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The Free Agency of Business Life

jump-300x199I entered the business world in the 70s. It was a far different world than today in many ways. There was no technology that tethered an employee to their business 24/7. There was also an unspoken bond between the employee and his/her employer that if you put your head down, cared and did a job good, that you would have long, and possibly lifetime, employment at that company. That has changed too.

Even in the ad business, where I spent many years and which was always more unstable than business at large, layoffs were not nearly as common back then. Most of the personnel exits were based on senior management power plays where the agency (and client) politics led to the ouster of one of the agency leaders. But even in an industry where job hopping was common, BBDO where I worked for 12 years, was a far more stable shop where its employees worked for 10, 20, 30 years and more.

In advising my children about the significant benefits of working at a company for a longer period of time, I have come to appreciate that I might be dated in my thinking, at least directionally. I was viewing their careers through my own internal prism where in the past, I would look at resumes of candidates with 18 month stops and dismiss them as disloyal or under-performers. While that may have been true in the 70s, 80s and even the 90s, it is not true today. In fact, in today’s world, a 18-24 month stint is often followed by a career (and financially) accelerating move to another company.

What’s changed is that the bond between the employee and the employer is not as strong as it once had been. This is not a statement on how business life has become crueler or uncaring, but rather on the pace of change. Today’s hot company becomes tomorrow’s AOL. Companies rise and fall far more quickly, and with it comes a dramatically shifting workforce. That’s a reality.

Another reality is that today’s Millennials, the largest cohort in the workforce, are therefore far less connected to their current employer and are more easily willing to jump for salary advancement. And the data suggests that the road to salary maximization is often through job hopping every 2 years. In fact a 2014 Forbes article, Employees Who Stay In Companies Longer Than Two Years Get Paid 50% Less, suggests that those who remain with their current employer earn far less than those who job hop. This appears to be a bit overstated–at least to me–but I get the point.

Actually an even more powerful article, How To Build A Successful Career In A Future Without Jobs, states the reality of the true free agency that everyone faces—that “jobs” of yesteryear are shrinking, and that we all need to manage our business lives in the era of free agency as a “one man/woman brand”. This article suggests 3 strategies:


1. Be a money manager.

It suggests we all need to manage our finances far more wisely (Strumings readers know I am all for that)

2. Build a brand, not a resume.

Yup, agree with that one too. In the end there’s nothing more important than one’s reputation. We are all a “one man/woman brand”

3. Accept that the line between entrepreneurship and employment is gone.

This one is a bit overstated, but the idea is to accept the reality that your current “job” may be temporary or a project (even if it not caste in that manner) and that it is incumbent on all of us to have a pipeline of future opportunities and be willing to move quickly. Smart thinking here too. 

None of this means that you shouldn’t do a great job for your current employer, or stay with them for a longer period of time if your career is advancing. In fact, your road to long-term success, with that company or elsewhere, is paved by doing a great job for your current employer. My advice to all: Be known as a top professional, likeable and a person of high integrity that can be counted on in good times and bad.

In the end, those are the free agents that companies all seek.




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