[New Rules] Why Your Next Job is (Also) a Temporary Job

It might be nice if you found a job that lasted you for the rest of your life. It’s unlikely to happen –

The Office cast in the third season

The Office cast in the third season (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

even if you’re in a profession like a teacher of doctor – and even less likely for anyone who holds what we think of as a “regular” job.

The reality, as career guru Richard Nelson Bolles has said, “is that every job has turned into a temp job — whether people are conscious of that or not. Employers have no reluctance now to let go of mass numbers of employees, if their organization is involved in a merger or takeover. Employees are increasingly seen as just part of the expenses of the firm, and when there is a need to balance the bottom line, they are regarded as expendable.”

The recent uptake in productivity in the United States for the first quarter of 2009 is proof that employers have gotten adept at quickly shedding costs – in this case jobs and the employees in them – when demand softens and they have too much capacity. Twenty years ago it would have been unimaginable that companies could move this quickly – now it’s here and is a given.

Why is this important to you?

Because it means that you – if want to be prepared and ready – are in perpetual job hunting mode. Even if you are happy, challenged and secure in your current job, the reality is that it is unlikely to be around forever. This need to be always in job hunting mode is akin to those of us who live in the North American far west, part of something called the Pacific Rim: the earthquakes don’t happen that often but they do happen. The smart thing is to prepare ahead of time, just in case the earthquake does hit.

How did we get to this point?

Credit – or blame – a trend that started in the United States in the 1970’s with something called hostile corporate takeovers. When companies aquired other companies without their management’s consent, management teams started getting sacked, as well as other redundant functions after the takeover. The same hostile takeover habit trend hit Europe and Japan later, with the same result.

In the 1980’s the movement to improve company performance, led by the efforts of people like General Electric’s Jack Welch increased the disposability of jobs and company assets.  Efforts such as Business Process Re-Engineering (proposed in 1990 by Harvard B School professor Michael Hammer) – and also know as Business Process Improvement (BPI) or Business Process Management (BPM) added to the popularity of shaving away and redefining processes (and jobs with real people holding them) to advance greater efficiencies.

In short, it means that any job – e.g. YOUR JOB –  is at some point expendable.

What can you do?

Keep on practicing the basics:

  1. Establish, maintain, and nurture your personal career network as noted in an earlier post here . The approach outlined at this post also helps you clarify what is unique – and marketable – about you.
  2. Keep yourself current and contemporary by taking course work that advances appropriate relevant domain / technical skills.
  3. Keep current and improving on practical knowledge skills by taking skills based coursework or coaching that enhances abilities such as group facilitation, conflict resolution, presentation skills, etc.

Recognize that in the temp job (not unlike the world of movie producers and TV starts)  world, you’re as good as your skills, performance, and your network.

It’s not your fault: it’s just the ways most jobs are today. The good news is that you can do something about it.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, new role, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.


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