Will organizations ever invest in ‘two careers’?

In my previous post, I touched upon individuals investing in two (or more) careers in parallel not only to hedge financial income but also lead happier and more creative lives. While I am still toying with what my second career will be and the path to get there, I couldn’t help but wonder if organizations should actively play a role in this space. The HR professional in me kept dueling with this question until I could no longer come up with a strong long-term oriented rationale to not do so. In this piece, I will walk through the reasons organizations believe this is a waste of time, effort and actively erect roadblocks in allowing individuals to do this. I will then move on to argue why it’s time for organizations to remove these blinkers to preserve long-term growth and profits.

Let’s face it–developing skills for a second parallel career is time-consuming and exhausting. It takes a delicate balance of willpower, motivation, and grit in order to get there. For many, one career is often enough. This post is not about them. This is about the high potential, multi-faced individuals who pursue passion outside of their day jobs. They continue to do so, irrespective of whether the organization supports them or doesn’t. One look at your top talent and you will discover that 75% of them have a hobby they actively pursue outside of work. Often, they also hold the potential to convert that hobby into a second career. Do you know someone who actively invests in the stock market; tends to a bar after hours or paints? They’re unknowingly or knowingly crafting a second career.

For organizations, as long as it does not impact productivity, delivery and innovation at their day job, it is usually no trouble. However, if you were to ask an organization for aid in discovering or pursuing a second career, they’ll likely look aghast or view you as a threat. In their eyes, heeding to such a request actively diverts your attention from the job they are paying you for. They rather you invest the additional hours into the career you already have. In addition to viewing it as a waste of time and money, most will consider it as a potential threat to long-term tenure at the company. What if you decide to quit thanks to the investment in your second career? What if you grow increasingly discontent with your current job? Any way you look at it, organization believe they have nothing to gain by encouraging you to pursue an interest that does not align with the role they pay you to play. Imagine a software engineer asking his manager to sponsor his evening painting classes? No prizes for guessing that (a) it is a hypothetic scenario in the sense that one will never ask and (b) the manager will laugh the engineer out the door.

This is where most organizations get it wrong. There are three major advantages to encouraging investment in interests outside of purely creating interest groups at work and the occasional dollar investment in these groups:

  1. Increased exposure: Allowing individuals to engage in their areas of interest gives them exposure to a set of enthusiasts outside of their work and regular social circle. The above mentioned software engineer now spends time with painters who come from various other fields. This increased visibility into various mindsets also now influences his mindset at work and Voila! He may just bring in much required fresh perspective. Many innovations come from the collision of many different ideas and often from various fields. The most often quoted is Steve Jobs’s calligraphy class, and there are many more examples out there. Do it in the name of innovation.
  • Increased engagement: Not only will this software engineer be highly pleased with the organization, he will also have an increased level of creativity and sense of fulfillment–everything that contributes towards a happier individual. Now happiness is not the responsibility of an organization, nor does it necessarily contribute to increased engagement with the day job; but happiness as a by-product of pursuing a hobby and a greater sense of fulfilment spills on to work. Do it in the name of increased engagement.
  • Longer commitment: I mentioned highly pleased with the organization above, and I repeat that here. If you can sponsor skill development for a second career either by providing time or the resources to do so and encourage it, it is likely that the employee will stick with the organization for longer because it is no longer just about pay. It is now about working with an employer that supports dreams, ambitions, work life balance and more. These aspects are hard to put a price on unless their future employer provides a similar commitment to their second career. This means you get to retain your talent for longer. Also, similar to unlimited time off, this is a benefit not everyone will avail. It isn’t easy to pursue your interests. Many employees will be satisfied with their day job, returning to household chores and watching Netflix in their leisure time. Very few (read top talent) will embrace this support. Bigger win! Do it in the name of top talent retention. And if you can utilize the software engineer for a painting job, you no longer have to scour the market looking for talent–you developed one right at home.

I have a theory that says when an organization invests in their people; the organization and people both win. All that is needed for the big win is expanding the meaning of investment. Investment does not mean sending them to programming and leadership trainings. It expands into many more spheres. When you redefine investing in employees, magic happens.

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