Professional careers have always had a tinge of uncertainty, but the Digital Age has amplified it significantly. Efficiency is no longer the mainstay of human excellence as advanced automation and seamless autonomous functioning have steadily taken out the “committing of errors” from the corporate equation. Consequently, “excellence” is being commoditized with respect to job performance, and the notion of being relevant in the digital world is gaining more traction. More and more of the repetitive/physically demanding/minimally diverse jobs, roles, and functions are being relegated to smart machines, while cerebrally intensive skills, such as innovative thinking, astute strategizing, creative application, cohesive peer-to-peer engagement, etc., are being heralded as the “last bastion of human relevance” in the workplace. Most of the respective impact is being felt by the mid-career professionals who are haunted by the notion that 45 is the new 65 as they brace for the groundbreaking technologies nullifying the need for large workforces.
Additionally, the list of professions that used to be the exclusive domain of human dexterity is dwindling and the “fantasized fiction” of humans working with artificial intelligence or AI-enabled entities as team members rapidly is becoming an inevitable ground reality that is forcing a proactive rethinking of HR policies, processes, and procedures to accommodate the new normal before it pervades the corporate landscape, and organizational leadership at seemingly innovative corporate establishments is caught gasping for robust solutions to manage unforeseen and/or unrealized situations.
Furthermore, as AI-enabled entities gain ascendency in the workplace, the nature of corporate life increasingly is evolving from inherently business to fleetingly humanistic. Therefore, it becomes incumbent on progressive organizations to muster the courage and honesty to timely redefine/adjust career paths and communicate the actual progression prospects to their workforce in advance, especially for professionals who face the stark reality of redundancy due to the irrelevance/marginalization of their depreciating skill sets in the foreseeable future. The following chart is presented to enable progressive organizations to gauge the employee career dynamics in the Digital Age and to take timely and effective measures to ensure that the desired talent within their ranks is managed astutely by maximizing the merits of a positive employee experience:
This chart provides an overview of how motivational levels play a significant part during the tenure of a professional in a particular role, function, or position with respect to career relevancy and attrition propensity considerations. It is divided into two main regions:
- Self-Belief Region
- Self-Doubt Region
The Self-Belief Region reflects the optimistic proclivity of a professional who is intrinsically motivated and perpetually driven to excel at his or her role, position, or function as he or she prevails/succeeds in overcoming the associated challenges with infectious zeal. He or she is also the type of professional organizations like to project as their brand ambassador, especially, to entice the new crop of desired talent.
The Self-Doubt Region reflects the pessimistic inclination of a professional who feels betrayed in terms of the broken psychological contract, e.g., marginalized/overlooked for career advancement opportunities, victimized by organizational politics, ignored for high-profile assignments, etc., and is nagged by the urge to seek better career prospects with another reliable organization while dreading the increasing probability of becoming obsolete and being pushed out as a misfit by the current employer.
The two main regions are further divided into six zones:
This refers to the area where the professional is in the process of getting oriented to the new role, position, or function. He or she is generally motivated and excited to embrace the relevant responsibilities and keenly observes how to initiate/develop productive relationships with his or her peers and supervisor(s). At the same time, he or she is sensitive to performance criticism and disparaging remarks/behavior from peers/supervisor(s) that can lead to his or her questioning the decision to serve in the respective role, position, or function and may result in an early exit. Therefore, it is critical for the team, especially, the supervisor(s) to ensure the employee is onboarded effectively and given the confidence of being a valued team member in conjunction with the HR/Talent Management function.
This refers to the area where the professional starts to own the role, position, or function after having a successful onboarding experience and takes solid steps for establishing his or her own reputation as a worthwhile investment in the respective capacity. It also reflects the comfort level that seeps into the professional’s mindset as he or she sheds any concern about being a failure at performing his or her assigned tasks/responsibilities and gains appreciable amounts of intrinsic motivation to create a solid foundation for excellence. This also creates a buffer against any negative thoughts/experiences that may entice the professional to leave due to any expected impediments, such as organizational politics, peer jealousy, long work hours, etc.
