Professional careers have always had a tinge of uncertainty. However, the digital age has amplified it significantly with efficiency no longer being the mainstay of human excellence as advanced automation and autonomous functioning have steadily reduced the commission of errors. Consequently, excellence is being commoditized with respect to job performance and the notion of being relevant in the digital world is gaining more traction. More and more of the repetitive, physically demanding, minimally diverse jobs and functions are being relegated to smart machines, while cerebrally-intensive skills (e.g., innovative thinking, astute strategizing, creative application, cohesive peer-to-peer engagement, etc.) are being heralded as the last bastion of human relevance in the workplace.
Most of the automation impact is being felt by mid-career workers, haunted by the notion that 45 may be the new 65 as they brace for technologies reducing the need for large workforces.
Additionally, the list of occupations that used to be the exclusive domain of human dexterity is dwindling and the once fantasized fiction of humans working with AI-enabled entities as team members is rapidly becoming a reality. This is forcing a proactive rethinking of HR policies and processes to accommodate the new normal before it pervades the corporate landscape and before the organizational leadership at seemingly innovative corporate establishments is caught grasping for solutions to manage these new situations.
The need to redefine career paths
Furthermore, as AI-enabled entities gain ascendency in the workplace, the nature of corporate life is increasingly evolving from inherently business to fleetingly humanistic. Therefore, it is incumbent on progressive organizations to muster the courage and honesty to redefine career paths and communicate the actual progression prospects to their workforce. This is especially so for those workers facing redundancy due to the impending irrelevance or marginalization of their depreciating skill sets in the future.
The following chart is presented to enable progressive organizations to gauge the employee career dynamics in the digital age and take timely and effective action to assure and ensure that the talent within their ranks is managed astutely by maximizing the merits of a positive employee experience.
The chart provides an overview of how motivational levels play a significant part during the tenure of a professional in a particular role with respect to career relevancy. It is divided into two main regions: the Self-Belief Region and the Self-Doubt Region.
The Self-Belief Region reflects the proclivity of a professional who is intrinsically motivated and driven to excel at his or her job overcoming the associated challenges with zeal. This type of worker is the kind organizations like to project as their brand ambassador, especially to entice the new crop of desired talent.
The Self-Doubt Region reflects the pessimistic inclination of a professional who feels betrayed in terms of the broken psychological contract — — marginalized or overlooked for career advancement opportunities, victimized by organizational politics, ignored for high-profile assignments, etc. — and is nagged by the urge to seek better career prospects with another organization while dreading the increasing probability of becoming obsolete and being pushed out as a misfit by the current employer.
The two main regions are further divided into six zones:
This refers to the area where the professional is in the process of getting oriented to a new role, position or function. They are generally motivated and excited to embrace the relevant responsibilities while developing productive relationships with peers and supervisors. At the same time, this worker is also very sensitive to performance criticism and disparaging behavior from peers or supervisor, which may lead to questioning the decision to take on the new assignment and may result in an early exit. Therefore, it is critical for the team, especially, the supervisor to ensure that the person is onboarded effectively and given the confidence of being a valued team member.
This refers to the area where the worker starts to own the job after having a successful onboarding experience. Here, the person takes steps to establish their reputation and value in their new capacity. It also reflects the level of comfort that grows in the person as they shed concerns about failure while also gaining appreciable amounts of intrinsic motivation to create a solid foundation for excellence. This also creates a buffer against any negative thoughts or experiences arising from such things as organizational politics, peer jealousy or long work hours, that may entice the person to leave.
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This refers to the area where the worker has attained an appreciable level of proficiency in their job and is galvanized by an empowering corporate culture to go beyond the call of duty to help customers, clients, peers, supervisors, mentees, etc. Such employees are true assets for the employer, praised as worthy ambassadors of the core values espoused by the organization. They are the hardest to poach and often consider extravagant recognition and associated financial rewards as secondary to the personal gratification they feel from the work they do and the honest gratitude of recipients of their help.
This describes an area where a worker realizes his or her outstanding performance is not yielding career development and growth opportunities while peers with considerably less capability are able to surge ahead with promising and high-visibility assignments due to favoritism, nepotism or other non-performance factors. Such a perception of blatant impropriety puts the worker in a self-reflective mode, assessing the fruitlessness of the value of their contributions and achievements and leading to an indifferent attitude manifested in low morale, loss of drive, “by the book work” and more. Consequently, the motivation to do great work converts into high motivation for finding a new job before their relevance or usefulness runs out in the chosen field.
This refers to the area where the person has little hope of advancing up the career ladder as most of his peers have either left or advanced to higher levels of the organizational hierarchy. Additionally, the worker may also start to get signals from supervisors or HR about their future in the organization. Consequently, the motivation to leave the organization increases substantially often accompanied by a sense of betrayal due to the apparent lack of respect for serving a long time with the organization. This simmering bitterness, coupled with the anxiety associated with finding suitable new employment converts these employees into active billboards of organizational disharmony jeopardizing employer branding initiatives.
This refers to the area where the employee has lost the interest and drive to contribute in any value-added way to the organization and is considered a burden, rather than, a worthwhile investment. Retaining this person within the corporate ranks endangers the corporate culture. Consequently, management looks to HR to terminate such professionals with minimal disturbance to organizational functioning, unless, they can be persuaded to leave on their own accord. This is the least favorable option for progressive organizations that pride themselves on maintaining close contact with their former employees, especially, in terms of leveraging their employee experience to reinforce employer branding initiatives.
Some last thoughts
Organizations are generally coded to value the performance of employees more than the employees themselves. Employees are generally inclined to value their career preservation more than the wider organizational imperatives. Consequently, while the corporate emphasis is on maximizing desired gains from employees, the priority of employees is to extract maximum individual concessions to justify continued allegiance to the organization.
Thus, the vibrancy of a productive employment relationship is normally defined by a delicate balance of conflicting interests predicated on the robustness of shared values and the formal/informal comforting signals received and registered on each side. The Employee Career Dynamics chart serves as a common language for a healthy dialogue and as a catalyst for subsequent effective measures to reinforce the employment bonds to reliably withstand the tumultuousness of change in an era of ubiquitous AI.