You’ll Find Work When You Forget About Looking For a Job – Part I

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There’s a widespread realization that the economic recovery from the “Great Recession” of 2007 – 2009 is somehow different, less spectacular, than previous recoveries. That’s hardly remarkable – since every recession is different than the ones before it, recoveries are different as well. One of the most significant realities of this recovery is that employment continues to be weak, even five years after the recession supposedly ended. It’s hardly easier to find work now than it was in the depths of the recession.

It’s been noted in different quarters that finding a job when you’ve been out of work for more than six months is close to impossible. But that may be the whole issue – finding a job itself. Many of the jobs that disappeared during the recession are gone for good, which is to say that there may be no job in your field. Put another way, you may be searching for a job that doesn’t even exist.

You’ll Find Work When You Forget About Looking For a Job
You’ll Find Work When You Forget About Looking For a Job
Maybe it’s time to begin approaching the job search in a fundamentally different way. We may have to accept a new and different reality – that you’ll find work when you forget about looking for a job.

There’s more than semantics involved in this statement.

You don’t need a job – you need an income

Throughout human history, just as now, people have always needed to earn an income. That income was often produced by becoming a farmer, a craftsman, a soldier, a property owner, or even an entertainer. A job – if you ever held one – was usually a temporary affair. It was typically an arrangement you had during your period of apprenticeship in order to learn a skill, or as an indentured servant to repay a debt.

But for most of your working life, your income came from some form of self-employment. You would have been the farmer, the shopkeeper, the blacksmith or whatever. You would mainly sell your products and services directly to the retail market. Other times, you might sell your services to a competitor in the same line of work for a short period of time, in a kind of informal employment situation.

Today however, the notion of earning an income is closely associated with holding a job. The common and popular interpretation of a modern job is that you will work for a single employer, who will reward you with a full-time position, a totally predictable income at a living wage, and complete with a full range of benefits.

That connotation of a job is a major reason why so many people remain either unemployed or under-employed five years into the recovery. Last August, Huffington Post reported that 75% of jobs being created in 2013 were part-time. The report is significant because it came out shortly before the roll-out of Obamacare in October that promises to reduce even more jobs to part-time status.

What’s the takeaway? Full-time jobs are being replaced by part-time jobs. Or outsourced to contractors. The entire concept of a full-time job paying a living wage and full benefits may be the ultimate casualty of the Great Recession.

Recognition of this transition may be the key to economic and financial survival going forward. We need to get back to the idea of pursuing an income – which is what we actually need. At the same time, we need to move away from the strict connection between jobs and income.

There’s actually plenty of work out there

The conversion of jobs from full-time to part-time and contract status indicates that despite the slim number of full-time positions, there’s actually plenty of work out there, maybe even more than ever.

Employers large and small are working with increasingly reduced staffs of full-time employees, but supplementing with part-timers, contractors, and seasonal workers on an as-needed basis. Every time a full-time job is eliminated, the potential for these secondary work opportunities expands.

The upshot is that while full-time jobs and full-time pay are harder to get than at any time since the 1930s, the number of informal work situations may be greater than ever.

Converting your income dilemma from a job search to looking for work could change your strategy and put you in the right direction – if you fully embrace the concept. Work is everywhere, even if full-time jobs aren’t.

Why employers can no longer hire you

If we accept the conventional explanation that the absence of full-time jobs is due to “the bad economy”, we may be missing the mark entirely. That idea makes it seem as though the absence of jobs is a temporary phenomenon, that will move into a positive direction as the economy improves.

Experience in the past few years should tell us otherwise.

The dearth of full-time jobs is probably only superficially linked to the weak economy. In fact, it’s probably more an effect of a fundamentally weak economy than the cause of it.

