It’s the opening line of Maybe the Horse Will Talk, a new novel by Australian writer Elliot Perlman.
The protagonist, a second-year lawyer at a prestigious Melbourne law firm, who is trying to pay off his house and support his family, becomes extremely anxious about his career Catch 22 at 3.30 am! Having worked in career management for over 15 years and speaking with many people, this is a familiar refrain. Reinforcing this workforce malaise was the ABC News article by David Taylor; Redundancy and job insecurity are growing and it’s a problem for the economy at large (17/10/19).
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, redundancies in Australia have jumped significantly in the last two years. In 2017, 187,000 Australian positions were made redundant, in 2019 that number has jumped to 272,500 redundancies. That’s a 45% increase. Of those redundancies, many individuals are not provided outplacement support and are left entirely to their own devices to find new employment. Job seeking in the context of organisations going through digital transformation where many existing roles or skillsets are no longer required can be a daunting and disheartening prospect, irrespective if people have outplacement support. Job seekers are confused about what to do after redundancy. If they have a severance package, do they use some of it to reskill, or do they sit on it, or use it to meet their everyday living costs, which in Australia are very high?
Having spent a large part of my career involved with HR, talent and career management, I am acutely aware of the challenges redundant employees face, but have also been surprised by the number of individuals that I’ve met, who stated that redundancy was the “wake up” call they needed to pivot on their career direction. Typical responses were that they were stale, had no clear career direction, were not aligned with their organisation’s direction, and frustrated and demotivated in their current roles. Asking themselves “how did I get here?”. A perspective that has been substantiated by Right Management’s research that states that one in five people are in the wrong role, or more tellingly that approximately 50% of employees at any one time are disengaged and passively or actively looking for a new role!
If employees now value career development and flexibility above remuneration, where does this leave organisations and their responsibilities?
Many offer career development, but many don’t. Outplacement is important, but it could be argued that it’s too late and that early intervention would be better i.e. proactive career transition. Proactive career transition explores the alignment between an organisation’s strategic requirements and an employee’s alignment with both the skills required to progress in that organisation, and the culture. If organisations are changing and evolving constantly, don’t they owe it to their employees to be transparent about the changes coming and supporting individuals either to upskill to progress in the organisation, or reskill to move out of the organisation? This is a mature conversation that organisational leaders should be having more regularly and with discipline.
To grab both employers’ and employees’ attention about the importance of career planning, I often open with the statement “most people spend more time researching their vacation needs – country, climate, culture and the logistics of their annual holiday – than they do their career”. It’s true for most of us that we are socialised into careers by well-meaning influencers, such as parents, school and university teachers, peers and friends. We fall into careers, and continue in careers without ever really asking – Who am I? Where am I? Where do I want to go? And how am I going to get there?
Outplacement provides important support for impacted employees and protects the brands of those organisations instigating the redundancies, however as an employee I would want to work for a company where career development was part of the organisation’s DNA, supporting my career choices proactively, whether within the organisation or outside it. It would be both good business, and good for the economy to reduce the anxiety of employees, who fear job loss in the context of the high cost of living with little room for upskilling on their own dollar. It may also ensure we don’t wake up fearing ‘I am absolutely terrified of losing a job I absolutely hate.’