What would it be like if we were all fulfilled in our careers?
I hope that many readers are happy and feel fulfilled in their working life. I assume that a significant proportion genuinely are. However, recent research shows a less certain picture, suggesting that at least 44% of workers are disengaged – this is a trend that is increasing and it is not limited to the millennial generation. Nor does it remain pure sentiment; one in four workers are actively looking to leave their job because of a lack of engagement and training in the workplace.
Does a fulfilled workforce really matter though? At the end of the day, should we just be content with the fact that we are employed and earning? Several of 25before25’s critics have argued that happiness isn’t especially relevant to the conversation – employment alone should be enough. To consider happiness in one’s job can be viewed as self-indulgent.
However, I believe that this is short-sighted. If you are a happy employee, you are likely to take fewer sick days – both for your physical and mental health, you will be more productive and efficient. Your company will have lower staff turnover rates, and therefore have lower recruitment and initial training costs. Ultimately, a ‘resilient workforce is a profitable workforce.’ Indeed, The Economist estimates a 3% increase in revenue for every 5% increase in employee engagement.
Now scale that up. Beyond the company level, beyond the industry, to the national. I propose that at the strategic level, a happy and fulfilled workforce is a resilient workforce, that is able to withstand the economic and political shocks that we are experiencing with increasing frequency. Not only this, but it actively strengthens the economy, leading to a higher GDP and less pressure on already stretched services.
So what makes for a happy worker? Of course it will vary massively from person-to-person and by an individual’s stage of life, but most evidence tells us that it comes down to empowerment, trust and a good work-life balance. Ultimately it is giving an employee a sense of value, whether that’s in their ideas, their decisions or their lives outside of the workplace.
Of course, this all assumes you are in the right industry to begin with, something recent graduates particularly struggle with. A recent survey found that the biggest obstacles to graduate job searches, other than work experience, are not knowing which roles they would best suit them (75%) and not knowing which career to choose following their degrees (46%). This indicates a severe lack of meaningful career advice and education – it does not necessarily mean that those services are not there, but it does mean that they are not having enough impact or are not easy enough to access.
So what are the future trends? Harvard Business Review says loyalty to one company should be thrown out of the window, and with it the view that those choosing to jump ship are betraying that company. The former of these is certainly already being seen with the generation currently entering the workforce, but I question if the latter is yet. Most critically, however, is the predicted shift towards positively viewing employees with multiple skillsets, who can easily move across functional boundaries. This does not necessarily equate to a workforce of generalists, but could also mean a workforce of specialised skills that can be applied to multiple sectors. In other words, a portfolio career.
This is supported by research elsewhere. Surveyed HR managers thought that by the end of the decade, the workforce will have significantly higher levels of individuals with ‘skill sets in multiple simultaneous careers (79%) and more than half of all workers being temporary, on contract or freelance (60%).’
Again, considering this at a more strategic level, a nationally mobile workforce that is not only able to move between sectors, either sequentially or in parallel as part of a portfolio, but also enjoys doing so, is a workforce that would be incredibly effective. It is a workforce with no single point of failure, that will avoid that risks that come with groupthink and will be better able to challenge ideas and corporate cultural norms due to their substantially wider influences.
This is a call for employers to turn millennial dissatisfaction and disloyalty into an opportunity – an opportunity to create a resilient workforce. I have previously written about the social contract between employers and the younger generation as being broken - career resilience replaces that covenant which is ‘no longer being kept,’ with one that is in everyone’s best interest.
This article is also featured in The Huffington Post.