October 6, 2010

What is Job Security?

When you think of the term “job security,” what comes to mind? Do you get images of a 30-year career, capped with a retirement party and gold watch?

Perhaps your mind goes to government jobs or union jobs, with their reputation for steadily advancing wages and Presidents’ Day off.

Or maybe you just shrug your shoulders and shake your head that anyone ever thought jobs were secure.

Even if you don’t believe in job security, I bet you want it. I’ve noticed that people will deride the concept but in the same conversation declare they want a stable position. I get that. Even when our heads tell us something isn’t likely to happen, our hearts still want it.

Here’s the thing about job security: As far as I can tell, it was never real. Sure, lots of people in years past started with a company after high school or college and stayed until retirement. But they weren’t being kept on because the companies had a big heart; for the most part, that system was the most profitable model the companies could envision at the time. Once mass layoffs started to take root, and then outsourcing, the same companies fell all over themselves to try those models. So job security was never about making the workers feel secure; it was about making money for the company.

Okay, I can live with that. It’s not as heartwarming as the earlier misconception, but at least it’s a motive I can work with. If we understand that companies are really in business for the money – and not for the welfare of their workers – all we have to do is get on board or get out of the way. Easier said than done, but doable nonetheless.

To get on board in this case means that the worker stays alert to his or her role in making money for the company and does everything possible to be acknowledged or rewarded for that role. To stay out of the way means that the worker does not put all eggs in one basket, expecting the company to provide. This worker uses the job as a tool for income, but socks away as much of that money as possible, to reduce overall dependence on the job.

Neither of these strategies provides a warm feeling but they both provide something better: A measure of control over one’s own career.

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