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Work Strong

You Gotta Work Strong to Work
By Peter Weddle
Courtesy Weddle's Newsletter

Ask almost anyone in the workplace today, and they will tell you they are doing a good job. While they might acknowledge that their work isn't perfect, they take pride in what they do and the contribution they believe they are making to their employer. So, why do so many of us get hit with what seems like a layoff out-of-the-blue? What's behind the pink slip so many of us never saw coming? The answer lies in the changing definition of security.

Historically, the key to job security has been dedication, loyalty and most importantly, hard work. If you gave your employer your all, it would repay you with all of the work you needed.

Millions of Americans are still convinced that the best way to protect themselves in this stuttering economy is with long hours and never-ending devotion to their job. Just look at all of the frenetic checking of office email that now goes on while people are at home in the evening, on vacation with their family and in their doctor's waiting room when they're sick.

Of course, we would like to believe that this effort will pay off in job security, but the evidence is overwhelming that it doesn't. Over 7 million Americans have discovered that working hard won't save them from a pink slip.

Is there something that will? Absolutely. In today's world of work, you gotta' work strong to work.

How do you do that? You have to change both your focus and your priority. You have to shift your focus from your job to your career. And you have to shift your priority from what you do for your employer to what you do for yourself. Here's what I mean.

Change Your Focus

When you focus on your job, you serve the interests of your employer. That's not a bad thing, but in practice, it crowds everything else out. Think about it. When you're devoted to your job-when you're concentrating on doing everything you must and everything you can to accomplish everything that's been assigned to you-there simply isn't any time left over for you. The benefits of working hard are a one-way street. They all accrue to your employer.

It wasn't always that way, of course. In the past, accepting work that exclusively benefited your employer was counterbalanced by a job security you could count on. Today, it isn't. As we've all learned the hard way, the economy is just too unstable for employers to deliver on such a guarantee, even if they promise it.

So, what's the alternative? Focus on your career. Concentrate on building up the capability, flexibility, utility and visibility of your talent-your DNA of excellence.

Become so good at your area of expertise and so generous with the contribution you make with it that there are always employers looking for you. When you put yourself in that position, you are assured of continuous employment in your choice of jobs. That's called "career security," and it's the only kind of protection you can count on in today's world of work.

Change Your Priority

Traditionally (and legally), employment has been defined as an "at will" experience. To put it bluntly, you serve at the will of your employers. You get a job only if they offer one and you work only as long as they want to employ you. Humans may be creatures with free will, but in the 20th Century workplace, only employers got to exercise it.

Happily, that concept has now been overtaken by events. Today, employers are desperate to find and hire talented workers. They even describe their situation as a "War for Talent." In the face of record unemployment, they believe there is a critical shortage of two kinds of people: those who have certain critical talents (e.g., nursing, engineering, IT) and those who use their talent to excel on-the-job.

What does that mean for you? If you can position yourself as a person with one or both of those attributes, you will reverse the definition of "at will." You will be able to take a job only if you want to and you will be able to work only where you have a genuine opportunity to succeed.

That's called working smart. When you do so, you change the nature of your employment experience. Your career is no longer a one-way street where all of the benefit accrues to your employer. It is, instead, a more equitable two-way street where you are as well served as the organization. In effect, you create your own security-the only security worth having.