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Be Empowered To Win In Today's Employment Economy

Written by: Flo LaBrado, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 
Executive Contributor Flo LaBrado

I’ve been reflecting on the many conversations I had then with people who were laid off since the wave of mass layoffs in 2023. Some workers saw the layoffs coming and were somewhat prepared, with resumes and LinkedIn profiles updated and ready to go. Others were completely surprised and in shock, struggling with what to do next. I heard friends and colleagues share that they felt betrayed after pouring much heart and soul into their work. The layoff was not fair. Some expressed that they did not see their job cut coming because “it was supposed to be a family.” I heard similar sentiments from my clients, too.


Businesswoman and businessman talking in the office

I can relate. There was a long stretch in my corporate career in which I also felt that work was a family. I have a wonderful and complicated family. My work family felt similar. At work and beyond, we spent a lot of time together. We celebrated each other’s birthdays, graduations, weddings, home purchases, and more. We supported each other through illnesses, divorces, and the passing of relatives. We were part of each other’s social fabric. I met many of my closest friends at work, even my husband.


How does a family suddenly leave someone unemployed, underinsured, and at a loss? Family does not do that. Typically, families, whether by blood or chosen, have a deep commitment to caring for their members, indefinitely.


The reality is that work is never a “work family.” It is always an economic relationship.

 

The employment economic relationship


The social contract between workers and organizations has evolved over the years. Centuries ago, workers began as apprentices, exchanging their labor for training and skills to enable them to become craftsmen. While apprenticeships remain, over time, the primary model became working in factories and other forms of industry. Workers traded their labor and loyalty in exchange for wages, upskilling, and, eventually, some long-term retirement support. As technological advancements required further skill development, organizations demanded more from workers and supported them with increasingly sophisticated skill development and some sort of long-term support. These exchanges and their variations were economic relationships. The expression of the labor-compensation exchange shifted over time, but a constant was a sense of mutual loyalty. As a result, work and our roles at work remained parts of our social identities, with great overlap in the Venn Diagram of one’s values and an organization’s culture.


Fast forward to today. The rate of technological and social change is exponential. We know this. No need to belabor the topic. As a result of the constant change, the economic relationship between workers and organizations is also changing. In the United States, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported between 1.8 million and 1.5 million layoffs each quarter in 2023, with only a slight downtrend in early 2024. The trending advice is for workers to intentionally change careers often for greater job satisfaction. Add to that the prediction that by 2027, 44% of workers' skills will be impacted by digital technologies. The labor-compensation economic exchange is changing fast.

 

Think like a consultant


When I think of my clients, colleagues, and friends, I find that people will benefit most as part of the workforce when everyone thinks of themselves fundamentally as a consultant. That’s the new economic transaction—regardless of the language around it. Everyone is hired for a set of skills and for a time. This economic setup seems impersonal. But there is nothing wrong with it, as long as we do not pretend it is anything different, such as a family. When we do, we run into cultural, identity, and economic trouble. I love everyone I work with in my corporate role. I care deeply about each team member, beyond the boundaries of the organization. But I would be doing a disservice to them if I were to imply that a company is a family.


Describing the worker-organization relationship in which many spend a significant portion of their time as an economic transaction feels cold. It sounds inhumane. We are people, not tools in a toolbox. However, workers might be empowered by approaching the economic relationship as a consultant. And, people are waking up to the idea.


I conducted an informal survey of individuals impacted by layoffs since Q1 of 2023. I asked about their attitudes toward work as they seek their next role or in their new roles. I also asked a similar question to the “survivors”, those continuing to work in an organization after seeing their workmates lose their jobs.


I was encouraged by the data, indicating the shedding of the idea that work is a family. Nearly half of respondents said that they are prioritizing work-life balance and boundaries in their new or next role. A quarter are prioritizing their professional development and touting their accomplishments. A fifth are committed to having less loyalty to an organization and thirteen percent are making company culture and integrity with organizational values a priority. What is most exciting is that people are significantly more committed to following through on holding an organization to its values.

 

Work percentages

One area of concern is that of the twenty-five percent of respondents who said they are prioritizing their professional development and celebrating their accomplishments, their commitment to this priority is weaker. This may be a function of wanting to have a healthier relationship with work or growing tired of hustle culture and being willing to take a pay reduction for a balanced life.


If my informal research is a solid indicator, I am happy to see that workers are developing a healthier perspective toward organizations and work. Individuals are ready to take back their identities and define what they are willing to do and what is not okay for them. Approaching work as a consultant in the economic transaction between workers and organizations can empower people to be successful.

 

Strategies to think like a consultant


Thinking like a consultant for full-time employment work and contract work alike may be uncomfortable but also empowering. Granted, this may be challenging depending on the resources one has, and privilege may provide more resources for some than others. However, each of us has resources and creativity to draw from to make the shift to an empowered exchange in the labor-compensation economic transaction. The following strategies are a start.

