Career Portfolioing is a New Reality

Career Portfolioing is a New Reality

84K, 36K, and 6.4K — these many people have been laid off in January, February, and March already. In 2022, around 161K employees worldwide were let go. Companies like Atlassian, which were previously praised for not subjecting to downsizing their workforce, also find themselves forced to make cuts after years of rapid growth. On March 6, Atlassian confirmed that it would be laying off 5% of its workforce.

Of course, there are multiple market-related factors at play here - from the looming recession to AI advances and trade wars to a lack of funding. Organisations are looking to cut costs in every way they can, and they have had to identify the parts of the business that are not key to its core or are not working. In some cases, these cuts have been expected and planned for. Others have been more "reactive" than anything else.

These instances of cut-throat downsizing create a sense that no job is really safe, be it a highly-strategic position or a simple entry-level role. The balance of power, which was presumably titled towards employees during the pandemic, has strikingly changed its direction in the recent few months.

No doubt, employees are thinking (and they should) about their career portfolios in response to the need to navigate the changing business landscape. They're seeking options that could help sustain their careers in times of turmoil or at least open up new avenues for them to explore. And this is precisely where the concept of career portfolioing comes to the fore.

What Is Career Portfolioing?

Simply put, career portfolioing is a concept where individuals pursue part-time jobs or freelance work to create a diverse and flexible career. This trend has emerged due to a desire for greater control over one's career and seeking better financial options. But it's not just about money. In essence, career portfolioing is the gateway to a broader, adaptable, and evolving professional life that allows one to stress on their career growth, learn new skills, and create more exploration opportunities for themselves on the go.

As a matter of fact, career portfolioing has existed in some form or the other - albeit in a more rudimentary and fragmented way. For example, investors often diversify their investments among different sectors and to a certain extent, they also forge ties with colleagues in other industries. Likewise, C-level executives have always had a variety of outside projects that help them learn new things and keep them in touch with the industry outside their domain. What better example than Twitter's CEO Elon Musk.

When viewing from 10,000 feats, the diversification of growth options appears to be quite common. Organisations, for instance, spread out their business across different geographies as a way to compensate for fluctuations in the local economy.

So, it's only justified that employees, too, think this way. It's a way out of the singular focus on one job and the risk of being affected by a sudden downsizing. It's also a way to avoid being trapped in an industry or role for which there is no demand or leverage.

Why Career Portfolioing Matters?

While the idea of combining multiple jobs is not entirely new, the focus on it has a lot to do with the changing work environment.

According to Zapier, 40% of Americans had a side hustle in 2022. On average, 13.4 hours per week were dedicated to the side hustle. An average income of $12,689 per year was realised through the same. Similar trends have been observed elsewhere. For instance, Deloitte's Gen Z and Millennial Survey outlined that 39% of millennials and 42% of Gen Zs in the UK had side hustles in 2022. This number would only increase as more people get on board with career portfolioing.

Here are a few reasons why career portfolioing makes sense:

  1. Self-Fulfilment and Discovery

    The realisation of self-discovery has become a critical factor in the evolution of the workforce, and this is amplified by the need to reinvent oneself through continuous learning and constant testing. Often, the singular and invariable drive to grow and develop, which is often considered the hallmark of a successful career, can lead to a deeply troubled work-life balance. This doesn't imply that it doesn't work for some. But it does mean that for others, a more flexible and multi-faceted approach that allows them to capitalise on their strengths, explore new domains of expertise, and experiment with different models of career development can be a better fit.

    Maybe someone has always wanted to work for a charitable organisation, for instance. Or perhaps, a person wants to dabble with the financial sector but would rather do it on their own terms rather than be a cog in the wheel of some corporation. It's for these reasons and more that career portfolioing makes a lot of sense for individuals seeking self-fulfilment.

  2. Keeping Up with the Technological Advances

    In 2013, a study by the University of Oxford revealed that 47% of the jobs in the US would be at risk of elimination at the hands of AI over the next 20 years. This seemed to be an exaggerated claim at the time. But such expectations have only become more relevant in the last few years, as companies like Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft and Google have placed a lot of focus on AI-driven technologies. OpenAI's ChatGPT, a GPT3.5-powered AI chatbot, is a prime example.

    What AI-driven technologies have done is radically change the expectations of the workforce in all sectors and industries. This is true for companies as well, which are increasingly leveraging AI-driven tools to drive efficiency in their workflow and extract more value and reduce time-to-market. Now, consider this evolution from the perspective of an employee - say, a writer. AI writing tools, especially ChatGPT, have lowered the entry barrier to excellent linguistic articulation. While this doesn't necessarily mean that a writer's job is on the verge of extinction, it does suggest increasing pressure on everyone to deliver better output to carve out differentiation.

