Is the “Grown Up” World Where Talent Goes To Die?

Image courtesy of Flickr

Image courtesy of Flickr

I am deep into a book called: No Fears, No Excuses: What You Need To Do To Have a Great Career by Larry Smith. In this book, he asserts that: “the grown-up world is where talent goes to die.” Reading this statement jolted me gratefully inside – as this is something I have come to realize in my own career journey and in the scope of coaching my clients in business.

You may be thinking that this statement is: “harsh” or “an unfair generalization”. Perhaps, you’re right, but I will wager that you are not necessarily wrong, but rather predictable. I say you are predictable rather than wrong, because you belong to a subset of thousands – if not millions of people who believe in a precept of work that is fast becoming a dinosaur. This precept of work includes: Choosing a degree field (preferably something that will allow you to support yourself upon graduation), studying hard even if you hate your field of study, finding an internship where you give your gifts away for free,  only to search for whatever job the economy will loan to you. This my friends is the age old definition of success and job security. The unfortunate outcome of all of this is: The lot of unhappy people and wasted talent living and participating in a society that appears to being conversely impacted by a perceived lack of skilled workers.

While what I just outlined is not indicative of everyone’s career; it is the reality of the majority. Very rarely do I meet someone who says: I love my job and it is allowing me to utilize my full range of talents. In my head, I know of a handful of people in both my personal and professional circles who truly love the work they do. I know that “love” makes people uncomfortable, so let me define what “love” means in this context:

The handful that “love” their work are:

1) Doing work that aligns with their natural talents, interests and passions.

2) Fulfilled by the work, interactions and daily dynamics of the job.

3) Reinforced by having their basic needs for compensation, benefits, flexibility, long-term growth, challenge and continued learning met in return for their efforts.

Most people are not “in love” let alone fulfilled in the way I just described above. Every week, I observe the sentiments about work as we inch towards Friday. Most people, appear to be happiest from Thursday through Saturday. Sunday is a reminder that work starts in 24 hours on Monday – which brings on the inevitable social shares and/or griping about the drudgery that is returning to work. Put plainly, people are miserable and feel stuck.

Coming back to the title of this article which is: Is the “grown-up” world where talent goes to die? Is it true? I think it is. We start children off conditioning them to conform to the world rather than disrupt it. This conditioning often forces them to ignore their interests, innate skills and passions in favor of the road most traveled, lucrative and accepted. In doing this, we ship them off to university to study what seems like the best option for them. Sometimes it works out and other times a pivot emerges to the dissatisfaction of the parents, because of course we are supposed to have our entire life figured out at 22 – how reasonable!

Should we be lucky enough to get a job after graduation, more advice comes our way. The advice is: “Work hard, keep your head down, follow the rules and you will be promoted and successful in no time.” In “no time” is the operative word, because in this current economy promotions seem to be rather elusive and hard or good work is no longer a silver bullet for success on the job. By the time, people look up – they have a home, 2 cars, some kids, a dog, bills and a job that is a terrible fit for their skills and lifestyle; but the bills have to be paid, so onward with more drudgery.

For every person that works a job there is a dream and creativity deferred in the journey towards personal and professional success. We have all been conditioned to believe that holding a job whether it is a passion or not is a badge of honor – your right of passage into adulthood. More money, more bills, and more material effects are just a few of the things that define your adulthood in our current society. The problem with this rat race of superficial success is that it is superficial. Success is subjective and therefore much more to having longevity in your career than the degrees, certifications and clocked years of service.

Agreeing or disagreeing with this statement of talent dying in the grown-up or corporate world doesn’t matter. What matters is that you take a moment to realize what you want your life and contributions to stand for and taking stock of where you are so you can ensure that the two align. Here’s a hint: In the coming decades, success will not be defined by your retirement package, the money in your bank account or the amount of hours you worked – it will be about how you made an impact (however small) in your part of the world.

I spoke about success and what is means to be an adult in the modern world on my Periscope show: Ask Czarina Live. You can watch it below.

 

Your Workforce Issues Are Bigger Than HR

Image Courtesy of Flickr.com

There’s no question that there are things that HR can do to change how we service both the business and our employees. The other side of the coin that rarely gets discussed is how HR is fairly low in the food chain when we look at the contributing factors of why the overall workforce has challenges and issues.

The decision to lag the market, lead the market or remain stagnant with regard to wages- like what we have seen in recent years is administered and managed by Compensation. However, wage increases or stagnation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It has to have higher levels of approval than HR. We can say HR may not be as diligent about pushing back, but how far can we really push it? Unless you have a CEO or CFO who appreciates the value of HR’s consultation; HR is fighting a war with no armaments.

If you canvas the open job vacancies online long enough, you will find a strong presence of job descriptions that appear to include responsibilities and duties enough to for 2 FTE’s ; but it is being marketed for one person. In addition, if you go a step further and apply to a few of these jobs and are lucky to have a conversation with some of these companies; you will also find that the pay isn’t nearly as competitive or fair as you would expect given the employer’s expectations. It’s easy to ask HR why wages are down or stagnant, but perhaps we should be asking the CEO’s why they choose to stagnate wage increases when it is clear that they want more from their workforce. What is further interesting is: a 2014 report from The Economic Policy Institute reports that CEO wages at the largest corporations have increased 937% since 1978 (when adjusted for inflation). According to Rebecca Hiscott of the Huffington Post, the average worker’s compensation grew only 10.2% during that same time period.

Less income has caused lower assets, decreased net worth, increased debt and liabilities. Throw in familial obligations and other personal concerns coupled with work pressures and it may not be hard to understand how we still have around 70% of the workforce being disengaged.  I believe the tone gets set at the top. Toxic leadership often leads to toxic HR, particularly when we don’t have the balls to speak up or leave. HR can only be effective in addressing workforce issues if and only if the CEO values the people. They don’t have to necessarily love and buy into what we do in HR. If they have a talent first mentality, they will urge HR to do whatever is necessary to attract and retain talent. Under these circumstances, HR has advocacy at the top as well as the license to create programs and initiatives that favor both the business and employees .

As an HR practitioner, I have had the experience of working  in many different environments. Despite our best efforts to make a change or address a concern in our organizations, there were many instances where no changes were made (or the changes were completely different from our initial recommendation). This happens because; ultimately we are not the final authority. A lot of what we do is in consultation to our internal partners. We can argue that the quality and substance of our consultation are the contributing factors to the success of any workforce change or initiative. Still, owners, founders and figureheads need to shoulder some of the responsibility for workforce related issues. I’m not blind or ignorant to the unnecessary complexity and toxicity HR is capable of creating in an organization separate and apart from the CEO’s vision; but it doesn’t come from nowhere.

There was a time that CEO’s could say they “didn’t know” or “they weren’t aware” of the systemic issues in their companies. With social media being the go-to platform to expose companies for everything from fraudulent practices to unfair and discriminatory workplace conditions, you better know what’s going on in your company and be vigilant about addressing any issues. HR can do a lot, but we can only do as much as executive leadership will allow. If the organization is driven by greed and lining the pockets of board members and leadership, HR will be directed to aid and abet that approach.

The question then becomes an ethical and moral one for HR. If you are working in a company that is not doing right by the employees (including HR), do you continue to fight beyond your obvious lack of power settling for marginal wins or do you keep your head down and do as you are told?

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