Changing nature of work in the 21st century

By John Dudovskiy

Changing nature of workThe last several decades have witnessed gradual and dramatic changes in the nature of work due to a number of reasons that include, but not limited to intensifying level of competition in marketplace, developments in information technology and other technological developments, increasing forces of globalisation and certain aspects of demographic changes.

Increasing popularity of alternative working patterns such as part-time working, flexitime employment, telecommuting, job-sharing and compressed workweek marks the most important change in the nature of work in the 21st century. It has been estimated that “currently around 29 per cent of UK employees work part-time or in some other form of flexible working pattern” (Holbeche, 2013, p.58).

Part-time working is not a new practice in modern times; however, the popularity of part-time employment has increased during the last couple of decades due to attempts to improve the levels of work-life balance and a set of other reasons discussed below in a greater details.

Flexitime employment as a different version of alternative working patterns “specifies core hours when people must be on the job, with flexible starting and finishing times as long as required total hours are worked” (Swanepoel et al, 2008., p. 217 as taken from Bartol et al., 2008, p.413)

Telecommuting, on the other hand, can be explained as “to work at home using a computer connected to the network of one’s employer” (Free Dictionary, online, 2014) and it offers the advantages of working from the comfort of home.

Job sharing involves roles and responsibilities of a single position being assumed by two or more employees so that each employee has extra free time to devote to pushing hobbies, spending time with the family and other activities of their choice.

Compressed workweek working pattern permits employees to complete required hours for the week in less than traditional working week of five days.  At the same time, it has to be acknowledged that compressed workweek may be associated with the risks of low quality performance due to employees compromising quality in their attempts to complete work as quickly as possible.

The levels of applicability of alternative working patterns discussed above is not the same for all organisations due to unique characteristic associated with each industry and organisation. For example, the level of applicability of flexitime employment pattern is highly limited in service sector, because employees usually engage in service operations in shift-basis.

Reasons behind increasing popularity of alternative working patterns contain three integral elements. Firstly, alternative working patterns offer the workforce more free time to spend with their families, pursuing their hobbies or any other activity that they choose to do.  Secondly, alternative working patterns tend to lead to greater performance, thus they are increasingly being promoted by employers. In other words, because employees spend less time at work the levels of their focus on work tends to increase with positive implications on the quality of the work.

Thirdly, alternative working patterns in general, and telecommuting in particular provide attractive cost-cutting opportunities for organisations. Specifically, reduction of operational costs is achieved through eliminating the need for office space and other facilities to accommodate employees.

Another important aspect of changing nature of work in the 21st century can be specified as decline of popularity of lifetime employment for one organisation.  This specific change has been triggered by increasing levels of job insecurities in private sector organisations due to occasional downsizing, and willingness of modern workforce to gain cross-industry work experiences dictated by circumstance of work market.

Increasing level of informality of organisational culture is another aspect of change in the nature of work. Organisational culture is “the set of values, beliefs, behaviours, customs, and attitudes that helps the members of the organisation understand what it stands for, how it does things, and what it considers important” (Griffin, 2012, p.52) and organisational culture has direct and significant effects on employee performance and well-being.

This change mainly relates to private sector organisations and the main rationale behind this change relates to attempt to increase the levels of flexibility of the business to adapt to changes in external environment, and increasing the levels of creativity of employees to develop competitive products and services.

Moreover, informal organisational culture is associated with low or no bureaucracy and employees in such organisations are usually encouraged to offer the suggestions and initiatives in terms of improving the effectiveness of various organisational processes.

Major innovative firms in information technology and e-commerce industry such as Google, Apple and Facebook are playing influential role in terms of driving this type of change in the nature of work in the 21st century. For example, Google – a leading provider of internet-related products and services is famous for developing highly informal organisational culture that is reflected on creative development of offices and a wide range of organisational processes.


Griffin, R.W. (2012) “Fundamentals of Management” 6th edition, Cengage Learning

Holbeche, L. (2013) “Aligning Human Resources and Business Strategy”, 2nd edition, Routledge

Swanepoel, B.J., Erasmus, B.J. & Schenk, H.W. (2008) “South African Human Resource Management: Theory and Practice” Juta

Telecommute (2013) The Free Dictionary, Available at:


Category: HRM