I always expected to have a job, by which I mean a permanent employment contract for a large organisation. That was the way of my parents and my grand-parents and I never really gave it any thought. It’s just what you did.
‘Having a job’ was a lazy shorthand for having a particular lifestyle and set of circumstances. If you worked in a large organisation and got promoted to a reasonable level of seniority, it could be a very pleasant package. It’s been a winning combination for millions for people for several decades but the world of work has changed and it’s ubiquity is coming to an end.
For people of my age, no longer having a J.O.B. is a bit of a shock and we are unprepared for the consequences. For the millennial entering the workforce today, it’s simply a choice and they are choosing to work differently. We need to deconstruct the J.O.B. and figure out what it really gives us so that we understand what it is we are missing out on.
So this is my ‘tear down’ of the J.O.B. into it’s component parts.
The most obvious and visible elements are the benefits package of salary, pension, holiday and sick pay etc., and the financial security (arguably this is more of a perception than a reality today) These are the things everyone recognises and focuses on but there’s a lot more stuff hidden under the cover.
The two biggest components are the way that a J.O.B. meets our fundamental needs for belonging and connection. You are part of an organisation, you belong to a group of people who are engaged in an endeavour that is greater than you. By virtue of that, you have connection to that group of people. If you love your job, you will feel these strongly.
The J.O.B, gives you a frame of reference, it provides anchors for you. It’s not just where and when you work and with who but always what you work on, what’s relevant and what’s not.
Also, because you belong to an organisation, you have position and status. People know how to relate to you and you to them.
You are surrounded with information, both the formal stuff from memos, reports, library resources and so on; and the informal information you pick up from colleagues, customers, suppliers. You are ‘in the loop’ and half the time you probably aren’t even aware you are picking stuff up.
You are also surrounded with activity and that gives you opportunities, to learn, to do what you are good at, to do new things and develop yourself. It’s all around you, you just have to be aware.
You are part of a hierarchy, in fact, several hierarchies. As well as the formal org chart you will be in other groups where you have a position. It’s easy to reference yourself against your peers and judge whether you are where you’d like to be.
Those peers are a ready source of advice and are you sounding boards, giving you the opportunity to test out and develop ideas in a safe space before sharing them with the world.
They may also become your ‘gang of mates’, a peer group of like minds who help each other and watch each other’s backs. You will also have many other relationships of different types, throughout and beyond the organisation.
You have an identity in the organisation, you represent it and are expected to reflect it’s brand. This isn’t you but it’s probably a version of you, as you are likely to have some alignment with the organisation’s values (otherwise it becomes quiet stressful over time).
These components that we so often take for granted aren’t just ‘nice to haves’, they address many of our core psychological needs as human beings. It’s no wonder that losing a job can throw people off-balance and leave them floundering. It also explains why young people can struggle to find their feet in the early stages of their working careers.
We need to make sure we are finding a way to source all of these components so that we are meeting our needs and can lead happy and fulfilling lives, whether we have a J.O.B. or not. Even if we are in employment, it is smart to make sure we have other sources for these outside the organisation and outside of work. This gives us independence and resilience and the ability to thrive in the very different working landscape of today and the future.
We need to stop relying on the lazy shorthand of the J.O.B. and take conscious actions to meet our needs. There’s lots of different ways of putting these components together to create alternatives. In fact, the possibilities are enormous. It’s like having a huge lego set for life. Let’s get creative and play!
Hat-tip to Andy Swann and his project on redefining work for prompting this blog
Image courtesy of Stux