Taking Initiative – There’s no such thing as job security

taking initiativeI’ve been reading Seth Godin’s book on taking initiative called Poke the Box.

Godin’s thesis is straightforward: Depending on our stage of life, most of us learn to do just enough to avoid punishment, make the grade, or keep the job.

We play by the rules. We wait in line. We respect authority.

As long as we don’t make any big mistakes, our jobs, our families, and our lives will be secure, or at least, that’s the belief underneath all this compliance and risk management.

I’m saying: security isn’t bad anymore than food is bad. The word “security” is one name for a framework that promises stability, consistency, prosperity, and happiness—except the framework can fail.

When we use the word “security,” we’re really talking about money—one category of investments is even called “securities”—and when we’re talking about money, most of us are talking about our paychecks. We aren’t independently wealthy, so we have to keep jobs. Job security sounds like a cozy blanket, a guarantee that you or your family will have food, shelter, and healthcare.

In the last quarter of 2008, even those of us with the weakest vision saw the writing on the wall, and the economists and pundits licked their lips at the news: worst recession since the Great Depression.

First your benefits were cut. And then, your boss cut everybody’s salary by 15%.

With tears in his eyes, your boss tells you that he has to cut the firm in half. He can’t pay back taxes to the IRS and pay nine salaries and keep the company afloat. He’s really sorry. Then you get laid off.

After breaking the news to multiple people at once, he calls you back into his office and reassures you: “I don’t know what we’re going to do without you. I’m hoping that I can hire you back in a couple of months once we get on our feet again, and in the meantime, I’m going to send you all the freelance work that I can.”

Being irreplaceable didn’t make much of a difference that day. There’s no such thing as job security. It’s a mirage that will draw you into a desert.

So what do we focus on rather than job security? Taking initiative. I’ll unpack this a little bit more in my next post.

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2 Comments

  1. Posted April 12, 2011 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

    I greatly appreciate your acknowledging that in this moment in time, irreplaceability is still not a guarantee of job security. All too often, companies either decide to or must do without even excellent employees. Often the excellent ones are the ones they can’t afford.

  2. Posted April 15, 2011 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    Erin, the truly remarkable employees are also the ones who are most likely to ask to be compensated for the transformational value that they bring to an organization. As soon as they begin thinking of creative work in those terms, they become too expensive for decision-makers who are stuck in an old model of top-down executive leadership and tight brand control. Don’t get me wrong, there are some amazing CEOs out there. I’d serve Jeff Bezos or Richard Branson coffee anyday. But I’d want my contributions to a project’s success to be acknowledged, and I’d want greater autonomy in the future.

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