By Grace O'Sullivan, The Croft Co-Editor-in-Chief
‘Fear of commitment’: the phrase hidden under every therapist’s tongue. In the world of work, having this aversion to commitment used to be the ticket to unemployment. When you begin with a new employer, some strange unwritten rule suggests, as you shake their hand, that the expectation of ‘forever’ is looming over you.
Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms, authors of the book New Power, report on a recent trend, one that could permanently alter the relationship between employee and employer. Their idea is that, as an employee, your relationship with your boss ought not to resemble a life partnership, but a more of a ‘friend with benefits’ situation - casual, low commitment. You can diligently serve your purpose - but then, move on as and when you wish.
Why feel guilt over using their job as a stepping stone? What else do you owe them outside the walls of a contract? Using LinkedIn as a case study, New Power explores how companies may become more understanding of the possibility that you, their employer, may only stick around for one Christmas party.
‘New Power is responding to a very natural human impulse’@jeremyheimans @henrytimms are entrepreneurs, activists, and authors of 'New Power: How Anyone Can Persuade, Mobilize and Succeed in our Chaotic, Connected Age' @thisisnewpower [Mar 2020] https://t.co/s5oPOWGokU pic.twitter.com/39kZ2Kmaa4— The Psychologist (@psychmag) December 25, 2020
In the landscape of the one-night stand generation, who find the prospect of a second date galling and the 20-second YouTube ad an endurance test, this structure of employment appears to pose the ideal scenario.
If we’re so comfortable with fleeting relationships, why treat our jobs like arranged marriages? We are statistically likely to be living to 100 - by starting work at, say 22, nobody wants to think that they’ll be meeting the same screen-scorched eyeballs across the office for the next 78 years.
It will also be intriguing to see how our generation mobilises into the workforce considering the number of my peers who have told me they would rather be ‘in poverty’ than work an office 9 to 5
Whilst our younger selves might have imagined that we would harness one skill until our eighties, it seems that a majority of us will tackle different rungs.
Exploring further, Epigram spoke with final year students at the University of Bristol, many of whom are considering their first career choice. The potential permanence, or impermanence, of this selection, was evidently poignant in their minds. Overall, there was concern that this first choice would come to ‘Define [them]’, which, unsurprisingly, weighted the decision with a ‘Crippling fear’.
Interestingly, the language of relationships was conflated with the language of employment; one student showed apprehension at the prospect of being ‘Wedded to one specific job, forever.’ This invites two questions: do we over-sentimentalise our occupations and relate to them as if they were human? Is it healthy to invest so emotionally in work and allow it to hoard your loyalty?
Students reasoned that a more varied career trajectory could alleviate certain worries; that it could offer ‘Flexibility and change’, and ‘The opportunity to fulfil [their] full potential’.
We should all hope that our employers are supportive of us moving on to another phase of our careers.
This life calendar also suits the indecisive among us - the ones who struggle to know what we specialise in, whom society has lovingly disguised as ‘multi-hyphenates’. So many people nurture multiple talents, opening up a maze of potential routes to take. It seems a shame to have to select just one, when the time exists to explore more.
Whilst our younger selves might have imagined that we would harness one skill until our eighties, it seems that a majority of us will tackle different rungs. Statistics seem to validate this claim, predicting that the average person will accumulate 12 jobs throughout their lifetime.
It is worth considering whether this shift is symptomatic of a more digitised world. Our attention spans slim with every Instagram update. Naturally, our willingness to stick with one job may start to do the same.
Hopefully, this structure will still leave space for those who do enjoy the idea of a long, romantic love affair with their job. It would seem cruel to forcibly displace people from their livelihoods when it may be too premature to do so. It would, however, be nice to have a world where you don’t feel squirming guilt to email over a notice letter. Somehow, they always sound like they’re from an MI6 agent, when the dull reality is a student quitting a Saturday café job.
In accepting a certain level of callousness, there’s an unexpected warmth to be found in this new professional dynamic - a mutual respect for low commitment. We should all hope that our employers are supportive of us moving on to another phase of our careers.
Featured Image: Epigram / Dan Hutton
Do you think employer - employee relationships are changing for the better?