The Career Balance

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I'm conducting new primary research with people who make significant career changes. For some, this could mean self-employment, for others a change in direction, perhaps even a return to what they always wanted to do before a corporate career took them down a different path.

What I've discovered so far has some interesting implications for anyone wanting to change career, and also HR professionals who want to increase retention.

It seems that people prefer corporate jobs because of money and security, and people prefer to be self employed because of independence and freedom. You probably think there's no surprise in that, so here's the important point: What people want from work, and what people get are two different things.

This has a huge bearing on whether you are doing what you really want to be doing, versus something which pays the bills and gives you security and the lifestyle that you want.

Logically, it should be perfectly possible to achieve both.

My feeling is that the rewards associated with employment create dependency, and dependency creates resistance. Whether you're doing a job that you enjoy or not, depending on an employer to enable you to support your family is risky, and we see examples every week of businesses collapsing - Thomas Cook, for example.

Some people manage this risk by becoming self employed. Self employment is of course no more or less risky than employment, but at least the person feels that they are in control. Other people manage this risk with 'portfolio careers', so that they are not as dependent on any one employer.

The CIPD is placing its emphasis on the future of work, and the definition of 'good work'. Maybe we also need to define what we mean by a 'good worker'.

HR professionals are often tasked with increasing retention, but actually this isn't really what the business wants, for two reasons.

First, the business really wants continuity of production. Retention of staff is one way to achieve that, automation is another.

Second, the business wants innovation, which is contributed to by staff turnover.

When you left school, you had a very limited concept of what the world of work looked like. You knew that there were teachers, bus drivers, doctors, nurses, firemen, soldiers, policemen and astronauts. And yes, there are gender stereotypes in there. Now you know that there are recycling operatives, C++ developers, territory sales managers, research assistants, journalists, ambassadors, marine biologists, tree surgeons and lab technicians. Logically, there are many jobs that people don't plan to get into, but they find themselves in the right place at the right time, or perhaps the wrong place at the wrong time, and they fall into a job which is OK for a while, and pays the bills, and before they know it, they are too far in to change direction.

After some years, this person reaches the point where something happens in their life which enables them to switch back to what they always wanted to do in the first place. Interestingly, in coaching, I find that the majority of corporate employees who want to make a significant career change want to be artists, writers, performers, dancers, or something of that nature. What do all of these have in common? They are all about self expression, perhaps the self expression that they feel is stifled in the corporate environment, where conformity is valued over individuality.

The career balance is therefore the point at which this switch flips, at which the person breaks free of the corporate prison that they feel trapped within. When does this change take place? Can we accelerate that point of change? If we could, what benefits would that bring for the employer and the employee?

First, the employee would feel more strongly aligned with what they want out of life.

Second, if the employee is going to change careers, they would do that sooner rather than later.

Both of these increase engagement, and have an impact on retention. Too often, HR professionals are pressured to focus on retention at any cost, but retention of the right people is far more important.

The time it takes for someone to cross the career balance point has a direct impact on engagement, with the employee becoming more actively disengaged the closer they get to that point. If we could help them to get there faster, we would have more people in the right jobs, engaged and productive, and more people happy and engaged in their work.

I would greatly value your contribution to my research, so please take a few minutes to complete the survey here:

https://genius.li/careersurvey

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