Meaningful work has never been so important

World of people doing meaningful work

I'd like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company.  - The Coca-Cola  Company (1971)

Thesis: In response to a convergence of existential threats, we are now living in, and living out, an age of transcendence. Meaningful work has never been so important.

Key points:

  1. This author has seen a surge in demand for “meaningful work.”
  2. Research supports anecdote with constructs such as “calling” in career counseling.
  3. {Of note, I/O psychology terminology and research have evolved along an increasingly spiritual journey.}
  4. Transcendence, the core of meaningful work, is argued to be the current Zeitgeist, supported by four examples:
    1. Global stressors have led many to re-examine their lives and values.
    2. The pandemic, via WFH, has led many to take a critical review of their job.
    3. Millennials want jobs that provide a sense of purpose, value.
    4. Technology is now replacing knowledge workers driving the workforce toward humanistic jobs.
  5. Meaningful work must keep pace with global and individual needs and trends.
  6. This is not only being done (see #4), it’s doable. (No grammar issue)
  7. Most of the time, it’s up to leadership to make this happen.

A confluence of forces has led to radical change with exceptional impact on the world of work. Some, including myself, find the term “change” -- at least as a matter of degree or evolution -- to be completely “off mark.” We’re living in a new world, not a changed one as evident in so many ways.

One work-related result of this ‘break’ is less obvious due to its covert, psychological nature. {But not to me, mostly because people tell me so.}

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Career guidance isn’t always about jobs, it is always about people

Chris can help you through challenges and changes in your career, whether career guidance, search or coaching, I will "meet you" wherever you are to take you where you're meant to be..

Executive Summary (for Twitter users):

  1. Career guidance is growing. Many seek work. Many want different work.
  2. O*NET is a database of 1,000 jobs. It’s free, even for commercial use. Free.
  3. 1 and 2 have created a surge of job search applications using O*NET. But,
  4. O*NET is easy to “click around in,” but quite intricate “under the hood.”
  5. Job search applications use “proprietary algorithms.” Most suck.
    1. O*NET data aren’t perfect; no algorithm can fix that.
    2. O*NET data are VERY sensitive; razor-thin margins differentiate jobs.
    3. Algorithm-based applications are non-consultative (“make money at night?”), once they launch, where they land is determined. They’re done but leave the job seeker to pour over 100 job matches(?). {“Blind pig” strategy?}
    4. Following 5.3, job search isn’t like playing a slot machine, it’s interactive.
    5. Algorithms have assumptions built in, it’s impossible to know how your report was created. Given 5.1, 5.2, 5.3, errors of omission and commission are numerous and confusing.
  6. Career guidance isn’t about jobs, or even good search. It’s about people. People with different stories, different wants, and different needs.
    1. A good career coach is an expert in work psychology and psychometrics.
    2. The best career coach is a true coach, centered on the individual throughout the process. They can help an individual through a difficult task, in difficult times.

Job loss can be traumatic. It has serious effects on people’s well-being, and not just the person who lost their job. In my experience coaching people who’ve lost their job, particularly at middle stages of their career, the effects resemble depression. Not to a clinical level, but darn near it. This goes beyond typical career guidance. They need more than a quick career search and a list of jobs to consider.

But having a job isn’t the complete answer. I’ve also worked with many who question, deeply, whether the job they have (and deplore) is their true calling. Sometimes a new job is the answer, but sometimes a deeper review reveals a different story. Oftentimes it’s not the job that’s causing problems, it’s what’s around the job. This can be generalized to “the organization,” or “the culture,” but it usually has to do with the boss. This, too, is beyond the typical call of career guidance.

Add in a global pandemic and things get worse – more unemployed, more general stress and strain for everyone, working or not. As organizations have begun to add employees from the initial lows caused by this pandemic, the competition for jobs, fewer jobs, is driving greater demand for career-related services. And experts agree that not everyone who lost their job due to the pandemic will return once its impact is better under control. A lot of businesses have closed their doors and they won’t reopen. Of greater consequence, the nature and number of jobs in the workforce have been permanently changed by the new normal for work. All of this adds to uncertainty – especially for the unemployed.

