What Is The “4.0” Career?

Some readers have asked me to explain why I have a category labeled “Work and Career ‘4.0.’”  Fair enough: A few of these blog posts are tagged that way, but I haven’t described what I mean by that designation.

What I call 4.0 is a shorthand way of describing a new evolution I see in people’s attitudes, behavior and desires about their work and career.  Think of 1.0” as more of a survival orientation to work.  It’s how people think about and engage in their work when they’re in situations of extreme hardship, political upheaval, or within socio-economic conditions that limit their opportunity and choices.  That probably describes the situation for the masses of people throughout most of history, and of course it exists today.  In such situations, just earning enough of a living to survive and support yourself and your family is your target, your criteria of  “success.”  Today, the conflicts that people experience within version 1.0 often concern working conditions, discrimination and limited opportunities for getting onto a career path that can lead to something better.

Version 2.0 emerged with the political and economic environments that gave rise to the modern “career”; that is, mostly within increasingly large, bureaucratic organizations from about the late 1800s into the early 20th Century.  Those organizations required layers of management and administration – white-collar jobs.  Advancement became possible along a defined path, and was available to people who could gain a foothold within it, usually because of educational opportunities and/or social class advantages they were born into.  Seeking recognition, power, status, and material perks from steady advancement define success with Version 2.0.  It still predominates within today’s career culture.  It’s where you find the conditions that generate, for example, work-life conflict, boredom, workplace bullying, hostile management practices, and subtle racial and gender barriers to moving up.

Version 3.0 arose just in the last few decades.  It reflects the desire for more personal meaning and fulfillment through work.  People within this career version are less satisfied with just the money, power and position characteristic of version 2.0.  The 3.0 careerist wants more compatibility and balance between work and life, and is less willing than the 2.0 careerist to stick with an unfulfilling job, or to settle for one when job-hunting.

Surveys illustrate the 3.0 orientation in various ways.  For example, in the pushback against the longer hours companies increasingly pressure you into.  Or against being available via BlackBerry or cell phone 24/7, even while on a vacation.   Also, increasing numbers of people say that moving up is a downer for them; that they dislike their new jobs when they do move up the traditional career ladder.   For example, a recent Families and Work Institute report finds that promotions are being turned down by workers in the thick of their careers.  Workers used to be eager to take on more responsibility, and now they aren’t, as much.

The 3.0 careerists want professional life to nourish the capacity for developing talents or interests outside of work, instead of pushing them aside.  In short, they want less fragmentation and more integration among the different parts of their lives.  More than just having a successful career, they want their careers to serve and support a successful life.

What, then, is Version 4.0?  It’s what I think is a new but increasingly visible evolution beyond 3.0.  In the 4.0 orientation, the person wants not only work that enables more personal self-development, but looks for opportunities to connect with, serve and have impact on something beyond or larger than oneself.   That is, the 4.0 careerist not only wants a career that enables you to integrate personal life goals and values with what you do at work; not only have sufficiently meaningful work, personally, but also be able to have a positive impact on human lives through work.

Consequently, the 4.0 careerist is highly proactive, looking for and seizing opportunities for new learning, and creative growth, within the organization; and having positive impact on something larger than oneself through his or her career.  That is, the 4.0 careerist is oriented toward a sense of service to and connection with the larger human community through the product or service he or she is contributing to.

Just more money, advancement and increasing recognition aren’t sufficient.  In short, the 4.0 careerist wants work that is personally rewarding, but that also contributes to the greater good, beyond his or her own personal gain.  They are attracted to organizations whose philosophy and management practices are supportive of those goals; that value innovation, are transparent, psychologically healthy – and philosophically committed to the “triple bottom line:” financial success, social impact and environmental responsibility.  Career version 4.0 looks to be part of an emerging new business model – one that’s sorely needed in our current business, social and political environment.


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  1. Pingback: your life footprint and the 4.0 career | Progressive Impact -- Douglas LaBier

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