Social Values Affect Work Style

I’ve spent the weekend helping a good friend on a college thesis about workplace values. In his research, he turned up an interesting article from Workforce magazine that I found interesting. The article, written in 1998, puts forth an interesting point concerning how changing social values have started affecting choices employees make in their careers.

The article details findings of a study conducted by the employee-development firm Blessing/White that researched how employees now make different decisions to their baby boomer predecessors about the work-life balance. The study found five areas where work attitudes are experiencing significant change: anti-institutional bias, self-reliance, aversion to risk-taking, meritocracy, and family/child centeredness.

As a career consultant, I must say I agree with these five areas. We work with clients who are making changes in their careers, and most of the time one of these five issues is a significant instigating cause of their endeavors.

Many of our clients have little to no employer loyalty. After the heady days of the late nineties, followed by the crash of the early part of this decade, many clients have no confidence that the employer considers their interests at all. Lay offs occur when stock prices fall. Jobs are sent overseas to take advantage of cheap offshore labor. Retirement funds are dipped into to shore up stock prices. CEO’s get huge compensation packages and lovely golden parachutes. American confidence in big corporate employers has taken a significant nosedive and long-gone are the days of sticking with an employer for thirty years.

This has also contributed to the increase in individuals going out on their own and venturing into self-employment. Following the bust of 2001, senior executives who had been downsized were tracked in a study (and forgive me, I can’t remember who conducted it – just the content of it). Eighteen months after being laid off, 30% of these senior executives had started their own companies rather than seeking new employment in corporate America.

We also saw many, especially those victims of the dot-com bust, who were no longer as open to taking risks. Many of those who had willingly taken low starting salaries, poor benefits, and long commutes for huge chunks of stock options in pre-IPO companies are now looking for stability and a good dental plan. Thirty-somethings who had counted on vested stock holdings to cover retirement now find themselves with zero retirement, no hope of Social Security, and way behind on funding their 401K. Stability and security are high on their list of employment priorities.

A “you snooze, you lose” mentality has taken over the American workforce, leading to the meritocracy mindset. Generation X has an attitude of “to the winner go the spoils”. Gone is the comfortable middle class where goals were met when the three-bedroom house in the suburbs was attained and the 2.3 children arrived. The Lexus, the Prada handbag, and the ski vacations in Vail are the new benchmarks of success. Those in the fast lane look down on those who are stopped on the wayside to smell the roses.

The fanaticism of the women’s liberation movement has passed and Generation X, who grew up as latch-key kids themselves, want better for their children. More mothers are staying home, working flex time, or own home businesses and divorce rates are starting to fall. More and more we see clients (men and women) who are looking for jobs that give them more flexibility to devote themselves to family.

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