Raise Your Hand if You Want to Be an Executive
Survey a decent number of people and at least a few of them will probably say most anything—even the utterly outrageous. After all, nearly 20 percent of Americans tell pollsters that the sun revolves around the earth and about an equal percentage admit to believing in witches. So to call up thousands of people and find not a single one willing to agree to a proposition is pretty unusual. But one poll recently managed it.
What did the survey ask? When virtual-office company Intelligent Office recently queried more than 1,000 Americans about their career ambitions, exactly no one said they wanted to be a corporate executive. Not one. Entrepreneurship, however, was an amazingly popular dream. "Nearly 65 percent of survey participants desire to work as an entrepreneur or independent," according to the survey release.
This result comes on top of other recent findings that reveal the popularity of entrepreneurship among 20-somethings. The increasing attraction of the start-up lifestyle for young people has been put down to the rotten job market they're facing, as well as the example of stratospherically successful young entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg. Experts have also noted that many once "safe" career paths have become far riskier, making starting a business less of a risk and more attractive in comparison. But the Intelligent Office survey suggests that much of the appeal of being a business owner may be less generation specific.
Intelligent Office found that 61 percent of respondents desire more flexible work hours than the traditional nine to five and "overwhelmingly, people aspire to have more mobility in their work life." This suggests that, whatever a person's age, one of the primary drivers of entrepreneurial dreams is a wish to escape the confining dictates of traditional corporate environments, as well as the fading allure of the traditional, all-consuming power career. (Plus, the recent recession can't have improved the reputation of America's corporate elite.) The importance of culture and lifestyle to career ambitions was underlined recently by author Alexandra Levit on her blog Water Cooler Wisdom:
I see it every day. Employees at all levels—especially women—are stepping away from positions that will pay them the highest salary, and moving into ones that provide them a better quality of life.
A friend of mine, Lucy, was a talented fifth-year associate at a Top 5 law firm in Manhattan. She made so much money that her husband didn't have to work, ever. But just as her partner was getting ready to buy a new set of golf clubs, Lucy quit. She went to work as internal legal counsel for a company that manufactures environmentally-friendly home products. Lucy makes $100k less in this new position, but her office is sunny and collaborative and her colleagues respect her personal time. She loves it.
The title of Levit's post? "Good Culture Is In, Inflated Salaries Are Out." Being an entrepreneur—despite the risks, hard work and uncertain monetary rewards—represents autonomy and a less kafkaesque work culture than what often predominates in the traditional corporate world. Looking at the Intelligent Office survey and Levit's post, that seems to be in. Being a corporate executive seems most definitely to be out.
Do you agree that the allure of being in the C-suite is fading? Will it return?
JESSICA STILLMAN | Columnist
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.