Never before have all pieces of the puzzle fallen into place so unexpectedly and unintentionally.
It must be said: the last few months have been quite intense. Numerous people were working from home, schedules were turned upside down, virtual meetings became the new norm, homes had to be turned into nurseries overnight, etcetera. Different areas of life thus came together unintentionally, unexpectedly, and organically.
Remarkably, it is precisely this idea of “organic fusion” that has been making its way into policy visions about sustainable and dynamic careers of the future for quite some time now. This is also the case with our knowledge partner Janssen Pharmaceutica. They were already exploring the idea of a 4 D’s career. Instead of a one-sided focus on (1) work, their “Healthiest Careers” vision connects with three other areas of life: (2) learning, (3) self-care and (4) care for one’s immediate environment and wider society.
From a 3D to a 4 D’s career
The basic idea is that we have taken the sequence (1) “learning” (at school, before the start of one’s career), (2) “working” (during one’s career) and (3) “resting” (retirement, after one’s career) as a starting point for too long. This three-stage career will be replaced by a 4 D’s vision on careers. The four dimensions “working, learning, resting and caring” will no longer be linked sequentially, but in a dynamic and much more hybrid way. After all, people do not only learn at school. Work, family life, social commitment, etcetera, also have a lot of learning opportunities to offer. The same goes for “rest” and “care”; they are not the privilege of retired people. Taking a break, scheduling self-care, caring for children or grandchildren, volunteering, etcetera: all these activities can be perfectly combined with the other areas.
The balance and mix between these areas will be different for everyone: therefore, everyone should have a unique and personalized career vision and pathway. Starting to reflect on this and entering into a dialogue with the team and organization is at the heart of the 4 D’s vision on careers. After all, not only the individual perspective is changing, the perspective of the team and organization and the broader social perspective are constantly changing too. It is therefore always a joint movement and mutual search for new balances and opportunities. The coronavirus crisis has made this clear more than ever.
Work-life balance as an asset or a risk?
In recent months, time- and place-independent work has become the new normal for many employees. Our homes suddenly became family, working, resting and learning space all in one, facilitating spillovers between the different areas. For example, as people no longer had to commute between home and work, they no longer lost valuable family or professional time. It was also easier to schedule focus time and breaks along one’s own rhythm and that of the family.
Unfortunately, there were also negative spillover effects. Taking care of a whining toddler while staying focused during a virtual meeting is rather “challenging”, to say the least. Connecting and disconnecting too, are often more difficult. Many miss the informal contact with coworkers and are struggling to clearly separate work and actual “free-time”.
Anouck Van Hoydonck (Director Agile Workforce at Janssen Pharmaceutica): "The coronavirus period made the proverbial juggling–keeping all the balls in the air–extra challenging. Many of us got new or different work assignments. Getting these combined with new extra tasks on the home front, such as pre-teaching, raised a lot of questions. It is incredible to see how willing people are to learn how to keep all those new and extra balls in the air. And if one falls, to just pick it up and try again."
Growing through flexible and meaningful work
For many, the job content itself was also subject to change. More than once, known routines and processes were dumped in favor of new, workable, and pragmatic solutions. One had to shift gears quickly in the “here and now”, often without extensive or the usual feedback rounds. The issue of work pressure took on a new meaning and new calibration moments were needed. Above all, the coronavirus crisis confronted us with the question of meaningfulness. Which tasks and roles provide real added value for us, our coworkers, the organization and, at an even broader level, for society as a whole?
Anouck Van Hoydonck (Director Agile Workforce): "After the swift crisis management, we are now giving managers the tools they need to work with their team in a more structural way, on, for example, new team agreements. How do team members stay connected, knowing that many teams are still partly working from home? What is the best way for team members to give each other recognition and feedback? Which job content has changed, and how will the team take on new customer expectations?
Learning at different speeds and formats
In such a changing context our learning curve tends to be steep. Due to the unexpected agile working, employees are stretching themselves, and new learning needs may emerge. Those needs are often of a very practical nature: how can I run an effective virtual meeting? One learns by doing, of course, but micro-sessions may come in handy. On the other hand, some departments are forced to press the pause button and may benefit from classic learning formats. For them, it may be an excellent time for structural training and investing in programs addressing, for example, the competencies for the future.
Even before Janssen's “Healthiest Careers” concept was formally established, the coronavirus crisis hit the world with full force. Unintentionally, the 4 D’s career was thus launched in quite a different way. Whatever the new normal will soon be like, it is certain that careers will continue to develop in extremely dynamic contexts. Support from the organization will thus be most welcome. After all, when it comes to sustainable careers, it will be more than ever a challenge to put the pieces of the puzzle together in an open dialogue, based on growing insight and mutual understanding.
Get in touch
Do you want to contact the author Peggy De Prins? Or do you have a question? Let her know via Peggy.DePrins@ams.ac.be.