According to the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) about 70 percent of U.S. professors are not in a "tenure" line. Of these, about 40 percent are adjunct or part-time faculty members. Sure, many may choose to work as adjunct faculty. Those who adjunct by choice are likely to be experienced professionals in other fields, holding full-time jobs elsewhere or leading their own businesses. Not all adjunct faculty, however, do so by choice. Many have not been able to locate academic employment and see themselves falling behind in academic studies (see Glenn, 2016). They have no benefits or job security and often receive low pay.
The problem is not limited to universities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2017, 5.9 million people held temporary jobs in the US in 2017. Sure, this number represents a relatively small percentage of US workers (3.8 percent). Other workers, however, report "alternative work arrangements" including contract work (10.6 million or 6.9 percent), on-call (2.6 million or 1.7 percent), workers employed by temporary help agencies (1.4 million or 0.9 percent) and 933,000 (0.6 percent) workers employed by contractor firms. And, while most contractors choose to work independently (about 80 percent), most workers from the other alternative categories do not.
My question, today, is: What are the consequences of non-traditional and contingent work arrangements on the remaining employees and for the organization? I can think of several potential impact areas:
For item three, note the emphasis on the word "could." According to William Kahn, engagement relates to one's feelings of safety. A contingent worker could experience less safety, knowing that he or she could easily be let go. The story, however, is complicated, as contingency workers are quite diverse. The Gallup Organization found that while independent contractors are more engaged than the general population, on-call, temporary, and contractor organization workers are not (only 19% of these workers are engaged).
My final point: Both in and outside Academia, having a certain percentage of contingency workers may make sense. In Academia, experienced professionals could bring "real life" and practical examples to the classroom. Outside universities, independent contractors could bring to their client organizations special expertise and outsider perspectives. At the very least, however, the issue deserves thoughtful debate.
What have your experiences been with contingent and non-traditional work? Please share!
About the Author
Dr. Cris Wildermuth is an Assistant Professor at Drake University, where she coordinates and teaches at the Master of Science in Leadership Development.