From the Dallas Business Journal, September 3, 2010
Recent unemployment statistics show hiring trends continue to be weak, while the Conference Board’s consumer confidence indicator plummeted at the beginning of the summer after three consecutive months of gains.
Not surprisingly, that private research group’s findings point to concerns about jobs as greatly affecting consumer confidence. American workers are worried about finding jobs, yet I’m thinking about keeping jobs.
As the president of a small business, I have witnessed behavior that is incongruent with keeping a job. I am concerned at the lack of personal responsibility in today’s workplace. Too frequently, I encounter an attitude of entitlement, an expectation that everything is owed to the individual with little regard of the consequences to the organization, and a lack of dedication to doing the job right.
The relationship between employer and employee has changed. The U.S. workplace was once a place where people were guaranteed a job for life along with health care benefits and a pension. The company provided on-the-job training and determined a career path for employees. In the past couple of decades, increased international and domestic competition has made paternalistic employment an anachronism. The private sector has cut defined pension plans and jobs to survive in a global economy.
This changes the game for employees, increasing the probability that they will work for multiple companies and therefore assume the responsibility for their career management and retirement.
We were supposed to begin to learn about the notion of personal responsibility as children, although for many of us this lesson was either overlooked or forgotten. When it comes to the direction of our careers, too often we want to hand the decision-making to our employer, relying on our management to provide training, grant new assignments or push careers in a different direction.
Here’s the bottom line: Your employer, government, family, church or friends can’t solve the complex, protracted career issues we all face, such as how many jobs — or even careers — you have until you retire. Indeed, will you be able to retire? When? You can get some assistance along the way, but in the end you must become the master of your fate.
Perhaps we resist the responsibility to control our own destinies because we are afraid of the unknown and don’t want to get out of our comfort zones. We like the expected. Repetition and comfort are the order of the day, especially when we can get paid for it.
Complacency, though, can kill a job and derail a career. If our instincts were tuned to self-preservation, they would direct us toward change and evolution with our careers and not to cling to what we did yesterday.
To be productive workers in a global economy, we must distrust the status quo and embrace change. Fortunately, there are things we can do to prevent ourselves from becoming anachronisms within our own careers.
Perhaps the biggest adjustment is that of attitude. An entrepreneurial outlook is the key. Take personal responsibility for your own success; define it and work toward it. Think of ways to make yourself more valuable to your employer by identifying a way to add value and then make it happen.
It’s important that we become life-long learners on the job. Get additional training on your own to acquire new skills and keep your brain nimble. Discover new ways to do things. Be curious, ask questions. And read — consider trading in that best-seller for a book about your industry or global economics.
Finally, understand that our world is more complex and nuanced than at any other time. Answers aren’t easy. There are trade-offs to everything. However, an informed and educated mind is perhaps the best tool we have to navigate into the unknown.
Many reading this may think the case is overstated. Perhaps they believe economic recovery has taken hold and employment will soon be more secure. Others may point to the high unemployment rates, continued stock market volatility and the European debt crisis as evidence that happy days aren’t here again.
The old joke states that a recession is when your neighbor is out of work, while a depression is when you are out of work.
Regardless of whether you see the economy as recovering or sputtering, one thing is clear — there has never been a better or more critical time to assume personal responsibility for your own career.
James Thompson is president of The InSource Group. He can be reached at JT@insourcegroup.com.