Welcome to the first instalment of a semi-regular new column – Around the Traps – to be provided by members of the Australian Public Health Consultants Network.
Some of the consequences for public health of the changing nature of work and workplaces are explored in the article below by Rebecca Zosel, a public health consultant and a founder of the Network.
As she observes, the “new work order” has implications for the health and wellbeing of many people, as well as for the education and training of public health professionals.
Rebecca Zosel writes:
Gone are the days of retiring from a company after a 40-year career.
The nature of work and workplaces is changing, and the new work order brings more flexibility and job insecurity than ever before. We are seeing a rise of flexible working arrangements, including part-time, casual, independent contracting and self-employment.
With the trend towards flexible work set for continued growth, it is critical that we equip Australia’s public health workforce for the jobs of the future and mitigate some of the adverse impacts of this trend.
The rise of flexible working arrangements
A number of disruptive global forces are impacting businesses everywhere. Factors such as globalisation, rapid technological change, ageing populations, rising income and wealth disparity, and a changing climate (World Economic Forum report) are creating ‘the most significant disruption in the world of work since the industrial revolution’ (The Foundation for Young Australians report).
Digital technology and globalisation are breaking down traditional barriers and changing the way organisations, societies, governance structures and individuals operate.
It is now much easier and faster for small, innovative firms to enter the market cost-effectively, leading to the rise of start-up culture and the era of entrepreneurs (VicHealth report).
More and more Australians are embracing the spirit of entrepreneurship.
Survey data indicates that one in four working Australians are self-employed in their own business; of those who don’t own their own business, one in six (17 percent) aspire to. Another survey suggests that 30 percent of Australia’s workforce is engaged in flexible work, including moonlighting, multiple part-time and casual roles, and independent contracting.
The rise of flexible working arrangements in Australia is consistent with global trends. Currently, nearly three in ten workers worldwide are self-employed and since the 1990s, more than half of new jobs in advanced economies have been temporary, part-time or self-employed (OECD report).
The trend towards flexible work is set for continued growth.
The future will see a new breed of ‘flexible’ or ‘portfolio’ workers who have no fixed abode and sell their skills and knowledge to multiple employers.
New business models which utilise capital and labour in different ways will evolve. The peer-to-peer (P2P) economy taking hold in taxi markets (e.g. Uber) and accommodation markets (e.g. Airbnb) that is already emerging in the employment marketplace is likely to continue to grow (e.g. Freelancer, Upwork, Airtasker) (VicHealth report).
Whilst many will appreciate flexible working arrangements, they come with risk – notably, the lack of security that comes from flexible work can create a significant amount of mental stress (VicHealth report). Job insecurity is associated with emotional exhaustion, depression, anxiety, and even heart disease.
The movement of work outside of formal structures can have additional adverse impacts. Because many of our current workplace rights and protections are attached to formal industrial relations settings, as people transact directly with one another or manage their working arrangements through online intermediaries, Australians are at risk of losing workplace protections, such as minimum wage, insurance and leave entitlements (The Foundation for Young Australians report).
Flexible work will affect people differently. For some, the insecurity of flexible work is unlikely to have a negative effect on their mental health. For example, if you are doing contract work by choice or using it to “top up” your main source of income, then the insecurity of that work is less likely to be a problem.
However, the lack of security may be very stressful for someone who is risk adverse or relies on the work as their main source of income (see Conversation article).
Preparing for the new work order
We must equip Australia’s public health workforce and ensure it has capacity to deliver on the vision, values and commitments of public health in the new work order.
The Foundation for Young Australians identifies a number of policy options to both enable participation in this future of work (e.g. boost digital literacy) and protect workers from the downsides (e.g. ensure workplace protections adapt to all forms of work) (report).
It is vital to build entrepreneurial capacity and ‘must have’ skills (e.g. problem solving, critical analysis, ability to work across cultures and disciplines, resilience).
Encouragingly, some organisations are already addressing this need (such as Deakin University’s Freelancing Hub), yet the importance of entrepreneurial skills is still under-recognised in health, as evidenced by its absence in a recent workforce edition of the Health Promotion Journal of Australia.
A key strategy to mitigate against stress caused by job insecurity is getting social support from other workers, particularly those in a similar situation.
This can be achieved through professional networking groups such as the Australian Public Health Consultants Network, which connects and supports self-employed consultants.
Social connection is critical for this segment of the public health workforce, as they experience high levels of insecure work, income instability and professional isolation.
This free network for public health consultants currently has 35 members (run as a Facebook group) and connects another 80 individuals via a quarterly newsletter (register here).
Network members offer the following advice to those looking to transition into public health consultancy:
- Learn business basics, or surround yourself with people who can help you (such as accountant, lawyer, business advisor)
- Be clear on your core business
- Integrity and professional credibility are essential in a small field so always put your best foot forward
- Keep networked and avoid isolation
- Don’t deny yourself ongoing professional development.
• Follow on Twitter: @rzosel