12/10/2012 11:44 am ET Updated Feb 09, 2013

"Work" Has a New Definition in Today's World

Work is a four-letter word that for some, conjures up thoughts of daily drudgery, internal politics and agendas, or back-breaking labor. Yet for others, work is a sanctuary, where friends gather together for a common goal and a place to commune with others. Whether your definition of work is positive or negative, one thing is becoming clear: The definition of work has evolved.

This ain't your mom's economy anymore.

Today's business climate has changed the way we experience work. For the most part, gone are the days of pensions, 20-year jobs, and company loyalty. As many Americans are finding out the hard way, workers are now more than ever considered assets; tools in an organization that can be bought or sold in a merger, laid off to save profits, or let go to send a position overseas. The idea of company loyalty is rare nowadays, as businesses struggle to maintain their bottom line.

Today's company looks for and needs more flexible, experienced workers, to keep their organizations fresh and active. A recent report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that in 2012 the average tenure at one job was just 4.6 years. I remember back in the 1970s, when my parents worked with people who had more than 15 years at the same company. It was common back then to stay with a company, through thick and thin, even at the risk of getting laid off. Then again, it used to be that many companies offered attractive retirement packages, which meant that if one lasted long enough they would reap the rewards of their patience with money to retire on. But now that the old school pension-type retirement accounts have been replaced by the modern 401(k), there typically isn't a great motivation to stay with a company very long. In fact, nowadays, there are some hiring managers who would look at a resume filled with five- to 10-year positions and think "dinosaur."

Today's modern worker has to keep in mind that companies are no longer places to grow old and retire at. Profits are not as reliable and long lasting as they used to be. Employers are forced to keep up with changing economic dynamics, in some cases changing corporate strategy mid-stream to meet future demands. In basic terms, today's company needs to be nimble, and to do that they need employees who can shift and refocus with the company. A person with 10 years experience at one job may be an expert at something specific, but they must be able to adapt their skills to an evolving job, or risk becoming a "one-trick pony."

When we think about what it means work, we hope that it's a positive, rewarding experience in our lives. But it's time to realize that work has evolved, and that we need to watch out for ourselves and our families first.

Welcome to the new age of "work."