Believe it or not, the chief personal cost of any permanent job is a gradual lack of confidence in capability and empowerment. The day we sign on the dotted line for a job, especially in the public services, certain surreptitious things begin to happen. Like a worm, knowledge of our new situation slithers ominously into our consciousness until the final acknowledgement that our salary is there for life, or as long as we want it, and we don't have to worry for a long time. The plans begin in earnest. Lots and lots of plans to get the house, the car, the freezer, the personal yacht and helicopter! - anything that will confirm our new status while anchoring us firmly to new contractual knots and long term anxieties. Expectation is high and ambition has few limits.
Gradually, as we become weighted down by responsibilities and bills, we realise that we do not have to do anything fantastic to stay in the job. Barring any catastrophe, so long as our work is acceptable, we are protected from the storms of deprivation and worry, shielded snugly from any occupational winds of anxiety, except on a domestic level, and, without increasing our effort one bit, we can acquire even more trappings of success while suiting output to match our leisurely pace. However, something else has been happening while we have been settling in to our situation. The basic need for stimulation, responsibility and recognition is getting stronger, but is perhaps not being fulfilled and begins a painful plunge into feelings of nothingness and self doubt.
There are three stages to every new job: (a) Introduction and initiation, (b) task familiarity and (c) full experience. Depending on the number of aspects involved, and the complexity of the tasks, all three stages tend to take between three and six years. The first stage of being inducted is always novel and interesting, especially if it is something we really want to do. Second stage familiarity boosts our confidence and self-esteem by confirming personal capabilities while adding new knowledge and skills to our repertoire. If this stage has been a success, the final stage marks us as a kind of expert, well versed in all aspects of our job description, and ready for greater responsibility. Add another two years for luck, and the employee is ready to move on, hopefully, to better things. However, it is this last stage which causes the most difficulty because it sets up expectations, especially around promotion and greater recognition and reward, which are often not forthcoming.
Low Morale and High Stress
If we do not move on to something completely different, preferably in a new environment, we begin to lose our enthusiasm and belief in ourself. We lack that crucial challenge of something new. Soon we give up trying, becoming resigned to the situation and tending to do the minimum. It is a short step to being happier out of the job than in it. Repetition and too much familiarity simply kill the spirit. Teaching, local government and the Civil Service have prime examples of this, which is often reflected in high levels of stress, low standard of service and low morale. Yet the more we stay in any job, the harder it is to get out of it and the more worthless we feel. Fear gradually takes us over and reduces our value. The converse of that is the development of a sort of 'jobsworth' mentality where the job becomes everything, for its own sake, with its own territory and petty rules.
Leaving any permanent post is a difficult act because the final, and most expensive, cost to the individual is in self-esteem. Gradually we begin to think we will never get another job anywhere; no one else would want the 'little' we would bring and everyone else is so much better than we are. This is also the stage where we either become 'dictatorial and indispensable', working solely by the book and resent any newcomer with great ideas to show us up, or overtly critical and fault-finding of suggestions and colleagues in order to boost flagging egos.
We also become fretful, apathetic, demoralised and too ready to forget that if we did get this permanent job years ago when we had fewer skills, we would get an even better one now when we are more experienced. But we actually have to believe in our development and earnestly take the initiative to look elsewhere. As we tend to assume there is nowhere else to go and cling on for dear life, we work less to compensate, short-changing our employer and becoming less attractive to our bosses in the process. With time, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that we won't be able to find new work. So we stay put, hungry for something better but fully sated with bitterness, regret, resentment and remorse.
Greater Flexibility and Expertise
Due to our technological revolution, workers of the future will be moving regularly between employment and self-employment. Sensible, confident employees will not be deterred by that. Nothing activates the adrenalin better, or develops the individual more, than an insecure position. Superficially, it might not have too many overtly positive aspects, but it is guaranteed to keep us alert, to increase personal effort and input, to make us more tolerant and raise our appreciation of both situations and people. In time, the various skills we develop will not only increase personal confidence, self-worth and feeling of achievement, they will also dramatically improve our flexibility, self-reliance and competence - as well as our appeal to other employers.
In the process, we do learn that the more we put into our existence, the more meaningful and enjoyable it will be. Even more important, we also learn how to make decisions, to be patient in the face of adversity, to recognise that we have real choices, to genuinely believe in ourselves and to make the most of every opportunity, without too many regrets.
No job should last longer than six to eight years. It might be unstable for certain professions but it would make for a more interesting, unpredictable and rewarding life, as well as ensuring available expertise, unstinting contributions to, and exciting opportunities in, our chosen field with very little time to feel stale or resentful.
©Elaine Sihera (Ms CYPRAH) 2011
Emotional Health and People Management Consultant
"Respect and love begin with the self. If we have none, how can we give away any?"