    This calls for strategic career portfolioing where individuals have multiple options to fall back onto in case their domain gets impacted by any AI-powered products. And AI is just one example. There are many more areas that are poised to be transformed by new technologies.

  3. Tackling Economic Uncertainties

    Cuing back to the narrative about the ongoing layoffs, the recent economic uncertainties coupled with lacklustre company budgets have made it tougher for employees to get a stable footing in the job market. This is particularly true for those working in the IT industry. All over the world, employees are being made to exit the job in droves. This means that they are increasingly looking for shelter in unconventional ways.

    It's noteworthy that interests and upskilling are still under one's own control. However, something along the lines of recession-inspired job cuts or the threat of layoffs is largely beyond one's control. That's the reason why more individuals are looking towards cumulative careers, where they have multiple streams of income to fall back onto in case one or more of the sources of income run dry.

Should Organisations Be Concerned?

Career portfolioing is a rapidly emerging approach to career planning. And while this doesn't prescribe against organisational involvement, it certainly leaves a lot of room for individual imagination and ingenuity. So, what does this mean for the organisations? Let's understand it from two perspectives.

  1. Productivity

    The concept of career portfolioing, albeit different, might somewhere tie in with moonlighting. The latter has been both validated and criticised. When asked about moonlighting, John Ricco, the co-founder of an NYC-based recruiting agency said that "I can see why people would want to take on two full-time jobs in such a bad economy, but from a business perspective, it definitely can't be allowed to happen."

    Why so? Presumably because moonlighting may affect the productivity of an employee in the eyes of some businesses. Perhaps they even have data to support this claim. What about career portfolioing? How does it impact an employee's productivity? Well, from what we've outlined so far, it's a balanced approach to career planning. And our own survey affirms that.

    We asked several of our clients about the number of employees that have part-time jobs besides their main workplace.

    • On average, 20-30% of their employees have incomes beyond their main jobs. About 10% work part-time on the weekends. Most employees don't engage in any work beyond their main jobs. Across all the cases, the clients haven't seen a noticeable productivity difference.

    • The roles most associated with career portfolioing are designers, marketers, and even lawyers.

  1. Business Performance

    At the end of the day, a business's bottom line is what matters. But that depends largely on how well an organisation manages its human capital. From what we've seen, it's not uncommon for employees to be frustrated about monotonous workflows, stagnant salaries, and lack of progress within the job.

    Pew Research Center's research reveals that money is one of the major drivers for employees to leave their current jobs. In 2021

    • 63% of the employees left their jobs due to low pay

    • 63% left because of the lack of advancement opportunities

    • 57% left because they felt they were disrespected at work

    • 45% held lack of flexibility as one of the major reasons

    • 43% left because of the lack of good benefits and insurance cover

What do all these data tell us? There's a stark contrast between how organisations view the current state of their human capital and what it looks like from the eyes of their employees. This calls for a radical change in organisation culture, especially when it comes to the understanding of what makes for a good workforce.

To that end, career portfolioing is certainly not a practice that should be severely scrutinised. In fact, it's an approach that might hold a lot of merit going forward. Consider this:

  • Given the shortage of competent talent, organisations in the future might be focusing more on competing for a part of the specialists' precious time than seeking to hire them for 9-10 hours a day.

  • With the boom in cumulative careers, organisations will be increasingly focused on the quality of their employees' output rather than the quantity of their input.

  • According to research, an employee is productive only for 2 hours 53 minutes throughout an 8-9 hour workday. So, it bodes well for organisations to adopt a lifestyle-friendly approach to talent management.

The Bottom Line - Keeping Competent People Close

With Millennials and Gen Zs dominating the job market and shaping the workforce dynamics, organisations must be wary of the major paradigm shift when it comes to how employees view work. They want to be able to work on a part-time basis, have multiple income sources, and even moonlight when they wish to.

Of course, not everything can be left to the discretion of the employee. Organisations need to set boundaries that are understandable, fair, and workable. However, putting breaks to career portfolioing is most certainly not the way forward. You don't want your employees to "quiet quit" or even live with frustration. In the end, you will probably be the one suffering from attrition brought on by mediocrity and lethargy.

After all, it's better to have a great specialist, at least for a part of the day, than have no one at all.

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