From the last quarter of the 20th Century, the twin forces of liberalism and the internet have powered globalisation and transformed the work environment.
New technologies and easier access to diverse markets have compelled companies to embrace new business models and change the way they interact with customers. At the same time, employees have had to adapt to new ways of working – not just in terms of learning new technologies but in the way they manage their careers.
In Venture Labour: Work and the Burden of Risk in Innovative Industries, Gina Neff introduces the idea of ‘venture labour’. She describes the enthusiasm of employees in the 1990s to take on the opportunities presented by the internet; leaving steady jobs to join start-ups and seeking careers defined by innovation rather than stability. A willingness to embrace risk was no longer confined to entrepreneurs and employees increasingly felt they had sole responsibility for their careers; moving from job to job to build skills and experience, and building their own profile in the industry. Neff describes how venture labour became not just normal, but admirable.
Since the 1990s the phenomenon of venture labour has spread beyond Silicon Alley’s ‘innovative industries’ to permeate all sectors, not least marketing. In its most extreme form, venture labour has morphed into the gig economy, but aspects of venture labour can also be seen in more traditional employment models such as freelancing and full-time employment.
Expectations of job security and tenure have changed. It has become common for employees to change jobs regularly, with “a job for life” becoming a thing of the past.
Creating a sustainable career in the era of impermanence
Expectations of job security and tenure have changed. It has become common for employees to change jobs regularly, with “a job for life” becoming a thing of the past. Breadth of experience is now valued as highly as loyalty and, while companies still seek employees who feel passion for their job, an employee who stays too long may be seen as lacking drive and enterprise.
This new impermanence means the onus is on the individual to seek and maintain employment, and that means social capital (the goodwill and reciprocity that results from healthy networks and personal branding) has become critical.
A number of behaviours which build social capital have consequently grown in importance:
Networking has always been critical to a successful career, but it is no longer confined to the golf course. Social platforms such as LinkedIn have helped open networking to all, and are now regularly checked by employers to assess potential employees, checking the size and quality of their networks and recommendations.
Building relationships in the first place still requires offline effort, for example meeting people through work projects, and as always, the networks formed through such shared endeavours are the strongest, but online networking makes it easier to maintain and strengthen these relationships.
Charismatic individuals have long had a natural advantage in their careers, but building a personal brand can no longer be left up to genetics. Personal branding requires much more than demonstrating competence at one’s job; it needs to reflect the employees’ wider interests such as mentoring, speaking on the conference circuit, or perhaps involvement in social enterprise. As with networking, social media has helped to democratise self-branding by giving people the reach and tools that were once only available to senior members of an organisation.
A passive approach to knowledge is no longer sufficient and employees cannot rely on work training alone to keep abreast of new technologies and trends. Modern marketers have to actively educate themselves through conferences, forums, and online publications. This is partly because no company training programme could hope to keep up with the rapid change of today’s marketing technology. Self-education also gives employees a way to demonstrate their enterprising nature.
The above behaviours are as beneficial to the company as to the employee. Networking and self-branding raise the company’s profile, which creates an authentic and positive reputation at the same time as amplifying PR and advertising messages.
These behaviours are not new; the exceptional employees of the past were always well connected, well known, and constantly educating themselves. What is new is that these behaviours are now vital for career success. This is particularly true for marketers where the rapid evolution of technology makes constant self-education critical, and perhaps expectations are even higher as the very nature of the job suggests marketers should have a flair for self-branding and networking.