3 December 2013

Boundaryless careers that operate outside organisational boundaries

The rise of a ‘boundaryless’ career is a farcical dream, conjured by the whimsical exuberance of youth or by those that have not yet accepted their place in the hamster wheel of life. The realisation that the traditional nine to five for life is a thing of the past has been cultivated by doom-sayers touting global economic instability, the demise of trade unionism, employer preference for short term arrangements, and the imminent arrival of a humanoid named Siri, here to relieve you of your job whilst doubling as your personal organiser.

The traditional ideal held by many older generations that loyalty and commitment will result in job stability and career progression are no longer viable as employers find themselves needing to cut the fat in order to survive. Generation Y undoubtedly have an almighty task ahead of them – first to break the shackles of disapproval from employers who have long forgotten their misdemeanour's of the 70’s, and then to fight their way through the increasingly competitive queues for a job interview, let alone a full-time contract. The premise of job hopping your way to prosperity is an idea that has received considerable attention in recent years, yet the figures that show that on average, an executive only stays in an organisation for 3.3 years may in fact be more a consequence of the environment over the individual preference. Of course, numbers don’t tell the back-story of an emaciated economic environment in the aftermath of one the most seismic financial collapses in living memory. For those who experienced that involuntary change of career direction in the aftermath of the GFC, the refuge of a boundaryless career and it’s promised autonomy was found to be much less comforting than it was made out to be. Whilst we’re led to believe that the traditional organisational vocation will soon be a thing of the past, there is conflicting evidence that says otherwise, with job tenure remaining stable and employee predisposition to stable organisational employment rising in an increasingly volatile economic environment.

A recent by Oxford researchers indicated that up to 45 percent of American jobs are at risk of being taken by computers in the next 20 years. The rise of artificial intelligence and automated services are likely to effect workers in transport, production, and admin hardest, closely followed by sales, service industries and construction. Further development of intelligent computers could displace workers in management, science and engineering roles. The stark reality facing the labour force of the future – Gen Y, is a labour environment characterised by hyper-competition, technological encroachment, and a Centrelink line bursting with redundant professionals, begging the mechanised desk clerk for the monthly welfare cheque. This is of course all speculation. The fear of being domestic servants to robotic overlords is nothing new. In the early 1800’s, Karl Marx and David Ricardo both proposed that machines would replace human labour, and from 1811 to 1817, the Luddites sabotaged the textile machines that were perceived to be taking their jobs.

The ideal of the boundaryless career is expressed as increased mobility between companies, allowing for both physical and psychological flexibility. This proposition sits well with the generation that has been described as the no collar workers – who want to have their cake and eat it too. Gen Y without a doubt work to live, placing higher value on work/life balance and happily sacrificing pay in return for increased flexibility. The problem for this generation of the future, is that job security is likely to become more and more unpredictable, and the flexibility and mobility between jobs may be a thing of the past, replaced by the pertinent need for stable employment. The Oxford researchers clarified that the time frame for robotic replacements is highly dependant on regulatory approvals for such technologies. With a generation of hopeful job applicants pinning their hopes and dreams on a successful career of choice, we can only hope an Arnold Schwarzenegger like humanoid is sent back from the future to stop this all from happening.

Lachlan Renshaw - Current student at the University of Sydney Business School.

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