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Flexibility: The New Definition of Success

Titles and salary are so 20th century. These days the flexibility to work how you want to is the ultimate status symbol, a new poll suggests.
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People have probably been competing for status since the days when the surest route to the top of the pile was the ability to fashion the flashest stone tool or take down the mightiest antelope. And throughout this long history of puffed chests and subtle showing off, we’ve come up with a great variety of ways to prove we’re at the apex of the group.

Fast Company, for instance, just rounded up some entertaining studies showing that elevator position, for example, can indicate status (if you want to look like the top dog, make sure you’re at the back, apparently) as can a completely shaved head (balding men should “opt for that Mr. Clean look,” suggests post author Drake Baer.) And, of course, there are always the old standbys of status we’re all familiar with such as impressive titles, expensive cars, and other proxies for an extremely health salary.

But according to one reading of new survey data from the Pew Research Center, maybe there is (or should be) a new status symbol in town.

On The Big Think recently Pamela Haag examines the findings of the group’s recent survey of millennials on their feelings towards work and pay. In the course of an interesting discussion of some inconsistencies in the findings -- individually, most women say that parenthood hasn’t put them at an unfair advantage, but many more women believe it does for women in general --  Haag zeroes in on one thing that nearly all respondents did agree on.

"94 percent of workers--almost a statistical ubiquity--curtailed their work lives to care for a child or family member said they were glad they did it," she notes. What does that have to do with status? Haag writes:

To me it points in the direction of revisiting what we think of as success. If so many people are happy that they took the time off, does this suggest that we’re thinking about workplace success, fulfillment, and leadership for both men and women in a narrow and arguably anachronistic way?

...if so many workers are happy that they stepped off the treadmill, then maybe our metric is off, too. Maybe we’re deploying the wrong indicators of success. Right now, and perhaps even more so in the future, success may be about maximal autonomy and flexibility to do interesting work and get paid a living for it, as opposed to vertical ambition. Or, “leadership” might have more to do with creativity and innovation and not with how many employees you command.

If we’re honest with ourselves, in other words, many of us privately already value flexibility and autonomy as more important accomplishments than the traditional signs of being a big shot. That’s good news, of course, for business owners who already benefit from controlling their own working lives. Perhaps it’s time we do more to publicly acknowledge that definition "success."

Interested in learning more about the study findings? Check out Haag’s complete post for a deeper dive into the numbers.

Do you think the definition of success is changing? If so, how?

 

Last updated: Dec 16, 2013

JESSICA STILLMAN

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.




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