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Time to grow up: The future of work is adult

Connected, location-independent, autonomous, global, piecemeal: There are plenty of adjectives that have previously been employed to describe the future of work, but the author of a book on the topic is throwing another contender into the ring — adult.

Lynda Gratton is a London Business School professor and the author of The Shift: The Future of Work Is Already Here, which offers tips to help those after long-term employability weather the many changes under way in the way we construct our careers. Recently, she took to Forbes to expand her ideas, offering a new framework to understand the sometimes-bewildering changes going on around us.

The fundamental shift, she writes, is from a “Parent to Child relationship at work, to a more balanced Adult to Adult” relationship. She cautions that “whilst there are great aspects to being an Adult at work — it also . . . brings with it responsibilities and commitments.” It’s an intriguing concept, but what does it mean in practice? Gratton’s post lays out five ways the future will demand we grow up at work. For example, she writes:

Spending time in China last month I was struck by the upbeat enthusiasm of Chinese youth. It’s clear they have much to play for. It was a stark contrast to an earlier visit to Madrid where I heard at first hand the impact of 40 percent youth unemployment. Being a young graduate in a country with near zero growth is not pleasant, and we know what psychological scarring this experience can have. Context can indeed be overwhelming, and it can feel as if there are no real options against which choices can be made. But looking forward it seems to me that it crucial to see choices even in these potentially more restricted contexts. . . . What is clear is that we are at the beginning of a major re-balancing of world’s growth and prosperity. You need to be very clear sighted about this and work out the choices you have — and then go for them — even if that means re-locating to the other side of the world. Children wait for Parents to make the world good for them – Adults try to make their own context.

Gratton goes on to explain that being fully adult at work means making choices and taking responsibility in other areas as well, including deciding what tech to use and skills to develop. Autonomy at work is strongly associated with lower stress and greater happiness, and, if nothing else, Gratton’s model means more of us making more choices for ourselves. But the downsides are obvious as well. More responsibility means less of a safety net and more hard decisions, with each of us bearing the heavy responsibility of our own failure or success.

Her model also includes giving things up, like expectations of a certain lifestyle or a degree of security that many have come to take for granted. Psychologists tell us that people feel the sting of loss much more than they enjoy gaining something in the first place, so perhaps it is easy to understand why those Chinese youth were so cheerful and those Spanish kids in Madrid so morose. When this idea of being “more adult” moves from the theoretical to the reality of actual human lives, it may face stiff resistance. That doesn’t mean Gratton’s advice isn’t good, just that it’s probably none too palatable.

What do you make of Gratton’s prediction that the future of work demands we all grow up? Is it excessively harsh or strong-but-necessary medicine?

Image courtesy of Flickr user ianmunroe

2 Responses to “Time to grow up: The future of work is adult”

  1. Leonard Garden

    I like the terminology–adult–even if it doesn’t tell the whole story. One becomes an adult in many ways. The ‘fully-adult’ status comes as a result of process where infrastructure permits. Adults require relationships with other adults and this is a permission-based entry into the economy… Still the idea merits follow-through with context for those interested… Great post!

  2. I love the term you’ve coined here and it only makes sense. Still, there’s this huge misconception that just because you work at home in your pajamas means you’re a slacker. I’d say, the otherwise though. I raise my glass to all independent and brave freelancers, remote workers, telecommuters who took on the challenge of isolation, uncertainties, and self-discipline. Still, it amazes me how most of them turned out to be happier than working in the traditional setting. I guess, growing up doesn’t have to be boring – that is, if you love what you’re doing. Happy New Year and More Success to All!