Managing a Career in the Era of Diversity and Work-Life Balance
In previous articles we've discussed topics as diverse (but related) as the prevailing desire to stay relevant, working way beyond what traditionally was considered “retirement age,” and managing in a diverse and multigenerational workforce. While baby boomers seem to have the most trouble (or opportunities) adapting, there's another trend that must be reviewed in order to really understand what's happening in the work world today. While the authors of this and previous articles fall into the baby boomer demographic, and while we can attest that we just don’t feel our chronological ages, we continue to be intensely curious about current trends. We argue that this curiosity drives us to manage our careers, utilizing different capacities from our previous evolutions.
After many years running human resources in a variety of corporate organizations, Dr. Lamster now focuses on search, career management and organizational change. Dr. Tunstall is an executive coach with an emphasis on emotional intelligence, and a leadership development consultant who looks at mega-trends and generational melding. Admittedly, these shifts are connected or grow out of our original professional paths, but we do think about what is next and what next entails. This dynamic struck us when a family member shared that he was thinking about doing something other than a career he had studied for and practiced for over 30 years. Even though he loved what he did, he felt it was time for a life change.
The Need to Reinvent
Psychological theory holds that early in life many people follow careers that conform to the expectations of others: their parents, friends, peers, spouses and society. But as people approach the “middle” years (and, as we have argued prior, that number keeps sliding), many feel a need for “individuation” or of breaking free of those expectations and becoming more intense drivers of their own future and of the work they do. People often wrestle with self-definition and ponder what truly motivates one to be successful and happy. Traditionally research shows this often happens in one’s 40s or 50s, but as norms have shifted, we see this happening in our “later” years and well beyond accepted retirement age. People want to continue to do something, stay relevant, and grow and give back. What many in this baby boomer demographic don’t want to do is retire — to stop, relax, shift priorities and move out of the mainstream of work.
What's the path for this transition? First, one must have some sort of defined plan. Think of this in terms of a personal business plan. What are the objectives? What are the resources needed to be successful? What does success look like? What makes one happy and keeps an individual fulfilled? What are the obstacles or challenges? What are the timelines? This isn't an easy process and has become harder to define in a more complex workforce. Change is hard but necessary — a critical step toward fulfilling potential and achieving goals, both in one’s work and one’s personal life. This is explored in Richard Boyatzis’ theory of intentional change:
“Intentional change involves envisioning the ideal self (who you wish to be and what you want to do in your work and life); exploring the real self (the gaps you need to fill and the strengths that will help you do so); developing a learning agenda (a road map for turning aspirations into reality); and then experimenting and practicing (with new behaviors and roles.) — "Coaching for Change" by Ricard Boyatzis, Melvin Smith, and Ellen Van Oosten
What it Takes
As noted, change isn't easy. It takes deliberate thought and hard work. It also helps if there's support: colleagues, family members, confidants, close friends and, most important, peer mentors. Research indicates that people achieve more in a more sustainable way when they're in a positive state, both psychologically and physically. Those around us affect this state of mind and are a critical part of a transition. Hopefully the support team is compassionate and supportive. If not, it might be a good idea to change the support team, at least to whatever extent is possible. And by support team we do not mean only those who agree; we're specifically talking about a support group of individuals who question and challenge our thinking.
Entwined in this is the changing concept of diversity. When we joined the workforce, diversity was focused on racial and gender equality; bringing talent into a needy workforce where things were evolving quickly, new thinking was needed, and there was a talent gap that could be filled with entirely untapped groups. However, the idea of diversity seemed to be focused only on race and gender. Things have now moved to another place. Diversity and work-life balance have aligned, and we now need to see diversity in a far broader perspective.
Some time back, work-life balance was about how much work had to be done and the balance between doing that work while living a full personal life. How does one get ahead and yet still have time for a spouse, children, outside interests, community service and such? It's our perspective that diversity and work-life balance have become two halves of a single whole. Recruiting talent in our current age is about understanding race, gender, sexual preference, age, work styles and lifestyles. It's all part of one all-encompassing whole. It's those who lack diversity that are actually out of step, and companies that don’t recognize this will have the greatest problems hiring the best talent. The workforce is, indeed, in a state of flux.
Another part of this process is to ask yourself a number of questions:
- Who are you at your very best?
- What does success look like to you?
- What kind of work do you feel drawn to do?
- What gives you the greatest energy and excitement as you think about your future?
- What do you really want to do at this point in your life and longer term?
- Does that differ from what you think you should do?
It also helps to develop a personal vision statement that encompasses your personal and business plan. Think of this as a short “mantra” that succinctly explains what will make you happy with a sense of fulfillment. The key to all of this is honesty. One needs an accurate assessment of his/her real self. An honest assessment of what one knows about oneself and a desire to understand and accept how others experience and think. The field of emotional intelligence is pertinent here. Self-awareness is critical to any path toward change.
It often helps to create a “personal balance sheet.” In devising this, think about what one’s current strengths and weaknesses are as well as the most distinctive qualities and characteristics — traits, habits and competencies that have held steady over time. Again, the bottom line is people must want to change and must be willing to commit to actively doing so.
“Change efforts of any kind require time and energy. Even the best-laid plans sometimes fail or take a while to pan out. Research by Phillippa Lally and her colleagues at University College London found that it takes 18 [days] to 254 days to form a new habit. Skill building, relationship management, and career change require even greater commitments, with many stops and starts.” — "Coaching for Change" by Ricard Boyatzis, Melvin Smith, and Ellen Van Oosten
The business of learning, growth and change isn't a solo act. As noted above, having the right support team is as important as knowing how the workplace operates and how much diversity has become the norm. Think about those in the current workplace or in your personal life who you respect and admire; those who are role models for the types of behaviors one aspires to. Create a “development network,” including these role models as well as others who will be honest and compassionate; but make sure it looks wider and is not built out of those in your comfort zone.
Finally, tenacity and perspective are the keys. Once one has a clear vision, charts a well-defined path, enlists an effective support team, and develops a clear understanding of what makes one happy and effective will they have a better chance of successfully changing one’s “career” and life and thriving in an environment that's anything but stable. But most of all, don’t give up and don’t stop evaluating!
Frederick Lamster is the Managing Director at ZRG Partners, a progressive midsized global executive search firm that uses a proven, data-driven approach.
Sharon Tunstall is a consultant at Connect the Dots, a leadership solutions consulting company.