Our Executive Director, Anne Isaacs, reflects on how we can respond successfully to the changes in our lives that affect the way we work, our career, and be flexible enough to make the best of the impermanence that characterises the modern working environment.

At the risk of sounding like a voice from the Ark, the world of work has changed almost beyond recognition since I started my career. When the (once commonplace, now virtually inconceivable) concept of ‘a job for life’ worked well, it created an incentive for employers to provide long-term planning and training in order to develop the skills, experience and thinking of their employees.

ICI, for example, would develop their most promising recruits via two-year stints in different functions and businesses throughout the group, at the end of which they would settle (and usually flourish) in the area that provided the best fit, with the added bonus of first-hand experience in areas not pursued.

For individuals, this commitment from and to their company was mutually beneficial: provided all went well, your career progress was assured, and sometimes even if it didn’t, an in-house sideways shift might be possible.

Things have shifted pretty dramatically since that was the norm, and impermanence and lack of long-term commitment on both sides characterise the modern working environment. To be less rose-tinted about the past for a moment, not every employer would let you spend time gaining perspective and experiencing a range of roles before settling on one. People were often stuck in channels that weren’t right for them, and discussing or challenging this with colleagues in internal HR would have been considered risky.

Today, the responsibility for reviewing and managing career progress has effectively been deregulated, and sits squarely on the shoulders of the individual.

Naturally, this brings new challenges and freedoms: to do it properly, to sit down and really think about how to get what you want and need from your work at every stage of your life, you need objectivity, long-term perspective, clarity, commitment and the ability to provide an occasional ‘reality check’. (Does it need saying that you’re unlikely to get that from your company HR team, or even from talking to your friends and family?)

To help the people we work with accept, embrace and get the best from these challenges, we have been thinking about a chronological ‘storyline’ for our services, illustrating the fact that we can – and frequently do – support people as their needs change throughout their working lives through coaching, career management and outplacement services.

Here follows a shameless plug for our services:

In early career
At an early stage in their careers, young people seeking to establish themselves in the world of work, from post-school age through to mid 20s and early 30s, often feel at odds with their choice of career, and can be helped greatly by exploring what alternatives there may be to their future plans or established path. The programme, honed and developed around this early stage by Dr Elizabeth Reddish, is called Sons and Daughters. It focuses on helping young clients to achieve clarity, to get a clear sense of who they are and where they want to go, to consider all of their options and what has real meaning for them. She also helps them identify and articulate credibly what it is in their personalities, backgrounds or interests that’s most ‘marketable’.

At mid career
At mid-career stage, we have seen many people start to wonder whether they are using all of their talents and strengths, and whether a further stretch at work is in line with their aspirations. Maybe other things in life – such a children and interests away from the workplace – are beginning to take priority. Our Potential Evaluation Programme (PEP) has proved to be the ideal vehicle to enable people take stock, examine the ‘what ifs?’ and put interim plans in place. At this point many people stay put, and many others start the process of re-training for other career moves.

In midlife there is often major change, and many people experience a period of transition from employer to new employer, to self-employment and the beginnings of portfolio working, chiming with the increasing trend for working partly or completely from home. A bespoke, rather than process driven, Outplacement Support Programme helps people to assess their options and make the right decision upon entering the next phase of their career. Working in partnership with an experienced consultant throughout the programme, short, medium and long-term priorities and options are explored, and practical support given to drive career transition plans to fruition.

To fit in with this mid-term phase of transition, we have developed a very useful programme called First 100 Days, which provides practical advice and intensive support during those crucial first days in a new post, anticipating and addressing all the key issues involved in entry to a new senior position. Via the independent, informed perspective of an experienced coach, clients are helped to recognise and manage the challenges and opportunities that the new environment presents.

Later career
Towards the later stages of their career, many of my contemporaries have reached an age and stage in their lives where they have started to think of retiring from full time work, but are not ready to stop completely. With this in mind, we have developed Staying On, a programme for those who wish to stay in the working world. A “service with legs”, Staying On provides good ideas and very practical support focused on this career phase, and sets out to explore and introduce a very different pattern of work, such as a mixture of part time roles, NEDs, Trusteeships, job share, mentoring and, for many, pro bono activities. An enriching process, this programme enables people to consider in depth their talents, interests and needs as well as income, and seeks to address the issue of what people want to achieve but have not yet done.

This newly launched programme re-casts CVs to emphasise not just job titles or employers, but specific and generic skills applicable to new areas and roles of choice. It also offers intelligent and relevant introductions, as well as informed talks given by experts in their field. Staying On is for those of us who are over 50 or more in terms of age, but much younger in terms of outlook, aspirations and needs. Typically Staying On clients wish to earn a little, learn new things, travel and have more leisure time, though since we are all different, the programme is tailored to the individual in order to best support them at this potentially exciting stage in their lives.

Throughout the length of a career
Our Coaching Programme is designed to support individuals in enhancing their business performance in harmony with their current organisation’s culture and strategy. Tailored precisely to the client’s needs and objectives, each is a unique programme with an eclectic approach that utilises the most effective aspects of practical coaching and intuitive counselling, and is underpinned by analytical tools that corroborate or unearth areas in need of development. Led by Heather Greatrex, the programme provides expert support in identifying and resolving issues that act as barriers to success, and brings clarity by providing an independent, informed perspective on critical issues.