re-invent yourself, often

Lifetime loyalty to a company (or shushinkoyou) used to be a tenet of Japanese culture. It traces back to the 1920s, when lifetime employment policies were officially enacted since they were believed to engender a bottom-to-top and top-to-bottom mutuality of corporate mission.

Those habits intensified after World War II, when Japan faced a labor shortage and, as a result, longer term employment and employment security became a social value.

Later, shushinkoyou went as far in large companies as to hiring rookies in the spring every year –even when those companies had no jobs for them. Once hired, they stayed on the company’s payroll until they turned 65, never to be fired unless they committed a criminal offence. And when they did retire, employees got a lump sum the equivalent of 5-6 times their annual salary.

Wow! Imagine that: lifetime employment guaranteed and a great retirement package. A great deal for any employee, right? But why? What is in it for the company? The company can count on their staff not just as an asset, but as the bed-rock of the organisation -because the employee does not see him/herself working for a living, he/she believes that work is a way of life.

This work/life ethic did not spread to many other countries (especially not Western countries). And even in Japan it is slowly fading away (at one time male lifetime employees made up 90% of the workforce).

In contrast, in the United States the most repeated claim was that the average American employee goes through seven career changes in their lifetime. Which in and of itself would be a huge contrast with the shushinkoyou tradition in Japan, right? Well, too bad: the seven careers in one’s lifetime is also old news in the United States… and in most of the Western world by extension.

If job hopping already feels as too demanding for many (it many require moving/relocating and a high level of adaptability), some go to the point of saying that we have to get ready not just to have seven careers in our lifetimes, but seven careers simultaneously.

Of course, that can be a bit extreme, and may not affect all employees out there, but it is true that we are witnessing a growing tendency to self-employment and freelancing in some key areas of our economies -and that those new company/employees relationships are not based on full-time employment, but rather on project-based employment, which require employees to seek work with several different companies simultaneously to make ends meet.

Add to the mix that 65% of today’s students will eventually be employed in jobs that have yet to be created, which means that if you are in your 20s or 30s, you do not just have to worry about getting ready to wear multiple hats today, but also about training and re-training constantly if you want to be able to continue finding work for years to come.

In that context, the concept of lifelong learning does not sound as a fashionable term anymore, but as a necessity to guarantee employability down the road.

But if you are in your 40s or 50s… well, bad news: you are in the same boat. In this day and age nobody can relax thinking, “my job ain’t going nowhere”. At least I wouldn’t if I were in your shoes. On the contrary, I would try to re-invent myself, often.

After all, as Alvin Toffler said

The illiterate of the 21st Century are not those who cannot read and write but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”