The Modern Work Box Model

TLDR Summary

This is a rambling post, I'm thinking it all through. This post explores the Modern Work Box model. In short, people in this model build their careers around themselves and their skill sets rather than around the company they work for.

If the Modern Work Box Model Was a Video Game

In a previous post called How the Work Box has Changed Over Time we discussed the two Work Box models to choose from: the Classical and the Modern.

In a subsequent post we explored the Classical Work Box model in depth, but as a reminder it's the general "career" most of our parent's generation followed.

In the Modern Work Box model the worker plays leap-frogger from job to job for 40 years until finally leaping from that big old Work Box into the Retirement Box.

Frog Retirement

Both of these models exist today, which gives you a choice. If you enjoy the cycle of starting a new job every few years then read on to learn more about the Modern version. If that sounds horribly disruptive to the steady and predictable life style you want then you probably want to consider The Classical Work Box Model.

Why Does this Model Exist?

Once upon a time companies who wanted workers to stay in their jobs for a long time used this mystical thing called a pension. It was a retirement savings plan for the employee that the employer would contribute to as well.

Pension Carrot

The payout upon retirement was calculated off salary and years of service so the employee was incentivized to stay with one company. But as 401Ks took over in the 80s there was less of an incentive to stay because 401Ks follow the employee from job to job.

Nowadays workers in the US are in their current job for an average of 4.2 years1. This is what I call the great job-leap-frog-ocalypse, aka the Modern Work Box model.

Now that we know what the Modern Work Box model is and why it exists let's look at some pros and cons.

Benefits of the Modern Work Box Model

Freedom from Having One Corporate Overlord

OK, the cynics out there might read this title to mean that you have many corporate overlords instead of just one and that's not cool. But being able to switch companies gives you a freedom that people in the Classical Work Box model don't have.

In the Modern model you might work for 5 to 20 companies over your career. Much more than 20 and you should consider slowing down to smell the business flowers before quitting for a shiny new role at another.

Having the option to leave means you're much less likely to feel "stuck". You know the feeling, you're in a job you love but then you're handed a new boss who's determined to make your life a living "h" "e" double hockey sticks. Being in the Modern Work Box model gives you the freedom to bail and find another gig.

Brain Stretching

That's a new scientific word I made up just now... truth. Brain stretching occurs when you're exposed to newness: new ideas, new people, new places, new things, etc. Changing your job box comes with a a LOT of newness: new tasks, new coworkers, new systems, new bosses, new drive to work, new chairs, and even new bathrooms.

Exposure to all that newness feels stressful but it's the good kind of stress, eustress, which is just a fancy word used to mean positive stress. All that eustress will have you leveling up faster than {{insert witty comment about World of Warcraft here}}.

Work Box Nerd

Faster Promotions (maybe) and Faster Pay Increase (probably)

All I have is anecdotal evidence for this. Actually, that's pretty lame. Let me do some research...

OK, I'm back. I flitted about the interwebs to find some information for us.

Turns out there was a study done by two fellas at the Wharton Business School and published in an equally impressive sounding journal which concluded:

Upwards progression into a job with greater responsibilities is much more likely to happen through internal mobility than external mobility; despite this difference, external moves offer similar increases in pay to internal, as employers seek to attract external hires.

Interesting, so they're saying you should try to level up within your company instead of switching companies because it leads to more pay AND responsibilities. They made a BIG assumption that everyone wants more responsibilities. You could read their results in a different way, get paid more for the exact same level of responsibilities by changing jobs regularly. Haha, that's pretty sweet.

The other thing to keep in mind about their findings is the study only looked at MBA graduates from a high ranking business school. These workers tend to spend their whole careers working for BIG companies. If that's you too, and you want more responsibilities, then it sounds like you should consider a new role at your current company before looking externally.

For the rest of us, who don't work for companies like Goldman Sachs, there's a lot of data that shows the Modern Work Box model leads to higher pay, hooray!

Fast Company used some of that data to make this pretty chart that compares what happens over time when you switch jobs vs stay. The solid colored lines are how your pay would increase if you stayed in the same job.

Effect of Switching Jobs on Salary Assumes your career will last 10 years. An avg 3% raise and a 10% raise per transition.

Anyways, to sum up this confusion, if you work at a huge company where you can internally change jobs you should consider it, otherwise it's in your best interest to change jobs regularly.

Negatives of the Modern Work Box Model

A Heaping Pile of Anxiety

Want to see what that looks like? I thought you'd never ask.

Anxiety Pile

Not all Modern Work Box model workers will experience this, but many will. It happens when you're in-between jobs or you're in a job that isn't working out so well. Suddenly you start to question your whole life and what seemed so amazing last year now appears to be headed down the toilet.

It's important to remember that when this happens it's all part of the package. Just remind yourself that not all leap frog moves are forward ones, sometimes you have to jump back to make forward progress. If that doesn't help with the anxiety then try this...

You'll Have to Calm Your Parents Worries Too

You're not the only anxious person in this world. You got here somehow and those baby-creators that you call mom and dad will be worried about your career path too. To them, anything but the Classical Work Box model is a surefire recipe to be homeless and destitute by the age of 40.

It's Hard to Keep the Thread

This isn't always easy, but it's actually the secret sauce of making the Modern Work Box model work. When moving from job to job frequently it behooves you to maintain a common thread between them. That thread will give you a sense of progress as well as something to build upon in your career.

In the Classical Work Box model you build your career around the company. In the Modern Work Box model you build your career around you and your skill set.

Want to have a career in art? Great, stick to jobs that build your skills as an artist or your ability to market that art. Into writing? Awesome, stick to jobs that make you write stuff (yes, emails count).

The difficulty here comes when you aren't sure what your thread is. You're interested in this and that and the other thing but there's no obvious thread you're building upon. If you don't know your thread and have been jumping from job to job, don't worry, you may be able to find your thread in hindsight.

Let's pretend you're sitting in front of a computer typing an article titled The Modern Work Box Model and you stop to reflect on your "career". You've done a variety of things.

Lifeguard > Birthday Party Coordinator > Delivery Driver > Handyman > Naval Officer > Mosquito Slayer > English Teacher > Shark Feeder > Parks and Rec Maintenance Dude > Vet > Nurse > Customer Support > Amazon Seller

The panic and anxiety set in. There is no thread! But wait, in hindsight, the jobs you've had have two loose but common threads: being able to learn on the job, and people management. Both valuable skills.

Phew, you're not lost after all, you just weren't conscious of what you were doing. But now that you're paying attention you can target future roles that will further build your career around those threads.

If you've also spent your career in what feels like a disjointed manner, don't worry, take the time to reflect on your life and look for the common thread. With any luck you'll be surprised how many skills overlap in hindsight. If you can't find one then there's no time like the present to start focusing on one.

If you're still a youngin', and just starting out in the Modern Work Box, then spend some time thinking about what your thread will be. The time spent now will be less anxiety inducing in the long run, trust me.

More Job Searches

Job searching sucks. But it's something you'll have to get used to in the job-leap-frog-ocalypse game.

For Better or Worse

Some big pros and cons exist. If you're already in the Modern Work Box model what's your thread been? Has it been obvious? Has it changed over time?

If you're just starting out then give it some thought. Do you want to build your career around a company (Classical Work Box model) or around you as an individual (Modern Work Box model)?

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