Defining careers in today’s workplace

Flexible schedules. Remote positions. Temp and contract work.

Careers today, especially in the case of Millennials, are a patchwork of short-term and transactional employment situations. Resumes are less likely to feature one or two long tenures at established organizations and far more likely to feature an array of positions, often concurrent with one another, of every shape and size and in every kind of organization. Even significant gaps in employment, once considered the largest hiring red flag of all, are becoming not just accepted but nearly expected.

Of course, this poses major challenges for employers. Identifying the right investments to make when it comes to employee retention, succession planning, training, and development is now much more difficult. The trick is to balance investments in developing a core group of the most promising, exclusive employees, with investments in your flexible and fluid talent pool of
non-exclusive employees.


Everybody is a special case

But here’s the trap to avoid: there is no cookie-cutter solution for identifying which investments to make in which employees. That’s true whether you’re considering someone’s employment situation or their generation. You must tap into the unique wants, needs, anxieties, and career hopes of every individual.

Job security has been dead for some time now. Career paths are built on a growing portfolio of short-term transactional employment relationships of varying scope and duration.

Employers must never forget that most employees work because they must. They work to support themselves and their families. Most are pursuing intermediate and longer-term security, but today that plan is rarely contingent upon a long-term relationship with one particular employer. Very few employees look at one employer as the primary source of their long-term career security, much less their long-term economic security.

The promise (implied or even explicit) of long-term vesting rewards from employers is no longer enough to get employees to perform today. Employees are less willing to follow orders, work harder, and contribute their best today in exchange for vague promises about what they might get in five or ten years. Who knows where they’ll be in five or ten years? There is simply too much uncertainty.

Managers today are always in danger of losing good people. People come and go. People move around internally. These factors militate against continuity in working relationships. Sometimes those who are least likely to leave are the hardest to manage. Everybody is a special case.


Offer employees what matters

Those old-fashioned, long-term promises used to do most of the managing for leaders, or at least ensured that the best and most dedicated employees would stick around and do their jobs. The short-term, transactional nature of employment today means that managing people has become an ongoing, sometimes daily, negotiation. That is high maintenance!

At the same time, most managers, like most everybody else, are being asked to do more with less. They have more of their own non-management tasks and responsibilities, increased administrative burdens, and growing managerial spans of control. Often, they are managing employees working on different schedules or in different locations. And managers depend more and more on people in other workgroups and departments to get things done. With so much resource and process streamlining there is growing interdependency in almost everybody’s work. Everything we do now involves a lot of moving parts—we depend on so many other people—all the time.

However, the solution to undermanagement is not to put teams in charge of managing themselves. The solution is what we call highly-engaged management: consistent engagement in ongoing, high-structure, content-rich one-on-one dialogues about the work between managers and direct reports. When managers maintain high-quality one-on-ones with their direct reports, they almost always increase employee performance and morale, increase retention of high performers and turnover among low performers, and achieve significant measurable improvements in business outcomes.

Resisting the transactional nature of employment won’t make things any better. So, go with the flow. Work with employees and find ways to make their unique career ambitions possible in your organization.

Don’t just offer remote work for entry-level jobs aimed at young employees. You may find that the employees nearing retirement in your organization are more interested in working from home than the new young employees eager to prove their worth and make their mark. Don’t just offer training opportunities to your most promising, exclusively employed people. Consider offering training to your temps and contractors—because they will remember, and seek you out for work in the future (maybe even as a permanent, long-term arrangement.)


We can help you navigate the new hybrid workforce.

The challenges in each organization are a special case, just like each person is a special case.

We can help:

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