Taking charge of our Careers

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As a Baby Boomer and a Career Coach I am right in the thick of all things regarding work and careers in the 21st Century.  It is now certain Baby Boomers will stay in the workplace beyond the customary retirement age 62, partly because of their own financial need, but also because they enjoy it, or simply because there is no replacement.   With that sector of the population being the largest, there are fewer and fewer people to take over the mantle of work.  The younger population, those between the ages of 24 and 35 are also a large cohort but they are less inclined to stay in jobs for any length of time.

So what does the world of work look like in the near and perhaps also distant future?  Well, companies are and will continue to downsize….or “right size.”  The same work will still need to get done however and that means companies will have to hire temporary help or contract workers to get the job done.  Studies indicate that only 50% of companies’ workers will be full-time employees.  The rest will be temporary and contract workers.

The implication for companies is that they will have to pro-actively figure out where to put their energies for full-time work.  What part of the company can be outsourced and what part needs to stay central to the operation?   Since Baby Boomers are staying in the workforce longer, simple attrition will not be enough to balance the equation.

Organizations will have to address the issue of career management, also called career mapping.  I believe organizations will be able to remain competitive and productive once they are able to tap into the human potential within the organization.  Experts have been saying this for many years and many organizations claim they do treat their employees very well.  While I don’t doubt the intent, I believe the means need to be addressed.  How does an organization really tap the human potential it has?  Well, it means paying particular attention to employees’ skills, talents, educational background as well as playing to the employees’ strengths.  Marcus Buckingham made a study of employee performance based on focusing on employees’ strengths and discovered that performance is indeed enhanced when the focus is on strengths.   Go to the trouble of finding out each employee’s strengths.  When you place employees in positions where their strengths are being utilized, you will find they are happier, more committed and perform better.  I would even go so far as to say that the organization needs to listen actively to what really is a passion for the employee.  Then leverage that passion in the best fit within the organization.

 The process is to team with employees in determining clear and concise career paths for them.  The result is increased employee engagement, happier and more productive employees and increased profitability.  Other benefits accompany the process as well, including lower turnover and a significant reduction in issues related to safety.  

Indeed, studies have shown that there is a direct relationship between employee engagement and productivity.  Employees stay with their organizations when they believe it is in their self-interest.  In fact, research by Gallup and others shows that engaged employees are more productive. They are more profitable, more customer -focused, safer, and more likely to withstand temptations to leave. The best-performing companies know that an employee engagement improvement strategy linked to the achievement of corporate goals will help them win in the marketplace.

The implication for individuals is also interesting and significant.  Careers look very different now than they once did.  Where once the emphasis was on building a career during our 30s and 40s, now this cohort is leaving the workforce in greater numbers, either to start a family or go back to school.  Where people in their 50s were once starting to wind down their careers, now people in their 60s and 70s are returning to work or pursuing other, new opportunities.  

There are also many new and different types of careers and career paths than there ever were before.  In this too, technology has made our lives more complex and given us more choices.  Peter Drucker, the famed management guru, was quoted in a book entitled “Retire Retirement” by Tamara Erickson:

“In a few hundred years, when history of our time will be written from a long-term perspective, it is likely that the most important event historians will see is not technology, not the Internet, not e-commerce.  It is an unprecedented change in the human condition.  For the first time − literally − substantial and rapid growing numbers of people have choices.  For the first time, they will have to manage themselves.”

The younger generation has understood this and is continuously exercising those choices. Organizations will therefore have to be constantly on the ball in order to maintain and keep their interest.

So where does this leave the organization?  One way is to empower employees to be responsible for their own performance and career path.  This does not imply leaving them to their own devices, but rather teaming with them to help them discover their true career path.  Ultimately, employees engaged in this process will learn to identify and/or revive their passion and commitment to the organization in a manner that supports getting the “right” person in the “right” position or circumstances for mutual success.

If in the process this means some employees will leave the organization, so be it.  In the long run, the employees that stay will be there because it is right for them to be there.  Their contribution to the organization can only benefit both parties.  

Danielle Silverman, MBA, M.A., BCC , Associate with MCO Business Group Inc.

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