Tuesday, August 4, 2009

I do things my way

When I was working at a large consulting firm in London in the mid 90s, I remember going through a few phases in my impressions of the place. To start with I was chuffed to be there - the smart people, the great support, the learning - and I was probably a bit overwhelmed by the whole thing. Once the initial effects had worn off, and I had got bored with smart hotels and weekly champagne evenings, I moved on. As well as ordering beer in wine bars, I was looking around me at the people and the structure and wondering about where I was going. The one thing that I knew for sure was that I didn't want to be a partner. It seemed to me that they had made a Faustian pact in exchange for their position, and had leapt into one pan of the work-life balance.

To their credit, the firm in question was doing a lot of thinking at the time about this kind of topic, and figured out that there were people they wanted to keep (as well as me) who also didn't want to be a partner. For these, they created a position called director, which just meant you worked as hard but didn't have to buy in at some point.

For working women though, and increasingly for Generation Y, similar situations exist. I may enjoy the work I do, and I may be very good at it, but I don't have any great interest in climbing the corporate ladder. Enlightened companies (and there are some out there) are having to find ways to accommodate the people who are trying to balance their own lives without the benefit of role play workshops in country hotels. For some this means working 3 or 4 days a week instead of five; for others it means doing something similar to Google's "20% time", to make working life more meaningful. It's part of a general trend towards social responsibility for profit making entities. More on this later.