Isn’t it reasonable to expect to find an employer that looks out for your interests? Fat chance.
Graduating from college and entering the career world can come as a shock.
If you were lucky, your parents and teachers set tasks, rewarded success and protected you as best they could from anything scary that threatened during the last 18 years, providing a stable, reliable world. Then you went to college, and things might have gotten a bit wilder, but in many ways they also stayed remarkably similar –your professors set assignments and gave out grades while TAs and phone calls (and checks) from the parents protected you from many of the world’s ups and downs.
Now you’re out on your own and looking for your job. Isn’t it reasonable to expect to find an employer that looks out for your interests, directs your efforts and rewards your successes at least a little like those surrounding you in your early life did? Isn’t that, after all, what the employee-employer compact is all about?
Fat chance. Several decades ago, workers might have been able to trade hard work and loyalty for a job that provided security, advancement and a modicum of security from life’s strongest storms – but not anymore.
According to London Business School professor Lynda Gratton, author of a new book entitled The Shift: The Future of Work Is Already Here, new career realities demand we give up our dreams of a sheltering employer that protects us like children and face up to the fact that we all need to grow up. She recently wrote in Forbes:
We are in the midst of an industrial revolution greater than the world has ever seen with all the turbulence, the challenges and the opportunities that previous revolutions have brought. Partly as a result of this, it seems to me that the relationship between companies and their employees is undergoing a fundamental shift. All over the world the old Parent to Child relationship is moving towards a potentially more balanced Adult to Adult relationship.
So what does that mean for young careerists struggling to come to terms with this new reality of work? How does acknowledging that your employer these days is in no way like your mom change how you approach your working life? Gratton offers some suggestions in The Wall Street Journal:
Temper tantrums don’t change reality. Make the tough choices. Is the current reality harsh? Sure, it is. American workers face a tough economy and stiff competition from abroad as well as from ever more efficient and intelligent technology. But covering your eyes, whining and bitching, and generally refusing to accept reality doesn’t change that.
“Being a young graduate in a country with near-zero growth is not pleasant and we know the psychological scarring this experience can leave. Context can indeed be overwhelming and it can feel as if there are no real options against which choices can be made,” Gratton writes, but “it is crucial to see choices even in these potentially more restricted contexts.”
Don’t let yourself pretend that a lack of good and easy choices is the same thing as no choices at all.
Stop waiting for someone to explain the assignment and direct your own development. In this new world, you need to set your own assignments and direct your own development because making it in a tough market is all about building skills. You need to ensure you keep learning.
“Good work provides opportunities to do exciting and stretching work with talented peers,” Gratton writes. “Bad work may pay well but in the long term erodes your intellectual capital.”
Don’t be a baby about saving and retirement. Our parents and grandparents may have had long-term employers looking out for them in their golden years, but Gen Y is unlikely to be offered these same sort of benefits.
Be realistic about this and look out for yourself. Gratton suggests most of us have three options: “Build a career that enables you to work longer (at least into your late 60s or early 70s), be prepared (like the Chinese who save around 40 percent of their income) to save a significant proportion of your income throughout your working life, [or] consider ways to reduce your consumption and live more simply.”
What do you think of Gratton’s prescriptions? Are they strong but necessary medicine for young people who are often in denial about career realities – or overly cruel?
London-based Jessica Stillman blogs about generational issues and trends in the workforce for Inc.com and GigaOM.