photo bored empBy Karen Axelton

Harvard Business Review posted a thought-provoking look at the future of work that has some key implications for how you manage your employees.

The recession has accelerated changes that were already happening in the work force, writes Tammy Erickson. It’s worth reading all of them, but if I were to boil the 5 trends Erickson pinpoints down to one word, I’d call it “detachment.” Employees are less and less confident that employers will provide benefits, stability, a regular paycheck or all of the things that used to be part of the deal. As a result, they’re giving less and less of themselves to the job.

Some aspects of detachment are good – like what Erickson calls “adult arrangements.” Simply put, this means treating employees like adults, such as letting them choose their own benefits or hours from a menu of flextime options. At some point in the future, she suggests, we might even give employees the freedom to set their own pay levels or take responsibility for their own performance reviews.

But others are bad—like the fact that increasingly, you’re competing with a host of other priorities for your staff’s “discretionary energy.” Already, Erickson says, holding multiple jobs or starting a side business is starting to become the norm—driven in part by the current trend toward employers cutting back hours to save money. Employees who are being told to only work 4 days a week naturally start to assess their work in a “by the hour” fashion, unwilling to give more hours than necessary to the job.

As employees start to become clock-watchers, you’ll struggle harder to engage them. But engage them you must. “More and more of the work in today’s economy cannot be done rotely — success requires a spark of extra effort, creativity, collaboration, and innovation,” Erickson writes. Ironically, removing employees’ incentives to spend their discretionary energy on you could sap their innovation just at the time when you need it most.

What are you competing with to get your employees’ discretionary energy?