The High School Sweetheart Approach to Employment

The High School Sweetheart Approach to Employment

The world of work has changed.  That’s obvious.  What isn’t so clear is how that change will affect our employment.  If the gold watch and career ladder are gone, what kind of relationship will we have with our employers?

Enter the metaphors.  Folks are trying to explain the new employment experience by comparing it to something most of us already know or understand.

There’s the metaphor of a movie production company.  Some opine that work will now resemble employers assembling a crew of skilled individuals to complete a specific project at which point, the crew will disband and each person will head off to another employer to work on a different project.  It’s a good description of the gig economy, but at least for now, not the norm most of us experience in our employment.

And more recently, there’s been the metaphor of a military “tour of duty.”  People will go to work with the expectation that the duration of their job will be no more than 2-3 years and then they will move on to their next assignment.  In the military, however, while your tours change, your employer never does – you’re always working for the Army or the Navy or the Air Force – so the metaphor is more appropriate for internal mobility than for people who work for entirely different organizations.

Which brings me to my metaphor.  I call it the “high school sweetheart” view of employment.  Think back to those halcyon days of youth when romance was in the air.  Those relationships were intense, full of excitement and, in most cases, built with declarations or at least intentions of undying commitment.  Your high school sweetheart was everything to you … until they weren’t.  The breakups were often painful, but they were also an opportunity.  They freed you to look for a new sweetheart and start yet another romance that was (hopefully) just as sweet and memorable.

Those iterative romantic experiences are as close as a metaphor can get to what your employment experience will feel like in today’s world of work.  You’ll meet a great employer, fall in love with the organization and the work it offers and you’ll commit yourself to both, until the bloom – for whatever reason – wears off the rose.  That may take two or three or even four years, but when it does – and it almost always will – you’ll store away the (good) memories and move on to your next romance, full of curiosity and optimism about the future.

Thanks for reading,

1 Comment

  1. Could not agree more, Peter. I am one of the Gen X folks, and we were taught to approach employment with an unquestioned level of loyalty and commitment with one partner like what we see in a faithful marriage. The employment reality, of course, is very different today as you have repeatedly pointed out.

    This high school sweetheart approach also goes congruently with your Person of Talent thesis. When it is time to move on, your talent, which we have continued to build, shape and polish, will attract someone else. That someone else will see that your talents bring value to this brand new relationship.