A change of pace
The road to retirement isn't as simple as it once was...
By Roxy Greef in Balanced Life Issue 96, October 2019
RESEARCH SHOWS that the average person these days will change careers from four to six times. If you’re like us, your career path probably looks vastly different from that of your grandparents, or even your parents. They typically began working somewhere straight out of school or university, and then continued to work there until their retirement.
So if it worked for them, why isn’t it working for us? Why are we not only swapping companies, but entire careers multiple times in our working lives? We turned to organisational psychologist and career and life coach Ann Werner for the answers to these burning questions.
MAPPING THE CAREER CYCLE Going back to the Middle Ages, Ann explains, there wasn’t really as much scope for a choice in your career as there is now. ‘You simply picked up what your family did for a living,’ she explains. During this time, families spanning many cultures took on the names for their work as their surnames as they moved from subsistence living into providing for communities.
During this initial career revolution, as well as during and after both World Wars, ‘working was a means of survival and the support of family, so hanging on to any job was important,’ stresses Ann. Between the ’50s and the ’80s, the need to work for your basic survival was not as strong as before and people enjoyed stability in the job market. Ann explains: ‘Often these businesses or organisations had a strong hierarchy of top-down leadership, with the leaders having the power owing to information available. As employees worked their way up in the organisation, they grew in experience and had greater access to this valuable information.’ This is why it was necessary to give all your working years to one company. Tenure was necessary for the survival of the organisations themselves, which is why employees were offered those attractive old-school retirement rewards, pensions and grand golden handshakes (large payments made to employees whose jobs had become redundant or who retired early). But this structure wasn’t to last… ‘As technology grew and information could flow with increased communication, knowledge was not held by senior roles only, and all employees could catch on to new projects and ideas sooner; hierarchies became flatter and leadership was shared,’ Ann expands.
Nowadays, instead of learning new skills as you go along and working your way to new positions at a company, many businesses have structures involving small teams who are employed because of the particular set of skills they already have. ‘The value of staff depends on what they can offer the market at that time,’ says Ann. ‘Because they are involved in shorter projects, rather than long-term employment, they are exposed to more variety, which feeds their own growth and skill base, making them more valuable to a greater variety of organisations.’
There seems to be a rift between employers and employees, which is marring that once-symbiotic relationship between them. ‘The employee wants to grow, develop and upskill,’ continues Ann, ‘while employers need to keep an eye on future trends and need to employ those who already have the skills for new work, while other work becomes redundant.’
The careerscape has been said to be ‘VUCA’, says Ann. Volatile. Uncertain. Complex. Ambiguous. And the many complexities of human management are only becoming more difficult for companies. ‘Baby boomers appreciate loyalty, structure and the steady pace of change. Generation X understands the needs and changeability of the millennial workplace, but also still yearns for stability. Millennials themselves aspire to change, development, advancement and a good work-life balance.’
With all of these players on the board, it’s no wonder the workplace has often become a space lacking in security for at least one of these kinds of employees at some point or another.
CAREER TRANSITION TRENDS
Ann outlines five trends that are helping employees thrive in this VUCA world:
THE QUARTER-LIFE CRISIS
People in the 25–35 age group are not likely to stay in a career that they find untenable.’ The crisis comes in when it becomes increasingly difficult for this group to come to terms with the fact that they have worked so hard at university or an apprenticeship only to find that their path is unsuitable for them. ‘Owing to longevity and that fight for meaning and purpose so important to millennials, they will seek out alternate careers where at all possible.’
Ann has also found that employees are tired of lining someone else’s pockets, and also of using their experience to upskill new co-workers, essentially working themselves out of their own positions. More and more people are remedying this by heading out on their own.
Many find that they want to be able to find that elusive balance between family care and work and opt to do freelance work to provide more flexibility.’
NOT WORKING AT WORK
Others may find the long commute to work is holding them back. This has led to an increase in employees working from home or from a work hub, where you can rent a cubicle with reliable internet access close to where you live.
While not so prevalent in SA at the moment, Ann assures us that this new trend is making waves overseas. In order to not only spread employment opportunities, but also to allow their employees to have more time to themselves, companies hire more people than they need all to do the same work, but in shifts.
NAVIGATING YOUR OWN CAREER TRANSITION
‘At the outset, and early in one’s career, it is always a good idea to write down your life values and objectives,’ is Ann’s first piece of advice. ‘Do this from a personal and a career perspective, as well as from a financial and non-financial perspective.’
Once you have done this, it makes it easier later on when you are anticipating a big career change, to refer back to your notes to remind yourself who you are, what you strive for and what meaning your work gives you. Ann also advises that you consider all variables before moving on to something new. ‘At times, moves for status or financial gain may work against those things you first sought out to achieve, and could be a bad choice.’
It is also important to pause and assess your feelings. Is the allure of a new career path really at the core of the matter, or is the new job merely a scapegoat allowing you to sidestep dealing with your other personal issues? ‘Give yourself time to reassess honestly and compassionately before jumping into a sudden change,’ Ann advises.
Once you have decided that a new career path is really what you need, Ann offers the following imperative guidance:
Seek out someone who can help you transition. Often, an objective perspective can highlight important factors you had not previously considered.’
Remember to give time to positions that don’t automatically seem to fit. Give it a chance before rapidly jumping again.’
f you are jumping to a senior level and an increased salary, ‘bear in mind what is being learnt in the process. It is important to learn some of the junior steps you may have skipped and have a better idea of smaller roles prior to taking on bigger ones. Otherwise, your new position may leave you lacking in confidence and skills, with a reduced sense of self-esteem triggered by the perceived inadequacy.’