 

1. Get clear about your values and work values


Our core values are the enduring beliefs that a person holds most dear. Whether known or not, an individual's core values guide their decision-making and how they move throughout the world. Then there are work values, which fluctuate based on what the person needs from work in a specific season of life. Not knowing one’s values may result in unnecessary pain due to the dissonance between one’s gut and what they do at work.


Investing time for introspection to understand your values will empower you to make employment decisions in alignment with what is most important to you. Once known, we can embody our values. As Amanda Blake beautifully explains, embodiment makes our values second nature, enabling the individual to easily make decisions about complicated matters. Thinking like a consultant, your values can help you decide which roles to pursue, in which organizations, and how long you may want to stay.

 

2. Develop an adaptative leadership style


Workers today would benefit from adaptive leadership. This leadership style means responding to change with agility, learning and growing to best respond to what is emerging, and discarding what does not work. An adaptive leadership style is for anyone, not just people managers. There is a healthy commitment to the goal at hand but without an overattachment that may lead to loyalty when it does not make sense.


One of the themes from the survey respondents is that next time they will be more adaptive and listen to their intuition when it tells them it is time to shift and leave an organization. Successful organizations in today’s ever-changing marketplace are dynamic, responding to complexity by creating cultures that survive and thrive in constant change. Accordingly, workers can do the same, responding to change to meet business needs and being willing to change roles or even leave when the organization no longer works for them.

 

3. Catalog your skills


It is essential for individuals to clearly outline their skills and experience. Consultants seeking work market their skills, experience, and evidence of results. When an organization is seeking a consultant to solve a specific problem or meet a need, the decision-makers look for someone who has the skills, experience, and track record of results that match the problem. Similarly, workers seeking full-time work would benefit from taking ownership of and cataloging their skills, experience, and results that they are willing to use in an organization in exchange for compensation. Even workers within an organization can market themselves as experts and thought leaders to various departments within the organization to build their brand.


Taking inventory of one’s skills should take place right away, not when there is a need to list the skills to build a resume because of a layoff. Multiple survey respondents mentioned that in the future they will document their accomplishments in their personal records. They had not documented their professional accomplishments outside of their previous organization’s network and lost some of the specific numbers tied to their results. This is important: your skills, experience, and accomplishments belong to you. They are/were on loan to the organization for the duration of employment, not forever. Like a consultant, take full ownership of your strengths and results and be ready to share to market yourself when needed.

 

4. Create your portfolio


Workers would benefit from having a portfolio to showcase their skills, experience, and results in the way a consultant would. Yes, a resume is a list, but it does not bring these to life with evidence of success. In addition to the resume, create a portfolio to help future employers see what you can do. A photographer or graphic designer shows their work on their website. Developers host and show their code on platforms such as GitHub. Other workers can do the same.


Try a website that describes your skills, shows writing samples, and thought leadership. LinkedIn can serve a similar purpose. For interviews, have presentations ready to show examples of previous work, demonstrating your skills and experience related to the role. Even when not looking for a new role, such a portfolio can be a tool when advocating for career advancement.

 

5. Get comfortable talking about your skills and accomplishments


This one is tough. On one hand, social norms may frown on talking about one’s skills, experience, and accomplishments because it seems like bragging. However, when there is evidence to back up the catalog, it is not boasting but stating facts. Imagine a consultant trying to get hired by a company but unable to succinctly enumerate their competencies, track record of delivering results, and ability to solve the problem for which they are being considered. It would not go well.


Get comfortable talking about your skills, experience, and results. Get it down to a brief talk track with simple terms that others can understand. If it sounds too complicated, keep refining the talk track. Practice with a friend or colleague so that the words roll off the tongue. It will make it easier to market your skills and experience like a consultant, always ready to go.

 

The wrap


The past year or so has been riddled with this discouraging news of layoffs. I have heard friends, colleagues, and clients struggle and process through pain and uncertainty. The changing social contract with employers makes things even more challenging. However, the shift may also create an opportunity for workers to take back their power, own their skills and experience, and be active participants in co-creating the terms of work, like a consultant.

 

If you want greater empowerment to create work that is meaningful for you and the people you lead, let’s schedule a complimentary call to discuss.


Follow me on Instagram, LinkedInand visit my website for more info!


Flo LaBrado Brainz Magazine
 

Flo LaBrado, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine Flo LaBrado is a leadership and career development coach and founder of Olive and Grace Leadership Coaching. She is passionate about people discovering and realizing their goals and working in a healthy workplace.


Flo combines over 20 years of leadership experience, academic research-based practices, and a people-centric approach to empower individuals and teams. She creates space for people to courageously discover and explore their creativity and potential as they develop grounded confidence, grow, and create the journey to reach their aspirations. She believes that integrity to one’s values, strengths, and work preferences is essential to leadership and career development and that teamwork and organizational health are crucial for high performance.


Flo's credentials include a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, a Master of Science in Leadership and Management with a focus on Organizational Development, and numerous certifications in innovative change, inclusive leadership, ethical leadership, Trust at Work®, and Dare to Lead Trained™.

 

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