Once upon a time, there existed a power called ‘Permanent Job.’ This was no ordinary thing. Those who didn’t have it desired it. Those who had it protected it at all cost. It inspired admiration as well as envy alike.
However, times have changed.
Fast forward to present — one cradle-to-grave job won’t work anymore.
So what changed? Is it all just because of digitization and increasing competitiveness? Or is there something more intricate at play here?
Why do we work?
Before venturing into the field of what guides our choices of work, first and foremost we must understand why we work.
Why is it that we forsake the pleasure of sleeping in late, trudge our way through hours of traffic, and go to that same place every day to do that same thing over and over again? (I’m aware of the fortunate few whose job description involves travelling the world or tasting exclusive wines. Let’s focus on the majority here.)
Of course we’ve got to earn in order to live. But, surprisingly, the sway that money holds over people’s motivation varies significantly from person to person. A serial entrepreneur who made his fortune in his first venture sits through tiring board meetings for some reason. A young boy whose father owns a well-to-do groceries store got into coding for some reason.
Barry Schwartz offers an intriguing answer.
The very shape of the institution within which people work creates people who are fitted to the demands of that institution.
Even though things such as working 14–15 hours a day, giving up autonomy, and accepting stress as a culture may not be desirable in an ideal job, but once people become a part of the workforce, they start getting accustomed to the environment they work in. What starts as a requirement to earn living becomes a way of life.
So why not stick to just one job?
Well, several people still do work with the same organization for years, maybe even decades.
What has ended is the concept of one cradle-to-grave job. Aside from the obvious reasons, here are the key catalysts of change:
1. Longevity is Transforming Corporate Landscape
Average life expectancy has increased in past few years, and as the trend continues, its implications will keep manifesting. Retiring at the age of 62–65 is becoming difficult. With increasing working lives, it’s impossible to stick to one cradle-to-grave job approach.
2. Search for Meaning is Turning the Tables
It is often observed that individuals even opt for pay cuts to choose a job they find more suitable. They must be out of their minds to do so, right? Well, in reality, money is not enough to make us feel good about our work. Dan Ariely explains this with beautiful examples. A sense of purpose and constant progress is what most of us look for. If it’s possible for an employee to find these perks in a job, they are most likely to grab it and switch.
When the psychiatrist Viktor Frankl highlighted the importance of human quest for meaning, he was referring to life in general. However, it fits aptly with changing work culture as well.
But why now; what changed?
For good or for worse, technology has changed the world. And no matter how many times this is repeated, the importance of this statement is not diminished.
Conversations have exploded beyond geographies and time ever since the advent of internet. A tweet is just a drop in an ocean of data, but it creates ripples we cannot predict. Google has destroyed the islands of isolation. Just search for an idea you have and within nanoseconds you’ll find hundreds, if not thousands of like-minded individuals. Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumblr, the ways to connect are simply innumerable.
The explosion of ideas has created an ecosystem where philosophies such as purpose of life can actually thrive.
It is no longer considered outrageous to dream. We are the generation that can truly plan to go to Mars. So why would we be bound by notions such as one cradle-to-grave job, when the freedom of limitless possibilities invite us?
And this is not where this paradigm shift will end. Yes, millions will lose their jobs as automation takes its toll. But we are the generation that knows how to evolve and adapt. As the world transforms, we will grow with it and continue our quest for meaning.
“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
Do you agree with the Chinese philosopher Confucius and believe that it’s possible to actually enjoy work? And how do you think technology is going to impact the jobs of future society?
Got other theories? Let’s hear them!
This article was originally published on LinkedIn.