What is a Job, Anyway?

Posted by on Sep 13, 2010 in Jobs & employment | 0 comments

With the economy ailing, the U.S. presidential election in full swing and surveys showing cuts in next year’s IT budgets, get ready to hear more and more about jobs. People will lose jobs. Evil corporations will export jobs. We will need more jobs. We will need better jobs. Not McJobs.

People will become unemployed and underemployed, and they will drop out of the workforce. They will go back to school with the hopes of obtaining better jobs. The government will try to “create” jobs using tax policy, environmental policy, fiscal policy, trade policy, labor policy, research funding, public works and a healthy dose of prayer.

The discussion will be endless. But it will skip one important question: What is a job, anyway?

The word has become a central part of the lexicon of personal finance and career development. For most of us, it’s the primary source of family income. But do we really know what it means?

I’m not an expert on employment history, but it seems to me that 50 years ago, the meaning of a job was relatively clear.

If you were a man, you joined a company for an indefinite period, usually assumed to be life. You worked full time and drew a steady salary, and the firm repaid your loyalty. When you retired, you got a pension and maybe even health benefits.

If you were a woman, the meaning of a job was probably more flexible. It may have been a career or perhaps just something to do until you started a family.

But now, who knows what a job means?

If you worked for a company for five years and it decided to outsource your department, did you have a job, or was it just a contract?

If you’re an independent contractor with an open-ended engagement with a full-time client, do you have a job?

If you’re an employee of a staffing firm that will lay you off as soon as your project ends, do you have a job?

If you’re a full-time employee of a company and you change from being a programmer to being a project manager, have you changed jobs?

The questions are endless.

It seems that we in IT – for better and worse – have been in the vanguard of the creative reinvention of employment. Consultants and contractors have become commonplace. What was once clear has become a jumble.

Does this matter?

I think that it does. Morale and motivation are tied in many ways to whether our employment relationships fulfill our expectations. Employers and employees come to these relationships with subtle and often unarticulated expectations that, if not met, become a source of conflict, unhappiness and unease.

While the idea of the 1950s stable job lives on and the word job continues to imply stability and security, that sort of employment relationship has become an endangered species. The reality is much more complex than a three-letter word can encompass. That seems to leave us all on edge, always dissatisfied with the employment we have, pining for the fantasy that reality can never achieve.

So the important question today is not whether you have a job, but whether you have an employment relationship that meets your needs and aspirations.

As managers, it’s past time for us to become more observant about what our people want and need from us and more articulate about what we can realistically offer.

If you want to keep the general malaise at bay and keep your people focused and motivated, your job includes helping them thrive in this new and as yet unnamed world.

For more information about how you can leverage geeks to get the technology you want, contact info@leadinggeeks.com or call 310-694-0450.

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