Core v. Peripheral Employment

"Schädel" by Vincent Van Gogh from Wikimedia Commons

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Just the other night, I was talking with a friend from UALR’s MBA program about a new job he just started.  He was really excited about moving from a position that wasn’t really what he wanted to do; to a position that used his degree, was interesting, and had more promotional opportunities.  It reminded me of a theory of human resources I used during my Organizational Behavior class last semester, and how you can use it to improve your career.

First, though, I’d like to take a moment to grump at an idea that “just getting a job” is the answer to not making enough money.  Too often, when you hear about someone who’s not getting by in life, the solution that they’re given is to “get a job,” or even less helpfully, to get a “better” job.  Also, they may be told to “go to school.”  Too often general advice like this is worse than worthless, because it doesn’t solve the problem.

I’d like to introduce an idea to you.  It’s one that revolutionized my thinking on employment and career management.  It the idea of peripheral v. core employment.*

Peripheral employment is (generally):  “part-time, temporary, contract, vendored, and/or outsourced ’employees’ who are generally paid a fixed wage, salary or lump sum, are partially or not at all covered by fringe benefits, and have little or no training, development or promotion opportunities.  The peripheral work force also typically does not participate in decision-making through work teams or organizational decentralization, has little performance-based pay or employment security, and receives little business-specific information.”

While core employees, on the other hand, are:  “typically employed full-time, paid a regular salary or wage, covered by fringe benefits, have training, development, and promotion opportunities along well-defined career paths, and participate in decision-making through work teams and a decentralized organization structure.  The core work force is also typically carefully selected, has employment security and some performance-based pay, and is regularly provided information about the business.”

It’s important to make this distinction between core and peripheral employment because it reflects two different views from the employer on how employee compensation should be treated.  Peripheral employees tend to be treated as an expense to the business, while core employees tend to be treated as an investment.  It follows that employers will try to reduce expenses, which doesn’t bode well for peripheral employees.  Employers are also interested in investing to produce higher returns, so core employees should expect the employer to give them greater resources.  So, core employees often have educational and enrichment opportunities that peripheral employees don’t have access to.  Clearly it’s more desirable to be a core employee than a peripheral employee.

You see, I think this idea is what some people are trying to express when they tell you to “get a better job.”  This isn’t necessarily what the advised hears.  Imagine we have someone who is just not making it in a peripheral job.  They come to the conclusion that they need a different job.  So they move from a peripheral job that pay $9.50 an hour with no benefits to another peripheral job that pays $10.00 an hour with no benefits.  It doesn’t get them where they need to go, but it sure feel like they did something.

The issue is that they’re stuck in the peripheral employment treadmill.  Sure $0.50 an hour increase is nice, but what about job security?  What about advancement opportunities and control of their work?  Does it move them further from peripheral employment to core employment?

So, I would like to encourage you to think about your job in terms of peripheral versus core employment, and how you can move from peripheral to core employment.

*  I’m pulling a lot of this info from “The Dual Theory of Human Resource Management and Business Performance: Lessons for HR Executives” by David Lewin. It’s a great read, check it out.

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