Jobs For Life Don't Exist: How To Achieve True Job Security Anyway

Job security for life?

By Maynard Webb

For the first decade of my career, I was the quintessential company man. I thought I would be a "lifer." I followed the path of the corporate hierarchy and moved three times for my employer, IBM. I was rewarded for my loyalty and tenure with promotions, picnics, and silver spoons when my children were born. I was also taught to measure success in other ways such as the size of one's office (we counted ceiling tiles) and whether or not it had a wood desk.

Then, 11 years into my tenure, the company decided to shut down the manufacturing plant in Boca Raton where I was working. They offered anyone willing to leave a sweet deal: two years' salary, two years of benefits, and $25,000, but I didn't even consider it. I didn't want to leave IBM. My wife had other plans, however. She also worked at IBM and, pregnant with our daughter, she thought the package was too compelling to pass up. If she was going to leave, I decided I would too.

With that move I also left behind my belief in the paternalistic company. I recognized that no corporation should or could take care of me forever. At first this was a scary realization. But as time wore on, I realized how empowering and liberating it was to view myself as the CEO of my own destiny. This didn't mean that I could never work for anyone else again. In fact, I would spend the next several decades working for other companies -- but I was the one in charge of my fate. This was perhaps the most influential epiphany of my career.

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My IBM experience -- from the loyalty based rewards to the excessive exit package seems utterly unfathomable today. Many of today's workers don't even have a desktop, let alone a wood desk. And jobs for life? That's also passe. The number of people who put in more than 10 years at a company has decreased significantly, while churn (people leaving jobs after less than one year) is rapidly increasing. Statistics show that the Generation Y (those born between 1978 and 2000) employee will have 10 jobs by the age of 38! Kids in high school say they never want to work for "the man."

At the same time, employees need to stop blaming companies for not offering them jobs for life. With increased global competition and need for responsiveness, companies have had to make trade-offs to survive or thrive. One of the first trade-offs was to give up some of the trappings of the paternalistic company, including the notion of lifelong jobs and pension plans (monthly checks paid upon retirement for the rest of an employee's life), which have been replaced by defined contribution plans like 401(k)s, which shift some of the burden to employees who pay into the plan.

But it's not entirely fair to vilify corporate America for this change. Corporations have ceased being stable. The average life expectancy of a company in the S&P 500 has dropped from 75 years (in 1937) to 15 years today, according to John Hagel III at the Deloitte Center for the Edge.

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The paternalism that defined IBM doesn't exist anywhere, including IBM. The rewards for tenure are gone -- and many of the ceiling tiles too. About 25 percent of IBM's worldwide workers telecommute from home offices. This is good. Not only because it saves the company $700 million in real estate costs, but because it embraces the new world order -- one that is better for both companies and workers. This is progress.

Americans are now in the Age of Entrepreneurship, where the only one in charge of your career is you. This should not be intimidating, but liberating. Recognizing that you do not need to cede control to a company and that you are the only CEO of your own destiny is the first step to achieving the career of your dreams. Technology that enables us to work from anywhere and connect at any time increases the opportunities available to everyone, but adopting a new mindset is the secret to succeeding in this new era.

How to Succeed in the Age of Entrepreneurship:

  • Get voted onto the team every day: Make sure you do something every day to show others you deserve to be part of their team

  • It's all about integrity: Do what you say. Say what you do. Always act in a way that makes people remember you positively.

  • Have a great attitude: You might be brilliant, but if you are hard to manage, it's easy to find someone else. Be fun and easy to work with.

  • Be brutally honest with yourself: Be harder on yourself than anyone else will be. Know your strengths and weaknesses.

  • Don't confuse action for traction: Focus on outcomes, not facetime.

  • Build your network: Find role models and mentors outside of your organization.

  • Be brave and be bold: Most things worth doing are hard, successful people get to where they are because they make the hard appear easy.

  • Don't be afraid of change. Don't look back and wish for things to be the way they used to be. The world always moves forward.

Maynard Webb is author of Rebooting Work: Transform How You Work in the Age of Entrepreneurship and founder of the Webb Investment Network (WIN), a seed investment firm dedicated to nurturing entrepreneurs. Webb is currently the chairman (and was formerly the CEO) of LiveOps, a cloud based call center with a community of 20,000 agents, and a board member at both and Yahoo, and was previously COO of eBay.

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