New Year, Successful Career? It depends on your age – and the headline.

Published: 11 Jan 2017 By James Dunne

One of the great things about writing this blog is that I get to read a lot of research on the subject of executive career development and the various factors that influence one’s future success (or lack of it).  Another thing that rather tickles me is that I frequently come across articles that while based on the same piece of research come to somewhat different conclusions. A case in point was the study by First Direct, the online UK bank, which asked 2,000 people* how they defined “success”.

I found two reports of this survey online. The first, on RecruitmentBuzz, appeared under the headline, “New Year, New Job? Only a third of Brits believe their employer can make them successful.”  In contrast, the other, on smallbusiness.co.uk, was entitled “Young Brits believe current employer can make them successful.” 

The RecruitmentBuzz headline is extremely misleading, because there is no clear reference whatsoever to it in the article! In contrast, the smallbusiness.co.uk piece does mention this directly and notes (contradicting their headline?), “Of those who are currently employed, just 34 per cent believe their current employer can provide them with what they need to ever be successful in their career.” This is the statistic that I suspect RecruitmentBuzz based their headline on, but strangely didn’t cite it in their article.

To be fair to the smallbusiness.co.uk article, it does go on to explain what the people surveyed want from their careers. While money is important (44% say that was the case), other factors seem to make a bigger difference. In particular, and this is hardly an unsurprising finding, aspirations vary with age. The First Direct survey showed that 18-24 year olds believe that education is more important than a career (62% citing education and 60% a career), while for those at the other end of their working lives (45-54) health and fitness was more important (60%), while for those over 55, this rose to 70%.

For UK execs wondering how to make sense of all this, the most important statistics are that 52% of those surveyed put job security at the top of their list for career success, followed by 49% of the sample defining a successful career as being simply a career that you love.  In addition, the study notes that a minority (c.14%-18%) thinks that a successful career requires relationships, hobbies and interests and even pride to be sacrificed.

For what it’s worth, here are my opinions on what all this means…

Anyone running a business has to identify those who will come up through the ranks to become successful businessmen and women. That’s obvious, but so is the fact that employees’ wants and needs change as they get older.  Being aware of this – and not treating everyone exactly the same (within the parameters that are your company’s modus operandi) – is just common sense. In general, carrots are better than sticks.  However, what’s also important is to make people realise that success does not come without some sacrifice and hard work.  Most tasks – such as when your boss asks you to do something reasonable – are not optional.  I fear, and this may just be a function of my age, that many younger employees often don’t understand this and a few think the world owes them a living.  Creating the conditions for your business to succeed means creating the conditions for individuals to succeed.  That means hiring those with the right attitude, then educating/training them throughout their careers (not just when they are younger - I’m a firm believer that old dogs can learn new tricks) and also being aware of their concerns and personal desires inside and outside work.  That way, you’ll find that the careers you offer are careers that people love. And people who love their jobs are generally more likely to be successful and thus have the job security they crave. 

James Dunne, exec-appointments.com

*Based on a survey of 2,000 people in the UK, conducted by OnePoll in July 2016 on behalf of First Direct.

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