The New Normal. I'm sure you've heard this expression. It's used by many people to describe the way the recession has changed American life and business. There's a new normal for consumer spending, a new normal for IT operations, and not surprisingly, a new normal for employment.
Cris Janzen, a career coach and president of Seattle, Wash.-based outplacement firm Janzen & Associates LLC, recently described the new normal for employment. In her blog entry, "It's a whole new game," she writes:
Not everyone will be able to "plug back in" this time at the same or higher salary than they left for just doing the same type of work as before. Some jobs will be bigger and require more hours than what you left, and many will have morphed to being packaged differently.
Naturally, Janzen professes to have the solution to the problems the new normal poses to job seekers: People shouldn't think in terms of having "a job," she writes, rather in terms of "multiple revenue streams." Unfortunately, Janzen doesn't elaborate. Does she mean that we can no longer count on having full-time jobs? By "multiple revenue streams," is she talking about cobbling together income from different sources? What kinds of sources does she have in mind? A rental property? Stocks? The sale of goods on Amazon or eBay? Freelance or contract work? A second job?
Reading further, it becomes clear Janzen recommends people be more "flexible and creative" in how they define their jobs and earn their keep:
Much [h]as shifted and the nimble among us, willing and able to shift with the times, will do the best in 2010.
Whether that's thinking in terms of generating multiple income streams, or brushing up some now needed skill to add to your arsenal, or taking an imperfect job for the time being—it's a time to be more flexible and creative than ever in how you define your occupation and how you generate your income.
Waiting for things to "return to normal" is unrealistic, and a setup for disappointment. Denial is a way to stay stuck in the process rather than commit to moving forward.
Sounds grim, but not all bad news by any means! It's a time full of opportunity for people who come to grips with the fact that the state of "normal employment" has already shifted, and who correspondingly shift their strategies with the times.
Janzen's perspective sends job seekers down a dangerous path.
Her core message: You have no choice but to accept this new normal. Yet this new world of work doesn't offer professionals anything except more work and less stability. When Janzen writes, "It's a time full of opportunity," one wonders what opportunities she has in mind. This Panglossian appeal to look on the bright side is completely delusional in a recession where the silver lining is a jobless recovery.
What's more, this new world of work that Janzen espouses people to blindly accept is unrealistic. In Janzen's new world order, people with full-time jobs must do even more work cultivating additional revenue streams so that they can supplement their income.
But the real problem is that their full-time jobs don't pay enough because employers used the recession to cut everyone's salary. This is not a sustainable work model because overworked, underpaid professionals take short cuts, burn out and look for a better job. For people to make a living the way Janzen envisions, you'll have to work around the clock. Welcome to the white collar sweat shop.
The situation isn't any brighter for full-time freelancers and contractors. Those who've been forced to creatively redefine their occupation and how they generate income as a contractor don't know when or where their next paycheck is going to come from. Of course, this hand-to-mouth lifestyle was the bane of contractors before the recession, too.
And then there's this rub: The subtext of Janzen's message implicitly places blame on working people for their tenuous employment and financial situation. Janzen uses the tired cliché that people need to "shift their strategies with the time."
But people are not in such dire circumstances because they didn't work hard enough or because they didn't have the right skills. They're unemployed due to systemic failures in the nation's financial and legislative systems. (See It's Not You. It's the Economy.)
I talk to creative, flexible job seekers every day who are doing everything right in their job searches—personal branding, networking, positive attitude—yet they're still struggling. It's not because they don't have the right skills. It's not because they haven't "shifted their strategies with the time."
Unfortunately, no job search or career management strategy adequately addresses these times. Janzen's job advice to accept the new status quo and cultivate multiple streams of income, however, is worse. It's a fool's errand.