slide image

Sovereign Work

By Peter Weddle, CEO TAtech

The conventional wisdom is that in today’s upside-down talent world, working from home is table stakes in talent acquisition. It’s not. At least, it’s not the total bet you need to make to be successful at recruiting and retaining high caliber new hires. That truism is the conceptual foundation for sovereign work.

There’s been plenty of commentary about the tectonic shift in what workers want – and expect – from their employment experience. A recent post in the Financial Post, for example, reported on a Slack Technologies Inc. survey which found that 94 percent of “desk workers” want flexibility in when they work, while 80 percent say they want the same degree of freedom in choosing where they do their jobs. In other words, the vast majority of these white-collar workers aren’t looking just for flexibility from their employers; they also want authority. They want to control the manner in which they get their work done.

But, what about everyone else? A recent McKinsey report found that 41 percent of all workers aren’t able to work whenever and wherever they want. They’re the truck drivers and rail engineers, doctors and nurses, teachers and child care workers, cops and fire fighters, cooks and waiters, manufacturing and warehouse workers, pilots and flight attendants and everyone else considered an essential worker during the pandemic. Given that 87 percent of the entire workforce would like to have the option to work remotely or more flexibly, that includes many of these “deskless workers” as well.

What do these data mean for employers?

First, today’s workers want more control over their employment experience. McKinsey describes this new dynamic as a desire for autonomy. I think a better description is sovereign work. Workers want to be the masters of their own lives, including that portion they devote to their jobs. And second, this shift in outlook is permanent. It is a new cultural norm that profoundly alters the way employers successfully accomplish talent acquisition. If an organization only employs desk workers, it has to do more than simply offer working from home if it wants to recruit and retain top talent. And if an organization hires deskless workers, it must find a way to offer them a similar degree of independence even if they can’t work remotely.

The facts! In a talent market that is more competitive and less understood than at any other time in history, it’s the facts that matter most. And TAtech’s biweekly Start Smart podcast focuses on the facts. Join me, my cohost, Shelia Gray, VP of Global Talent Acquisition at Quadient, and our guest Stephen O’Donnell, TAtech Chief Growth Officer, as we examine the findings from the latest talent acquisition research and explore their implications for recruiters and job seekers. This week, we discuss a recent report from market research firm Aspect 43 entitled “The Talent Acquisition Technology 2022 Market Guide.” We’ve called our conversation “The Times They Are a-Changin’” because the report describes a major transformation in both the talent market and the role of technology in talent acquisition.

So, what is sovereign work? In some respects, it’s easer to describe what it isn’t. It isn’t the independence sought by gig workers. They aren’t looking to be Me, Inc. And, it also isn’t a rejection of working in the office. In fact, in the McKinsey report, 87 percent of the workers in the survey said they would be happy working remotely three days a week on average, which means of course, that they would be willing to be in the office two days a week. But, here’s the critical difference – whether it’s a data scientist working on a customer project or a McDonald’s shift worker – they want to have the advance information they need from their employer to plan and direct their personal life in conjunction with their work life. They want to be the one who is making the decisions about how they will meet their employment obligations.

So, sovereign work is created by workforce and workplace policies that enable all workers – desk-bound and deskless – to rule the way work is integrated into their lives. But, as significant a change as that will be in many organizations, it’s not enough. Sovereign work also requires a change in organizational culture. It can only be realized if an employer shifts its view of employment from that of a contract between two unequal parties – the all controlling employer and the subservient individual worker – to that of a compact between two equal parties – an organization with work to be done and workers who will perform that work … in a way that works for the employer and for them.

Not all employers will be able to make that leap, of course. But those that do – those that make an authentic shift and then brand themselves accordingly – will have a powerful advantage in the contest for high caliber new hires. They will offer a value proposition that aligns with what workers want – to be the sovereign of their own talent.

Food for Thought,

Peter Weddle is the author or editor of over two dozen books and a former columnist for The Wall Street Journal. He is also the founder and CEO of TAtech: The Association for Talent Acquisition Solutions. You can download his latest book – The Neonaissance – FOR FREE at And, if you don't have time to read the entire book, just download a short excerpt of his inspirational message.