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Redefining the perfect job

20th April

Dave Topping

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“I think that working is part of life, I don’t know how to distinguish between the two.”

Orson Welles

This year of lockdown and restrictions around the world has had untold effects on every aspect of our lives.

As recruiters, we have, of course, been focused on what impact those changes will have on the future.  I’ve written recently, for example, about the return to the workplace, and the sense that the 9-5, five-day commute may never return in the way we knew it pre-pandemic.

But I’m increasingly certain that the biggest change will be much harder to measure.

COVID has, if nothing else, created time.  With nowhere to go, be it to work, the pub, the cinema or the golf course,  we’ve had time to reflect.  And I have lost count of the numbers of conversations I’ve had with clients and candidates who have come to the conclusion that something needs to change in their lives.

It’s not always a tangible thing like their salary, their time away from home or their job description.  Nor is it like the usual list of New Year’s Resolutions, including weight loss and fitness gains.  This time, it’s about happiness.

Wellbeing is not a new idea, but in the non-stop world of successful professionals, it has tended to be something that fits-in around the working week.  It might be a new app measuring steps, a commitment to healthier eating in the office, or even thirty minutes set-aside each day for meditation.

All of these have a purpose, of course, but they are relatively superficial.  Walking those steps may make us fitter and eating more salad may be healthier, but they are not attacking the deep-lying cause of many people’s unhappiness.

True wellbeing requires us to think clearly and deeply about the fundamental pillars on which we build our lives, and to adapt the ones we feel aren’t working.  And that includes our working lives.

Everyone is familiar with the work / life balance, but it is based on an assumption:  that ‘life’ is a good thing to be enjoyed away from ‘work’.  But it really should be possible to blur that distinction.  If you really enjoy work.  If you get up in the morning raring to go.  If you get on with your colleagues and spend time doing something that you find meaningful and stimulating, then the very word ‘work’ ceases to have negative connotations.

And the result of all our lockdown thinking time is that an increasing number of people are coming to that realisation.

Some want to retrain. Some want to take their existing skillset into a different industry and make a difference in a world they really care about.  Some want to reorganise life completely to fit work around their real priorities – like family and hobbies – even if that means earning significantly less.

As recruiters, it would be very easy to brush over these themes.  It is, traditionally, in the recruiters’ interests to push for the move and make the deal happen!  But that’s not how we do business.

We built Walker Lovell with two aims in mind.  One was to create a really great recruitment model.  The other was to build a business based on family values (it helped that we were, initially, all related!) and give the sort of advice to our clients that we would give to other members of our own family.

And that means balancing the benefits of a big career move against the impact it will have on their life more generally.  

Coca Cola’s former CEO Brian Dyson compared our lives to a juggling act where we try to keep five balls in the air simultaneously.  Those five balls are our family, our health, our friends, our spirit and, yes, our work.  He suggested that four of them are fragile and will break irreparably if we drop them.  One is made of rubber.  And that’s our work.  We can get a new job, try a new career or reframe our professional ambitions.  But there’s never a second chance to see our child’s school play or to reduce our stress levels and their impact on our blood pressure.

As the world opens-up again after Covid there will be career opportunities aplenty.  We’ll create short-lists of brilliant candidates for them all.  But we’ll also work with them to ensure that they aren’t just taking the best role for their CV, but the best job for them and their loved ones. 

It doesn’t only need to be famous film producers who get to combine work and life and enjoy them both!

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