Stuck Employees Often Work for Dinosaur Employers

You feel you’re working in a sort of Jurassic Park of bobble head conformity.  How did this happen?

Is getting the “right” job a matter of luck or intention?  What if you hit a series of “bad” jobs, and resulting short term employments with associated pain?  All around us, we see that job cycling seems to be more frequent.  Fewer people are hired and are expected to do more mind numbing work.  In fear, employees hold on longer to “bad” jobs.

The “bad” news for rigid, authoritarian employers is that fearful, bored people do not exhibit creativity or energy.  They’re passing time. 

If you’re an employee applying for employment, asking questions is as important as answering them.  Here are questions you might ask both yourself and the company:   How important is innovation to you?  Does this organization invite dissenting points of view?  Do you encourage multiple approaches to problem solving?   Are you open to experimenting with change?  Is this a company that values skills and ideas over tenure and degrees?   What are the changes you see as necessary in the future of your business?

The “human resources” official answers may be deceiving.  If you can, take a pre-employment tour of the work area.  What does the body language tell you?  How is the space configured?  Are people sequestered in cells, or is the space favorable to collaboration?

Employees Stuck with Dinosaurs are In Danger of Extinction.

But let’s say you’re that employee passing time.  You’re in survival mode.  You’re focused on details rather than big questions.  Your perspective is not what are we trying to accomplish here? You would never think to speak up and ask:  Just what is our purpose?  Is there a better way? Rather, your perspective is:  how do I look busy?   Frankly, that perspective has to change, or the very thing you fear, job loss, will come to pass.  And, if you’re working in a company that can’t state its purpose for being, not only your job, but everyone’s is at risk.

The World Economic Forum creates a picture of the future growth in business, engineering, sales, computer and mathematical skills.  On the losing side of the equation:  office and administration, manufacturing and production, construction, and the arts and entertainment.  The stark picture:  technical knowledge workers will dominate, while traditional manufacturing and office jobs will shrink.  Much of this shrinking is due to technology that replaces human labor.  This trend will accelerate.

Here is the picture of past growth that may give a clue to future growth:

Axis of Success

The success “sweet spot:” high technical skill coupled with social savvy.

The Jobs of the Future — Make the Move into a Better Quadrant.

The graph above captures the essence of the key skill sets for future employment success:  continuous learning and social skills.  As Darwin stated:  the adapters survive.  It is not raw strength that determines survival, but the ability to adapt to a changing environment.

David J. Deming, Harvard University, writes as a summary of job growth he measured over three decades:  “Employment and wage growth was particularly strong for jobs requiring high levels of both cognitive skill and social skill.”  Basic takeaway:  maintain a high level of curiosity and learning, but also communicate what you know in a cooperative, team-building approach.  What you know will be of little use if you can’t present what you know to key decision makers and co-workers.    

We adults spend so much time speaking about education reform for children, not realizing that the economy has made educational reform a mandate for working adults.  The idea that learning is something done at a “school” or “campus” is simply out of touch with the digital universe.  Time is too precious for brick-and-mortar learning as the only model.

We face a world dramatically different than the outmoded, largely irrelevant formal education prepared us to encounter.   [].   We must be both “teacher and student” in a continuous process of learning.  Aaronson writes of his students in this article:  But in the field of technology—and in life—they must learn to discover how to do things on their own. My lessons must motivate them to make a plan, carry it out and then review, reflect, and redesign to improve until it is successful.” This statement also applies to adult employees of any age.  

The Jobs of the Future – a Summary of Needed Mindsets

In my work as an employment lawyer, repeatedly I see  that management asks of its employees to stretch their capabilities to initiate approaches that will meet company goals.  The ability to collaborate with management to design an approach, and the ability to carry out that approach with a minimum of supervision, is what I call the “adaptability” factor.  The casualties are those standing around waiting for orders.

So here is a short list of key skills to acquire if you are to survive in an uncertain future:

1.  Be curious.  Ask deeper questions, more fundamental questions that go to the “why” of what you are doing.

2.  Be proactive in proposing problem solving approaches.  Get feedback, adjust, and implement.

3.  Focus on “how to learn” rather than just learning or memorizing data.  Learn how to think.

4.  Don’t wait to be told what to do.  See what needs to be done, propose an approach, and offer to take the first step.

5.  Be in an “opportunity” mindset.  See a problem as an opportunity to develop something new and better.

6.  Expand your ideas about creativity.  See how different questions can lead to inventive answers.  Ask weird questions, even if just to upset your assumptions.

7.  Execute.  There is no substitute for preserverance in the face of resistance.  Work can be tedious and stressful.  A time comes when you just carry out the plan.

8.  Celebrate small daily successes.  Keep a log of your achievements.  This practice will build your self-confidence and self-respect.