, are in the midst of changing, taking with them the de facto 40-hour work week. Individuals are already reconsidering its pervasive influence, the report argues, and the dialogue is becoming increasingly political.

Those most affected are at the helm. Retiring Baby Boomers, working-age mothers and Generation X workers are seeking a more fulfilling work/life balance, and the traditional workplace structure is holding them back. The report said that no longer will the workplace be dominated by single bread-winners who expect to retire at the end of their working life, and that businesses need to reckon with this trend.

“When people in these demographics have marketable skills, employers will find it difficult to ignore their requests for more flexibility,” said Brian Prentice, research director of emerging trends and technologies at Gartner, in a statement.

“The additional pressures of an aging population and skills shortages will lead to the adoption of digital free agency and flexible work structures as social, political and business necessities.”

The effect of these changes will be felt throughout the employment life cycle. Organizations will be forced to redefine existing roles as well as craft new ones based on what can be realistically achieved in half the traditional workweek.

The report suggests that rather than adopt a draconian measure of cutting in half the working hours of all employees, employers that create 20-hour job descriptions will be in the best place to attract and retain the most qualified workers.

“The 20-hour-per-week job description is a relatively simple way of addressing a growing problem without radically restructuring well-established management models,” said Prentic.

Digital free agents as change agents

Yet, the decline of the standard 40-hour workweek will not occur in a bubble, but at the same time as a consumerization trend increases the roles that IT plays in people’s personal lives.

“It will be very hard to draw a distinction between the personal and work computing environment. The shift in power away from the organization, and in particular, the IT department, will be even more significant with these people,” said Prentice.

In what Gartner calls the emergence of the “Digital Free-Agency,” individuals will be expecting to blend professional and personal computing requirements in an integrated environment. The report said that the effect of this user-driven practice coupled with new 20-hour job descriptions will change the workplace as IT knows it.

“As IT becomes woven into the fabric of people’s lives and traditional work-home boundaries are rendered obsolete, digital free agency will emerge,” said Prentice.

Report: The supply of IT pros is down, but the demand is up. Click here to read more.

Though this trend is only now in the early stages, Gartner argues that sharp CIOs will see digital free agency as a business-relevant trigger and link it to farsighted business benefits.

“Gartner is asking the CIO to consider a long-term planning scenario that prepares for the 20-hour job description and the rise of digital free agency. That consideration needs to happen now,” said Prentice.

The report states that smart CIOs will not wait to address two imminent trends: the need to control the computing environment on one hand, while providing increased user autonomy on the other. Doing so will put IT in the business drivers’ seat.

“Ultimately, by preparing for digital free agency, the IT department will be able to position itself as a proactive enabler of true business change,” said Prentice.

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