THE BLOG
10/10/2014 10:44 am ET Updated Dec 10, 2014

Preparing for the Future of Work and the (Integrated) Pursuit of Happiness

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Change in is the air. Taking stock, for the second National Work & Family Month, there has been much progress over the past year. The framework, location, form and very essence of employment are evolving, significantly. Workplace flexibility is an integral part of the new equation. Physical and temporal boundaries have blurred. Career definitions are being disrupted and career paths re-directed or re-distributed. Corporate culture is gaining importance as value and purpose become desired or required. And, 'happiness' has even emerged as a new Corporate Objective. Wow.

The changes are starting to impact everyone - whether in a corporate role, part of an entrepreneurial venture, working as an independent contractor or in transition between any of the above. The opportunity is enormous: for each individual to identify and implement the work scenario they really want, that also 'fits' well as part of their life. The challenge can also be significant - thinking it all through, and making it happen, isn't easy. But, it IS worth it.

Are you prepared or preparing for the Brave New World of Work?

If not, you're not alone. The new study, Workforce 2020 - The Looming Talent Crisis by Oxford Economics and SAP, highlights the lack of sufficient progress companies worldwide have made thus far in crafting strategies and preparing their businesses for the 2020 workforce. This becomes increasingly important as the Millennials' share rises (estimated by PwC to be around 50% by 2020) and their demands are key drivers behind the new developments. So, no need to worry quite yet?

No, the time to start is Now.

The weighting of the relationship is shifting along the employment continuum towards employees, recognizing and responding more to workers' particular situations. However, it requires clarification for each person. The evolving work environment is a far cry from the rigid, but clear, construct we have all been struggling with for so long. Ahead, it is much more fluid and requires attention to create a framework and define the parameters that suit your individual needs. It's a process. You need to proactively engage to understand and then achieve your desired outcome, which takes some effort...and time.

In moving to more customized work situations, responsibility and accountability also shifts towards the individual. Each person needs to identify and confirm the talents and strengths s/he will apply (in each new role), their working style and preferred schedule. Adjustments can then be made, as necessary, according to the requirements of the specific business, so s/he can reciprocate as an engaged and productive member of the workforce. The objective, in this more balanced and reciprocal arrangement, is to establish the optimal set up, where employer and employee needs are matched and aligned (and appropriate performance metrics agreed).

So, how to get there?

This is a multi-step process, with a good amount of personal introspection involved. At the core, it's about developing and leveraging your self-awareness, on many levels, and determining how you can best achieve 'happiness'. Without getting all existential, let's define the pursuit of happiness as your 'Ambition for Life' - your seeking to attain some measure of fulfillment and or accomplishment across a reasonable range of your life activities. In the new scenario, work AND non-work interests, pursuits and obligations are essential parts of a comprehensive integrated solution. Plus, you'll be able to be your real, your 'whole' self at work and elsewhere. At long last.

Key elements: understand where you are, what you know about yourself, what is important to you, what your priorities are and what you are good at. Then, you can work out what aspects you need to work on in order to start defining the multi-dimensional life that you want to create for yourself. Wharton's Professor Stew Friedman has developed an interesting online questionnaire you can use to help make this assessment. The questions are focused on the skills his decades of research have indicated are important for integrating work and life successfully. These include 'knowing what matters', 'aligning actions with values', 'managing boundaries intelligently' and 'embracing change courageously'. In his new book, Leading the Life You Want, Professor Friedman also describes successful role models and exercises to help people develop these varied and valuable skills.

In the less structured, more self-directed world ahead, your thoughtful participation is all the more crucial. You need to be 'hands-on', determining and establishing a beneficial overall life construct and desirable working circumstances for yourself, and adapting them over time as your situation changes. Essentially, you need to develop an entrepreneurial approach for yourself and be your own talent manager! Whatever your methodology - utilizing an executive/life coach, reading helpful books, working through relevant exercises and more - the potential rewards for you, long-awaited and much-deserved, are significant...and certainly worth the investment.

Start preparing yourself as the future unfolds, so you can move further up the utility AND happiness curves, and fully pursue your Ambition for Life.