Employees Shrink to Fit Their Position

The biggest problem we’re dealing with today is the underutilization of individuals. The most talented and ambitious young people, when they feel under-utilized in their jobs, shrink to fit their position. ~Taylor Pearson

The book title by Taylor Pearson got my attention: The End of Jobs: Money, Meaning and Freedom Without the 9-5. I was drawn to the idea of “the end of jobs” because I believe that’s the future we are moving toward, and I enjoy reading the perspective of young authors. When I read the statement, “when they feel under-utilized in their jobs, shrink to fit their position,” I literally felt a surge of emotion.

That emotion was total agreement with the sentiment. My mind was flooded with examples where I’ve seen that exact scenario played out. Here’s what those ambitious young people are hearing, and what they are feeling.

  • “We tried that; it didn’t work.” (kind of like a patronizing pat on the head)
  • “You haven’t been here very long; that’s not how we do things.” (if it ain’t broke, why fix it)
  • “You’re jumping ahead; we won’t be ready for that for several years.” (we value certainty over innovation)
  • “That may be motivating to you (aka: your generation), but we just need people to work hard.” (commitment to “work ethic” trumps all other motivators)

Most of us would agree that we live in a world where change is constant. We have to be agile and pivot and reinvent, etc. Most organizations have the resources right in front of them to do just that – new hires, young people, employees who just came from a different industry, etc. They are ambitious, have a high level of commitment (initially), and then we under-utilize them. We aren’t willing to at least test their ideas, put them in positions that might be a little risky for the organization, or give them time to just work on whatever.

Even though millennials now dominate the workforce, they are still aging-in to leadership roles. Or, we’re making them wait to age-in to those roles. We’re making them wait to try their ideas, to give them the space to make mistakes, to be innovative, to help drive change, the very things every organization needs to be resilient.

So what do those young employees do, they shrink to fit their position. Here are just a few of the statements I’ve heard:

  • I’ll just keep my head down, do my job, and nothing more.
  • I’ll do my job, leave on time, so I can search for a new opportunity.

Think of it this way. You’ve been struggling to pay your bills, just getting by financially, you’re hanging in there, but nothing more. Then, you find a shoebox of cash hidden in the back of your closet. A resource you had all along, but weren’t utilizing. The anxiety you’ve felt for the past several years could have been mitigated a long time ago had you utilized all your resources. Kind of like causing people to shrink to fit their position.

Here’s your assignment. Make a list of at least three examples of how you are under-utilizing your people and then identify ways to change that, now. Stop encouraging them to shrink to fit their position.

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