Some journeys are easy: you get on one train and sit for hours until you reach the destination. Others, substantially more difficult: multiple changes, some at tiny stations where you’re sat in the rain for half an hour, then a tree blocking the line. And carrying heavy bags. Sometimes there’s a tradeoff: a longer journey with less changes, or a shorter one that requires more planning and potential disruption. An easy analogy for life.
In the Social Age, the nature of work is changing: career is no longer served out in one company, with carefully structured pathways and clear boundaries. Instead, we lurch between employed and unemployed, freelance and volunteer, all the while connected to the communities and networks that smooth the journey. But with the lack of overall structure, it’s easy to focus on the here and now at the cost of the overall journey. With nobody mapping out the track, with no clarity about where you will be in two years time, how can we develop the essential skills and experience that we need, or is ‘career‘ now always destined to be opportunistic and reactive?
There are arguments both ways: some organisations experiment with putting you in post and seeing how you fit, learning on the job. Others plan rigorous training (indeed, may legally have to train you), but it’s all short term and ‘now‘. If you want to be a leader, aren’t there some skills and experience that can help you before you get there? But if ‘there‘ isn’t going to be ‘here‘, are ‘here‘ going to support you on the journey?
I think we need to support and encourage this thinking early on: when i was speaking to a friend in her twenties yesterday, in a good job and well respected at work, i asked her if she was ready for redundancy. She was mortified, never thinking that she would be asked to leave (but this very week half of another team there are losing their jobs). I’ve worked with people whose lives collapse when the organisation takes their job away, because they don’t have their foundations spread out into the community. They can’t see the wood for the trees. They can’t see another path.
I think the responsibility lies both with individuals to recognise the changing nature of work, but also with the socially responsible business to engage in open and honest ways. Because, after all, being made redundant or moving between contracts is not the end. We move through the market like ghosts, coming back to work freelance, getting another contract, engagement over time.
As the Social Age of working and learning evolves, everyone has to change. As employees, as individuals, we need to occasionally broaden our perspective and look around, asking if we are fit for the future as well as the present. As organisations we have to ask if there is value in engaging in open and honest ways with people and developing them for a future that may not be with us, or at least may not be in the next two years.