Seeing beyond the myths about career trends

May 04, 2011 Barbara Moses, Ph.D

Globe & Mail

Barbara Moses, Ph.D, is an international speaker, work/life expert, and best-selling author of Dish: Midlife Women Tell the Truth About Work, Relationships, and the Rest of Life.

Globe & Mail

Barbara Moses, Ph.D, is an international speaker, work/life expert, and best-selling author of Dish: Midlife Women Tell the Truth About Work, Relationships, and the Rest of Life.

People frequently forward me breathless mass e-mails they receive from work experts describing what people need to do now, and in the near future, to adapt to changing career trends.

If these prognosticators are right you will soon be changing careers as often as we have federal elections and, if you are not completely passionate about your work, you will be lost in tomorrow’s workplace.
Judging from the cover notes accompanying these forwarded e-mails (“Pretty scary stuff we and our kids have to deal with”) people take these missives seriously.

As with many trend predictions, there is occasionally a kernel of truth in them. But at best, most are half-truths and, at worst, cartoon-like overstatements stretched to the limit.

Here are some common statements of the trend predictors – what “they” say – and the reality.

People will have seven to nine careers

The implication is that people will be constantly reinventing themselves – today, a hairdresser, tomorrow, a lawyer, next year, a florist. In fact, people will not be moving willy-nilly between different occupations.

Undoubtedly, at one end of the spectrum, some people will make career shifts, reconfiguring existing skills into new work packages. For example, a teacher might become a trainer and then a designer of adult-education programs.

More commonly, people will continue to do what they have long been doing: They will move up the ladder or make lateral moves inside or outside their organization, or leave their job to set up their own business.

What is true is that people have become more mobile. It is now widely understood that at certain periods of life, typically at mid or later career stages, people may want to stretch themselves in new ways, whether through a career shift or a change of employer.

When someone does move to a new employer, it will often be with the understanding that they are pursuing a better opportunity but they not necessarily saying goodbye forever – they might want to come back in a few years with an enhanced skills portfolio.

You should be passionate about your work.

True enough: if you hate your job, you will be miserable. But loving your work is not a requirement for a happy and satisfying life. For many, it is enough to have a pleasant job that provides a modest sense of accomplishment, while still having time and energy for family or personal interests.

Everyone needs to have certain competencies

Most organizations have competency profiles – depictions of ideal skills and behaviours – which employees are told they should possess. If they don’t demonstrate one of these desired competencies, they are told it is a weakness that requires improvement.

But people are not made of modelling clay. We are the product of our genes, socialization and experiences. We all have strengths and proclivities. What this means: It is better to become better at something you already are than to twist yourself into trying, with minimal success, to become something you are not.

Young workers are obsessed with work/life balance

My research from my online career assessment tool shows little difference between older and younger workers in their desire for balance. The major difference between the generations is how they act on their desires. For example, an older worker annoyed by a request that eats into personal time might grudgingly acquiesce or beg off with a reasonable excuse, such as a doctor’s appointment. A younger worker is more likely to say: “Can’t do it. I’m meeting my friend at the gym.”

Older workers are not valued

This is somewhat true, especially for mid and later career men in the manufacturing, finance and other sectors who lost their jobs during the last recession and now find it difficult to re-establish themselves. But with pending retirements leading to skills shortages, smart employers are developing a new appreciation for older workers. They are more open to hiring and retaining them, and will increasingly try to keep them happy. At the same time, older workers, no matter how productive, will not be valued as much as younger workers, who will continue to get star treatment.

You should know what you want to do

At various points in their career, people may agonize over the question “What do I want to do with my life?” This is not a sign of weakness but of growth, and the ability to live with uncertainty. There is nothing wrong with you if you don’t know what you want to do.

Upgrading your education always pays career dividends

This is usually true if you are in your late twenties and into your thirties. But if you are an older worker, going back to school will likely not produce the same career rewards, especially if you take into account the costs of tuition, lost income and personal time.

Why won’t it? Education is of often used by employers as a bookmark for potential. But an older worker already has a track record that speaks for what he or she is capable of.

This doesn’t mean you should forget upgrading: It does pay psychic dividends. In my research, I found that going back to school was one of the most cited sources of satisfaction among mid-life women who completed a degree or got another new qualification later in life.

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