Work v play: how corporate fun has changed

by Mike Chilton

Career Coaching Today: The Corporate Ladder Gets Jugged

Over the past couple of years there has been a rising tide of global interest in doing well at work. Well, like a growing number of people, perhaps I have indulged in some bandwagon-jumping, too.

Back in the day I was keen to advance my career, I even wrote a few articles urging others to do the same. A few gig jobs here and there and a clear on-going ambition to move up the corporate ladder, it was all the answer to my career problems.

One of the articles I wrote in 2007 was headlined “Yes, Work Is Fun, Too!” The question was, “are you having fun at work?” and my answer was: “Yes, actually, I am having fun at work – and so are most people.”

Then my advice was to do the Corporate Ladder Get Jugged – the Juggle It! – Get Yourself! This is what the corporate world has been doing for decades, and it still does, because what comes first is getting ahead, and having fun – or at least maintaining your current state of employment – is a by-product. Fun is incidental, and it needs to be protected.

It is also true that some people work more fun because their colleagues do, so on that basis I would certainly recommend doing a “fun job” – people do enjoy doing it!

Still, the Old Ladder is still the Ladder – I believe – because it is fair, rewarding and it works. It allows a work environment where people can wear different hats – the politician, the fund manager, the retail manager, the mechanical operator, the marketing person, the supply manager, the IT worker – as long as they can all contribute to the organisation’s objective and deliver the desired results.

This is the Holy Grail for people who are still trying to climb the ladder of their career but can’t quite make it to the top.

It is what I achieved – and still achieve – myself. Over the years I have had many very rewarding roles in the corporate world, where I have not only been able to wear more hats but, crucially, I have been able to wear them with a sense of belonging. It has always been a case of: me getting on to the Ladder – or at least getting near to it – and everyone in the team working to support me.

It has been a rewarding and challenging career – and the job satisfaction, the sense of purpose, and the sense of doing things with a team have remained the same, as though I have been in a different organisation but having the same employment situation.

Now though things have changed and the companies I have worked for have started doing less fun stuff.

What they are doing instead is doing what most people were doing before – getting to the top. They are making more money for their shareholders, taking up their higher salaries, but they are becoming even more conservative with what they employ and reward their staff for. It is a trend that is likely to continue, while I still have work to do in the Ladder.

In fact, in my own experience – and there may be others who think the same way – I am seeing too many employees being pushed down the Ladder because of mundane compliance activities, tight HR budgets and a sense of providing an extremely good service to their customers.

Where do you want to be in five years’ time? Do you want to be at a company of which your family and friends love working, or do you want to be in a company that sits on the Ladder, but not in the top chair?

Perhaps you want to go the other way and take an Agency Role – playing a really interesting and challenging role as often in different environments, but not necessarily with the same type of people.

These are all directions that are open to me. You could ask your managers, “are you looking for an Agency Role?” or “are you able to entertain myself for a week playing at Agency?” Your bosses might even encourage this.

Now please do not think that I am making light of the corporate ladder. The problem I am about to highlight is that the Ladder itself is breaking down, or at least we are seeing a decline in the amount of fun that work has to offer. There is no doubt that “work is fun” but the nature of it is changing. I think we are actually beginning to see the Ladder Get Jugged, and the Juggle It! Getting Yourself!

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