The Age of the Employee is Dead. Long Live the Professional.

“Job security is gone. The driving force of a career must come from the individual.”
~Dr. Homa Bahrami, Senior Lecturer at Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley, California

Being an “employee” is an antiquated paradigm that we can no longer afford to maintain. With only a 30% national satisfaction rating, the role of “employee” leaves an estimated 70% of the working population “checked out” and even despondent.

Having a perspective of being “employed” is the more accurate depiction of what actually happens in the work world today. We are all “employed” for a time through different organizations and projects.

If we can no longer enjoy the felt security of being an employee, what then can provide us with a sense of stability and coherency that we, as human, seek and need through our work?

I constantly keep coming back to reclaiming the model of a “professional”. Consequently, I believe that transitioning from an “employee” work model to a “professional” working paradigm is key. I can only offer anecdotal evidence supporting the end of the Age of the Employee. In the past 13 months, our economy has lost a total of 3.6 million jobs. The chart below shows a striking contrast to the loss of jobs during the two previous recessions.

jobsrecessions

“This chart compares the job loss so far in this recession to job losses in the 1990-1991 recession and the 2001 recession – showing how dramatic and unprecedented the job loss over the last 13 months has been. By comparison, we lost a total of 1.6 million jobs in the 1990-1991 recession, before the economy began turning around and jobs began increasing; and we lost a total of 2.7 million jobs in the 2001 recession, before the economy began turning around and jobs began increasing (Source article)“.

Of course, this level of job loss is scary on some levels and has impacted many people around the country and throughout the world. These challenging times have also afforded many people the opportunity to re-think their educational and career paths. This period has also seen an increased emphasis on the importance of developing one’s own personal brand.  Developing and cultivating a personal brand requires a level of self-knowledge and exploration, which is oftentimes lost, stifled, or unsupported when trying to conform to an employee role.

FromDayOneI recently read William J. White’s book From Day One: CEO Advice to Launch an Extraordinary Career. White’s book, first published in the mid-2000s, is another resource that I wish I had access to in my younger years. White illuminates an important distinction between the corporate world and the collegiate environment, when he writes about how individuality is prized in college, while homogeneity is strongly valued in the business world.

I experienced an “ah-ha” moment when reading that passage.I have always loved academia, most definitely because of the degree of exploration, diversity, and openness to being who you are. I can now see why others and I made an awkward and uneasy transition into the corporate environment.

Recently, I have been pleased to read articles demonstrating the importance of employers embracing and supporting alignment between corporate and personal brands as detailed in this article. So, personal branding, specifically, through social media sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook, is creating a vital avenue for individual expression and recognition.

I love language because the way we choose and use words to narrate our lives changes with the passing of time and reveals new levels of understanding and maturity.  I simply esteem the root of the word “professional” more than that of “employee.”

Professional includes at its root the word “profess” meaning “to make open declaration of, as of one’s knowledge, belief, action, etc.; To present to knowledge of, to proclaim one’s self versed in…” While an employee is defined as “a worker who is hired to perform a job.”

I respect the importance of learning how to get gainful employment, which enables financial independence, through crafting resumes, presenting a professional demeanor that appeals to employers, etc. I feel like there has been an enormous emphasis in career advising and development on instructing people about how to get a “job” (i.e., how to become an employee). I want to see a new expanded emphasis on coaching individuals in their “professional” development (i.e., how to express and honor their authentic voice through work).

A few weeks ago, I was speaking with a friend about my ideas related to the importance of being a “professional” and professional development. She related to me that she did not know if she wanted to be a “professional.” She shared that she associates being a professional with images of women and men wearing suits and carrying briefcases.

It is true that the business world has co-opted the word “professional.”  However, long before the corporate professional came onto the scene, a “professional” was represented by engineers, lawyers, teachers, counselors, doctors, etc. The marketers of business world have simply done a persuasive job of branding an image of “the professional.” However, I believe that now is a perfect time for the sense of a “professional” to reflect its diversity once again.

doctor

counselorengineer

lawyer

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3 thoughts on “The Age of the Employee is Dead. Long Live the Professional.

  1. Kellie says:

    “Developing and cultivating a personal brand requires a level of self-knowledge and exploration, which is oftentimes lost, stifled, or unsupported when trying to conform to an employee role.”
    This is a key issue, I believe in my struggle with not wanting to be a “professional.” I’ve spent the last 4 years cultivating my inner life and discovering gifts and talents and a wholeness of who I am that is constantly shifting and blossoming. There is a deep fear within me that if I move into a more “professional” environment this growth will be stifled, rejected, and at best ignored in order for me to fit into the bottom-line focused work world.

    Its a major obstacle to me feeling any passion or energy related to my career life.

    Thanks for the post!

    Kellie

  2. Joy says:

    I am completing my 29th year in the working world following college and Kellie your fear is well founded. When the company is trying to hire you your individuality and creativity is given a great deal of respect and encouragement. Don’t be fooled…the bottom line, the executives’ bonuses and the impact on their stock options are more important. Corporate America wants a drone; a vanilla drone. Please don’t stand out, don’t ask intelligent thought provoking questions and for heaven sake don’t actually buy into the idea they really want process improvement if it does not positively impact the executives bonuses or salaries.
    The only reason many of us Boomers are still with our companies is healthcare. If we had an affordable public option many of us would do something more creative, more satisfying and probably more positive for society than the drone-on jobs we have today. Unfortunately illnesses, family obligations and fear of a pensionless retirement keeps us here. Don’t make that mistake if you have the choice go places, do things outside your comfort zone, don’t take the crap from a pointed headed manager – be yourself first. You will like you and your life much more.

  3. Emily says:

    I am completing my 29th year in the working world following college and Kellie your fear is well founded. When the company is trying to hire you your individuality and creativity is given a great deal of respect and encouragement. Don’t be fooled…the bottom line, the executives’ bonuses and the impact on their stock options are more important. Corporate America wants a drone; a vanilla drone. Please don’t stand out, don’t ask intelligent thought provoking questions and for heaven sake don’t actually buy into the idea they really want process improvement if it does not positively impact the executives bonuses or salaries.
    The only reason many of us Boomers are still with our companies is healthcare. If we had an affordable public option many of us would do something more creative, more satisfying and probably more positive for society than the drone-on jobs we have today. Unfortunately illnesses, family obligations and fear of a pensionless retirement keeps us here. Don’t make that mistake if you have the choice go places, do things outside your comfort zone, don’t take the crap from a pointed headed manager – be yourself first. You will like you and your life much more.

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