Workplace winners and losers

There are basically two types of workers, right? Either you are an upward climber or you choose to cruise on easy street. But wait a minute. Does everyone need to approach their career as a time-driven, multi-tasking, power-expressing endeavor or is it all right to have a job that is relatively low stress, perhaps largely rote, and not one you take home with you both physically and mentally?Well, sure it is. Or it should be. Shouldn’t it? A funny thing happens when you try to put a non-judgmental tag on this type of job style.Look how easy it is for us to describe an ambitious, upwardly mobile, goal-oriented, tough-minded, high achiever. What do you call someone who does not approach work with a winner-take-all attitude? A slow-moving, low-end grunt worker with limited goals?None of these are very flattering. In fact, they and others like them are demeaning. Does that mean that career choices are divided into the worthy and the not worthy, valued or marginal, good and bad?Unfortunately the way we typically view the stratification of employment is a holdover from a traditional linear view of ladder climbing. Those on the higher rungs are generally viewed as more accomplished, while those on the lower rungs are seen as novices at best and incapable at worst.Looking at work diversity through this narrow lens discounts the various non-status-oriented reasons why people choose the work that they do. In fact, it’s fair to say that the ladder metaphor has outgrown its relevance.Career choice today is much more multidimensional and much less about points on a continuum as was true even a couple of decades ago. Career progress zigs and zags and flies in directions that are more spontaneous and less predetermined. For example, randomly ask several 40-somethings if they are working at jobs they would have imagined doing when in high school or even college. Chances are that they have ended up in workplaces that they never would have dreamed of at the time.To be sure, some of the metrics that defined career success in the past are still important – amounts of income, levels of responsibility and significant decision-making authority – but quickly joining this list are some new highly valued success measures such as amounts of family and personal leave, results-only work management, and lack of job stress.The new ‘achiever’When we as a culture accept more readily the different ways career-life fit are expressed, then we have a greater chance of truly creating conditions by which individuals choose careers that dovetail lifestyles in a profoundly satisfying way.Think of how often young people in particular choose a career direction because it fits more with convention, usually determined by the previous generation’s values, than it fits with their innate personalities and lifestyle wishes.Separating workers into winners and losers based on criteria that do not speak to life contentment really doesn’t make sense. People who choose to work as coffee shop baristas, supermarket bakers, golf course greenskeepers or licensed practical nurses can be as successful as any executive, business owner or attorney if we agree that how healthy and happy they are is how their work choice is to be judged.So what are acceptable and non-demeaning ways to describe the opposite of high-achiever?Maybe self-directed, balanced and purposeful. Merely labeling each other seems uncomfortably close to making class distinctions. Reframing how we view the general workforce, however, is far more constructive.Bill Ryan, founder of Ryan Career Services LLC, Concord, also is a regular blogger on NHBR Network. He can be reached at 603-724-2289