One of the indicators of the proverbial generation gap, is the way we look at our job. There was a time when people looked at a job as a means to a living. Putting it quite crudely, thankfully one had a job as that ensured that there was food on the table. As jobs became more readily available, we started to look at a job differently. It was fine to have a job to put food on the table, but it was not good enough.
People’s expectations changed in that they wished to progress in their job and the concept of the career ladder came into being. We measured progress by the way we moved up and down the career ladder. Since career progression was partly associated with the years of seniority in the job, people stayed with their employer for one’s whole working life to move up the career ladder. The job for life became an incentive as it provided security and the possibility of progress.
We had another change with the development in education and the creation of various specialised career paths. People started to look at their job as a means of personal development. We started to seek opportunities to enhance our knowledge with the result that a job with other employers started to appear to be more interesting. Job security was obtained not through seniority in the job but through one’s knowledge. The concept of the job for life started to die a natural death. It is not dead yet, but it is certainly moribund. However the idea of a career for life remained. This helped the idea of a career ladder to survive.
The latest change came when we started to consider the job as a means to a lifestyle. This came about because thanks to social welfare, one is given the means to put some food on the table. As job opportunities increased, job security may have diminished, but employment security increased. Moreover the notion of a lucrative career stopped being associated with just a few professions. As we gave more attention to personal development, we started to realise that that there can be other careers that give us a better sense of self-fulfillment than our present one.
In the meantime we also started to give more attention to what happens to the other half of our life, that is the part of our life when we are not at work. We called it work-life balance. We started to expect our job to fit into our preferred lifestyle and started to move away from jobs which interfered with that lifestyle.
We have had people change their jobs and even their careers as they found the grass to be indeed greener elsewhere. They get more personal satisfaction from doing things which they may have not envisaged as they started their working life. They still get their food on the table. They still feel they are progressing, and they still feel that they are developing professionally. As such they are ticking all the boxes without the need to go up the career ladder.
From an employer perspective this does not sound terribly good news as it makes staff retention very difficult if not even impossible. However we also need to be fair and admit that employers have sought to re-organise and change and that very often led to downsizing, redundancies and job losses.
I believe the challenge for employers is not so much to achieve stability through a career progression process, but to help their staff grow their job by challenging them to enhance their skills and think creatively. This may require a process of unlearning and relearning to be able to reshape the career ladder.
Lawrence Zammit – Director