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What Do You Want To Do When You Grow Up? (Reprise)

When is it time to wear a new hat?

There is an old joke that most stand-up comedians have “borrowed” from time to time which goes something like this: “Adults are always asking little kids what they want to be when they grow up because they’re looking for ideas.” The original is attributed to comic Paula Poundstone. I have heard it from other sources and even borrowed it myself on occasion. The truth is that even though we may become an adult we actually never settle on what we really want to do. Think that is just my opinion? Think again. A BLS Economic News Release last September on Employment Tenure showed that the median number of years that wage and salary workers had been with their current employer was 4.6 years. Doing the math, this means that the average person will have 7-10 jobs in a lifetime. That median number had increased from 4.1 years in 2008 and 4.4 in 2010, but the increase is not an indication that employees have suddenly become more loyal to their employers. Job losses in the current economic environment have had an impact in two direct ways: (1) There are fewer opportunities for employees to better themselves due to the lack of private sector job growth; (2) Workers are reluctant to give up the safety net of the status quo and cling to their job with almost paranoid fear of the unknown…and sometimes their employer. There is a dual concern with this trend.

  • First and foremost, those of us who have chosen to manage the most unmanageable corporate resource, people, must deal with the fact that whatever programs are in place as a result of assumed employee loyalty are probably at best only a guess. Many employees are merely going through the motions because of fear, not duty. They have lived through crisis after crisis where co-workers have seemingly been dismissed at random and they are more likely to listen to the rumor mill than management. The toughest thing any HR person will have to do is to manage a layoff in the proper way. It is easy to touch all the bases legally without remembering that we are also touching people’s lives. Compassion is not on the checklist. Just when we think we are doing it right, the rumor mill informs everyone of some employee banished into oblivion because of a random political decision and all our work begins again. We can take some comfort in the fact that not all employees are dwelling on the negative side of things, but we also know the reality that the most proficient of our workers have a median life expectancy of 4.6 years and there will always be a churn of talent.
  • The secondary concern about this trend is that job seekers in today’s market can only expect to have a long range plan of 4.6 years. This can actually be good or bad news. It is actually better to know that “Be Prepared” is not just the Boy Scout motto. If we know the end point of a journey it is easier to plot the course to arrive there. Preparing a resume does not begin in 4.59 years. It is a continuous process of refinement and upgrading. Networking must be a life process as essential as breathing. We must be looking into the professional mirror regularly to primp and make-up shortcomings with education, skill enhancement and initiative. The downside…the scary side of this trend…is that we may not only be faced with 7-10 jobs in a lifetime, but several career changes along the way as well. A constant re-evaluation of priorities and self analysis is not easy to do, but we need to decide what we want to do when we grow up a little more. There won’t be anyone asking us those questions or making us do it. This is why it is called “self” analysis and “self” discipline.

I had seen this BLS report some time ago when it was pushed to my email. I skimmed through it and promptly filed it in some cranial hold file. I recently re-discovered it while doing some research on generational differences (stay tuned for more on this). There are some other interesting statistics in this report which go beyond the median scores, but there is not a lot of depth other than to report gender and age differentials in summary format. Probably a good read as a starting point for anyone interested in this topic.


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Video courtesy of Meyocks Group Agency
Use: ADDY Awards intro
Description: Spoof of Monster’s “When I Grow Up” campaign