This refers to the area where the professional has attained an appreciable level of proficiency in his or her assigned role, position, or function and is galvanized by an empowering corporate culture to go beyond the call of duty to facilitate/assist anyone in his or her sphere of engagement, such as customers, clients, peers, supervisor(s), mentees, etc. Such professionals are the true assets for corporate entities and often are profiled/praised/heralded as worthy ambassadors in terms of being the embodiment of core values espoused by the organization. They are the hardest to poach by ravenous competitors and often consider extravagant recognition and associated financial rewards secondary to the attainment of personal gratification achieved from selfless application of inherent talent nurtured by the raw and honest gratitude of recipients.
This refers to the area where the professional realizes that his or her outstanding performance is not yielding career development and growth opportunities while his or her peers with considerably less capability are able to surge ahead with promising and high-visibility assignments due to favoritism/nepotism/other non-performance factors. Such a perception of blatant impropriety places the respective professional in a self-reflective mode where he or she assesses the fruitlessness of the value of his or her profound contributions/considerable achievements and steadily gains an indifferent attitude that often manifests in low morale, loss of drive, going by the book work preference, mood fluctuations, etc. Consequently, the high motivation to do great professional work at the present organization converts into the high motivation for finding a great career opportunity at another organization before the margin of appropriateness/relevance/usefulness due to over experience runs out in the chosen field.
This refers to the area where the professional feels that he or she has no or minimal hope of advancing up the career ladder since most of his or her peers have either left or advanced to higher levels of the organizational hierarchy either fairly or unfairly. Additionally, he or she may start to get informal signals from his or her supervisor(s) and/or the HR/Talent Management function about the slim prospects of his or her prolonged stay in the organization. Consequently, the motivation to leave the organization where he or she is not valued increases substantially while often harboring a sense of betrayal due to the apparent lack of respect for serving a long time with the organization. This simmering bitterness coupled with the pulsating anxiety associated with finding suitable new employment converts such professionals into active billboards of organizational disharmony/malfunction while jeopardizing employer branding initiatives.
This refers to the area where the professional has lost the interest and drive to contribute in any value-added way to the organization and is considered a burden, rather than a worthwhile investment for the organization. Keeping him or her within the corporate ranks endangers the sanctity of a vibrant and cohesive corporate culture that binds the organizational fabric robustly. Consequently, senior management often asks the HR/Talent Management function to ensure the release of such professionals with minimal disturbance to organizational functioning, unless, they can leave on their own accord, e.g., upon finding suitable employment elsewhere. This is the least favorable option for progressive organizations that pride themselves on maintaining close contacts with their former employees, especially, in terms of leveraging their employee experience to reinforce employer branding initiatives.
Organizations generally are coded to value the performance of employees more than the employees themselves. Employees generally are inclined to value their career preservation more than the wider organizational imperatives. Consequently, while the corporate emphasis is on maximizing desired gains from employees as long as their marginal utility is deemed favorable, the priority of employees is to extract maximum individual concessions to justify continued allegiance to the organization.
Thus, the vibrancy of a productive employment relationship normally is defined by a delicate balance of conflicting interests that is predicated on the robustness of shared values and the formal/informal comforting signals received and registered on each side. The Employee Career Dynamics Chart for the Digital Age serves as a common language for a healthy dialogue and as a catalyst for subsequent effective measures to reinforce the wavering employment bonds that can reliably withstand the tumultuousness of change in an era of ubiquitous artificial intelligence.
Murad Salman Mirza is an innovative thinker and an astute practitioner of areas within and associated with the fields of organizational development, talent management, and business transformation. He has lived, studied, and served in different regions of the world, including, the U.S., Australia, South Asia, and the Middle East. His LinkedIn profile can be viewed at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/muradsalmanmirza