Ask a random group of people what they hope to gain from their careers and you’re likely to get a wide variety of answers. From developing technical skills to acquiring a sense of personal achievement, we look to our jobs to help fill our hours, pay our bills, and, ultimately, provide security for our families and ourselves.
We want to wake up tomorrow knowing that we have the income necessary to improve our education, start our own business, or put food on the table. We want to go to sleep each night, knowing that our future is firmly under control: our control.
This is called “Job Security” and it happens to be one of the most widely accepted illusions that our society has to offer. Why an illusion? Think about what comes to mind when someone says the word “secure”. Webster’s dictionary defines the word as “Free from danger, safe; Free from fear and doubt; assured; certain.”
We try to obtain this in our jobs by being reliable workers who give “a day’s work for a day’s pay.” If we know our trade well (for example, if you can scoop more ice cream faster than any of your peers, have the skills necessary to maintain an efficient freight flow, or the vision to advance your company’s financial interests), we call our job “secure.”
The problem with this is that in each of these cases our “security” is based upon our own efforts. The real world (not the one we pretend to live in, but the one that actually exists) is like a roller coaster: full of unexpected bumps and the occasional derailment. Factors beyond our control often affect the stability of our workplace and the surety of our employment, leaving us scrambling for something, anything, to hold on to.
For example: A year and an half after getting my first job, I moved on to my second as a sales-clerk in the seasonal department of a local farm store. Unlike the hardware store which stayed in business by providing things that people need year-round (like paint, nails, and plumbing parts), a large portion of this particular company’s income came from the merchandise in this seasonal section. Our selection was constantly changing and, once each year, we’d rearrange everything to make way for the best assortment of winter gear for fifty miles. We brought in snow blowers, insulated coveralls, shovels, and snow boots. Half of the warehouse was dedicated to the back-stock on these items and everyone felt secure in knowing that the product was there, ready to sell. The only problem was that, for the first time in almost 100 years, it didn’t snow! The store didn’t sell the product and had to pay for storage on the items until the next year rolled around. The company lost money and, as a result, employee hours were cut. So much for security.
Yes, you’re thinking, but that was the result of poor human speculation. If I do my part as a worker, then I have nothing to worry about. Wrong again! My Dad has a highly enviable job as an aviator (the sort where little kids are constantly asking for his autograph). He flew helicopters in the Marine Corps and then went on to fly for assorted civilian companies prospecting for oil, fighting forest fires, flying life flight, and even transporting skiers to the tops of inaccessible peaks. My mother still tells the story of a year when my Dad had done the work he’d agreed to perform, but when it came time for the check to arrive… well, it didn’t. You see, the owner of the company he was flying for had decided that a permanent off-shore vacation sounded like a great idea. He disappeared along with all of the company’s funds, leaving my parents without the cash that my Dad had already earned!
These stories serve to illustrate what businessmen refer to as the “dynamic environment”. They are a brief sampling of the competitive, political, economic, legal, technological, and sociocultural forces over which we as individuals have very little control. Sadly, these forces often, have a great deal of control over both us and the jobs from which we sometimes derive our sense of security.
So what do we do when the one thing we look to our jobs to provide doesn’t come through? We’ll take a look at that next week. For now, feel free to share your thoughts on job security in the comment box below!