Full-time jobs are disappearing because employers are no longer in a position to hire people at full-time pay. If you doubt it, consider the obstacles that employers face in maintaining or expanding full-time staff:

  • Wild swings in both the economy and individual industries is making it impossible for companies to hire on a long-term basis.
  • Any person hired by an employer represents a potential legal threat in the form of a lawsuit or regulatory complaint involving everything from discrimination, to unfair labor practices, to wrongful discharge. We’re paying for the right to sue employers in the form of fewer jobs.
  • Payroll taxes and benefits can add anywhere from 25% to 100% of your salary to your total compensation – even if you don‘t see it. Though you are earning $50,000, you’re actually costing your employer $100,000. If your production won’t be able to generate at least $100,000 in revenue to your employer, there won’t be a job for you.
  • It’s a reality that full-time employees with living wages and full benefits are often marking time – providing the minimum effort in order to keep the job to enjoy the financial benefits and to eventually retire comfortably. You probably see this in some of your coworkers; you’re employer sees it too.
  • The increasing cost of complying with the growing labyrinth of government regulation is sapping employers of revenue to pay employees.
  • Obamacare has created an incentive to downgrade employees from full-time status to part-time, in order to side-step health insurance mandates.

These realities have largely made natural enemies of employers on one side, and employees and job seekers on the other. The employer sees the employee as both an expense and a liability. The employee and the job seeker see the employer as a source of steady employment, a living wage, a source of benefits and a vehicle for a secure retirement – which are all expenses and/or liabilities to the employer.

When an employer lets you go or refuses to hire you, they’re not being mean. They’re not victims of a weak economy. They’re responding to the harsh realities of trying to keep employees in a structurally impaired system that’s bigger than they are.

Do you see any of these trends emerging in your area, career or industry?

On Wednesday, we’ll look at how we can thrive in this new employment world, in You’ll Find Work When You Forget About Looking For a Job – Part II. I hope you’ll come back.

( Photo by JD Hancock )

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6 Responses to You’ll Find Work When You Forget About Looking For a Job – Part I

  1. I will definitely be back! Not so much in a particular field, but I do have friends and family members who have been unemployed for years at a time. Some of them are in their 50’s, and this demographic is having an especially hard time. It seems part of the problem is employers’ unwillingness or inability to pay for experience, instead choosing to pay someone with no experience a lot less.

  2. Hi Sherian – It’s become a common problem. I think it’s what’s causing so many to drop out of the workforce (an increasingly important factor in the falling uemployment numbers). And you’re right, they don’t want to pay for experience. That’s why we have to be ready to provide specific services to businesses, rather than asking for a job. But we’ll get into that on Wednesday!

  3. I can always count on you for the kind of content not found on other blogs! Once we realize what the core of the problem is – that we need an income not necessarily a job – we can solve the problem better.

    How far back in history did our current concept of holding a job at a company start?

  4. Hi Stephen – Thanks for the compliment – my aim is to provide content not found elsewhere, and much of it is borne of real world experience.

    Historically, jobs have been “at will”, which is to say that there wasn’t a concept of employment for life, and certainly not with benefits. I think the modern concept of a job started with the unions in the late 1930s. That’s also when we began to see federal legislation upholding unions. The post WW2 economic boom enabled us to have it both ways – to accomodate higher demands from labor unions (which also flowed accross to non-union jobs) and a growing economy. Since the 1970s and the growth and competetance of foreign competition, labor has been in retreat since. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, real wages in the US peaked in 1972. Ever since, labor’s position (not just the unions but in general) has been in decline.

    Meanwhile, the average US worker, more than 40 years after the labor peak, continues to cling to mid-20th century notions of what a job should be, should look like and should provide. On a personal level, the turnaround in my own life happened when I let go of those notions.

    A middle class resurgence won’t come around until the middle class begin to realize that we’re truly on our own. That means embracing self-employment, flexible work styles, living beneath our means, saving money and avoiding debt. I don’t see any other way, certainly not a sudden explosion in job growth. And even if that were to happen, the jobs would look a lot different than what we expect.

  5. Great analysis here Kevin. We get so comfortable with our notion of what work / getting an income is supposed to be. I suspect that is largely due to the fact employers use benefits as a way to “woe” and keep their servants. And, the corporation has allowed us to “put in our time” and then not have to worry about things when we get home (stability). I know many self-employed who work 60-80+ hrs a week and never can let it go. Guess there are pros/cons to each.

  6. Hi Aaron – You’re right about the pros and cons, they apply to both self-employment and corporate life. But I think we’re seeing a shift in the job market, which is why we need to change tactics. For example, the June employment figures released last week showed a net gain of nearly 300,000 jobs, but that included a gain of 800,000+ part time jobs, and a loss 500,000+ full-time jobs. (Those statistics came out a few days after I posted this article.) In addition, a lot of jobs are also switching to a contract basis. We could be in the early stages of a wholesale shift in employment.

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