Whether out of work or dissatisfied to the point of quitting, what most share is a feeling of being “stuck.” That’s the literal word used.  In this context, being “stuck” includes a variety of emotions, but none, positive. Mostly being “stuck” amounts to uncertainty, anxiety, and the lack of energy to pursue a job when they don’t know what job to pursue. Emotions are high with many experiencing feelings of grief, lowered self-confidence, and optimism – sometimes, feelings that border on hopelessness. Our society places so much importance on what people do that to lose your job is, in a very real sense, to lose your status, your identity. Your dignity.

This isn’t the case for everyone. But I’m not alone in experiencing individuals in a desperate state due to loss of employment. And even if it doesn’t come up that frequently, it’s critically important when it does. The typical career guidance counselor isn’t trained to handle situations like this. This is the job of a psychologist trained in emotional and behavioral counseling. While these aren’t clinical cases, they’re deeply affecting.

At minimum, a good coach needs to be able help individuals through a rebuilding process to regain the confidence and skill to carry out a strategy to gain employment. Job-related skills can atrophy over time. Many of these are the same skills necessary to carry out a back to work strategy that would be exhausting to anyone. But this is just about getting to the interview – not the interview itself. That’s another aspect of career counseling that I won’t go into here.

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Why you’re not getting promoted

Business woman with hands in the air. Why you're not getting promoted

Most can identify with the feeling of discontent when others seem to be getting promoted for less apparent reason than your promotion would justify. It’s natural – we want to win and a big piece of winning in organizations is getting promoted. It probably comes as no consolation to learn that there are many factors potentially influencing why you’re not getting promoted.

  1. You’re a master at your current job, but perceived (rightly or wrongly) to be "Not Ready" to assume a job at the next level.
  2. There are others more deserving of one of the limited number of promotions (again, rightly or wrongly).
  3. You haven’t “done your time” in your current level.

So how do you overcome these potentially career limiting factors?

There’s very little one can do in the short term if there is no open position above you. Organizations do NOT like to add more heads to higher levels simply because they are “ready and able.” CFOs in particular do not like to see a proliferation of senior-level jobs relative to the organization’s general growth at all levels.

Overcoming the tightly managed promotion “quota” is also highly difficult. The simple fact is that there typically aren’t enough promotions for all for whom a “truth measure” would indicate are ready. Organizations are always smaller at the top than at entry levels.

Lastly, you can’t do much about your time in position except wait. And the bad news is that spending a given amount of time at any level is no guarantee of promotion. Most will simply retire or leave the organization without making it to the coveted top positions.

There’s actually a fourth reason that you’re not being promoted: You’re not known by enough managers or executives above you. Simply impressing your boss is usually not enough unless they are truly a selfless advocate.

You’re not known by enough managers or executives above you.

But this is something you can do something about. You can improve your reputation at higher levels of the organization. Here are a few suggestions to enhance your reputation, and therefore, your promotability:

  1. Participate on as many cross-functional assignments as you can. The vast majority of promotions are not made by one’s boss alone. You need to be visible to your boss’ peers, and to some extent, your boss’ superiors. This second one can be very tricky -- you don’t want to hurt your chances by upsetting the political hierarchy, i.e., going around or above your boss.
  2. Create a career plan for yourself, or with your boss, and discuss it with them. Of particular importance: Clarify exactly what performance results and which competencies are critical to your promotability. This cannot be overstressed: Be as objective as possible about both the results and competencies associated with promotions. “Higher ups” can, and do, frequently hide behind nebulous developmental goals or achievements.
  3. Make sure you manage your “but.” I’ve sat through hundreds of “talk talent” meetings. One of the most common things I hear is, “They’re really good at {fill in this blank}, BUT… they haven’t overcome {fill in your ‘but’}."
  4. Be as likeable as possible. This may sound like a tall order, but there is a very strong correlation between liking and promoting. (Plus, I've never known someone universally unliked to get promoted.) Some of this sounds – and may well be – unfair. However, there is also a strong correlation between being liked and actually being good. One proven way to be more liked is to simply smile and laugh more. People who smile and laugh more are perceived to be more optimistic, confident and powerful in a non-threatening way.

In summary, you may be extremely good at what you’re doing now, but there are many factors potentially holding you back despite being a superstar in your current role. Don’t think about progression from the perspective of why you deserve a promotion. Instead, apply some of these tips to improve your promotability. This way when opportunity does arise, you’ve got a better chance than you’d have on your job record alone.

Get out there. Be seen working side by side with higher levels or at least the “up and coming”. Cover your “buts”. And possibly most important, be likeable.

It really makes a difference.

Psychways is owned and produced by Talentlift, LLC.

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