Assessing the Modern Workplace

By Donald J. Strankowski
Ascend Career and Life Strategies

According to some experts, a person starting work today will have, on average, fourteen full-time jobs lasting two years or more.  A study in Fortune magazine stated that 42 percent of the workforce is made up of “free-agents”; workers without firm ties to any one particular organization who are willing to change jobs or companies in an instant to better their professional situation.  Recent surveys show that as many as 50 percent of today’s workforce are in the first year of their current jobs.  Approximately 72 percent of people working today will be employed in a different job within the next two years due mainly to the rate of change in the modern economy, the increase in competition, and the unpredictable nature of the current business climate.

Each year in the United States more than one million new businesses are started, adding to the over 20 million businesses that already exist.  Millions of people move up, down, and laterally in their positions and careers every year.  However, even in the midst of all this employment volatility and in some ways because of it, the opportunity for finding a fulfilling career and advancement and has never been better. 

Despite the level of controlled chaos in today’s marketplace, there are still many businesses, both new start-ups and established corporations, that thrive in this type of environment.  This is because some companies adapt to change better than others do and can adjust to a different way of doing business.  These companies, the ones that embrace change and can adapt quickly, will prove be the most successful in the months and years ahead as the nature of doing business becomes more and more competitive.

All of this instability and change has a dramatic effect on today’s workers too.  Some people find this rate of change exhilarating and exciting.  Others however, find it to be stressful and nerve-racking.  Today’s successful worker either needs to accept change or they will become a victim of it.  Despite what you may read in the newspapers or watch on the news networks, rapid change in today’s economy also means more opportunities for you and me.        

If you think there have been a lot of changes in the job market in last few years, buckle up, grab your helmet, and hold on because many of the rules and strategies for gaining employment have changed–dramatically. Layoffs, downsizing, and corporate buyouts have all made the workplace an “exciting” (looking as the glass as being half-full) environment.  Your career is now an adventure!   With the term job stability considered an oxymoron in the modern workplace, it is imperative that employees keep a resume not on “warm” but on at least “simmer” and not on the back burner but on the front.  It is equally important to keep your interviewing skills sharp and to always know what you are worth on the open market.  Moving laterally from one company to the next in a similar position may have been the dominant employment scenario years ago, but in today’s work environment, even staying in the same field is no longer the standard.

One of the biggest workplace changes of the last decade is that each person today is now fully responsible for his or her own career.  In other words, you are the playwright and only you are in charge of writing and then acting out the story of your own success–you can no longer rely on a corporation to take care of you. You must always think and act for yourself, keeping your own best interests in mind. Think of it this way: you are the President of YOU, Inc. You are always self-employed no matter which company cuts your paycheck. The biggest mistake today’s worker can make is to think that they work for anyone but themselves.

I often advise new clients that they must start thinking like today’s professional athletes and adopt a “free agent” mentality.  No, I don’t mean asking for an 84 million-dollar contract and hiring an agent.  What I do mean that you should adopt the philosophy that you will be working for a certain company for a finite or limited amount of time and will then move on to a better opportunity when the circumstances are right.  You will perform your duties to the best of your ability and then, when you don’t fit in with the company’s plans any longer or they don’t fit into yours, you will part ways and start the process all over again–no hard feelings.  This is simply the way business works today.  Accept this reality. 

Every year it seems that many professional sports teams turn over 20-30 percent of their entire roster size.  There are a multitude of reasons for this.  First, some players are let go because their contracts have expired and the team no longer sees a need for them.  A different set of players become free agents (literally) and shop around the league for a team who will pay them more money.  Some may have retired and some others may have demanded trades because of conflicts with the coaching staff and management.  An aging player’s skill level may have dropped to the point of where the team simply decides to cut them and puts them on waivers.  Other players are brought in (usually at another player’s expense) to perform specific duties for a short period of time and are then let go.  The free agent mentality has been commonplace and accepted in professional sports for decades.

Today, it’s the same scenario on a corporate level.  Some employees are brought in to solve a certain problem or set of problems for a particular company. When the problem is solved and/or the objectives are met, they’re on to the next assignment with a different company.  They are termed “contract employees”, and this sort of practice has now become commonplace in corporate America.  To be more successful, one needs to adapt this free agent mode of thinking and apply it to their own career.  You may be let go at any time and, if your employment contract is relatively recent, it probably has what’s called an at will clause in it.  This clause states that you may let go at any time for any reason–period.  So you owe it to yourself to always keep one ear to the ground regarding your own future.  Don’t be caught off guard!

Today’s modern athletes aren’t planning on being with same team for extended periods of time.  You shouldn’t either.  Adopt the professional athlete’s mindset and continue to keep your job searching skills sharp.  You owe it to yourself to employ the free agent mentality and to keep your career options open.  Know that in many cases, your time is limited at your current place of employment.  Whether a certain work situation or outcome that affects you is right or wrong by your standards doesn’t matter.  The main issue for any company is that it is profitable and successful.  If you no longer fit in to the company’s profitability model or plan–you may be deemed expendable–just like the professional athlete who no longer fit in with their team’s “direction.”  So be prepared and do everything you can to keep your skills sharp and your image marketable.  Because before you know it, you may want to switch teams due to your own choice or due to being “cut” from the roster.

Select your profession carefully.  If you don’t love what you’re doing enough to want to be the very best at it, consider getting out.  Working at something you don’t care about is the very best way to waste your time and life and your life is not a dress rehearsal for something else.

The right company is one that respects its people and implements pay for performance. It is dynamic, growing, open to new ideas and full of opportunities for people with ambition and ingenuity.  When considering any job or career change, always do your homework on both the market and yourself.  You don’t want to end up in the wrong job—again.

Good luck!

Donald J. Strankowski is President of Ascend Career and Life Strategies located in Boulder, Colorado. He can be contacted at 303-245-7049, via email at [email protected], or on the web at