The other day, a client of mine told me she had taken a 12-month fixed-term role on an executive leadership team. “It’s great. Because I’m fixed-term, rather than permanent, I’ve got real clarity of why I’m here, and what my priorities are for the next 12 months. I can just get on with it.”


It got me thinking. Why does it take a frame of ‘fixed-term’ to provide that clarity?


Because here’s the thing. We are all fixed-term. We all have an end-date.


Nothing is really permanent. Our lives are fixed-term. The human race is likely to be fixed-term. The planet’s existence is fixed-term. 


Why do we call a job ‘permanent’ when the reality is that it too is fixed-term? 


What if, instead, we thought of our endeavours as having a finishing point? 


The book Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman has experienced a rapid rise in popularity since its publication last year. Understandably so. This book puts things into perspective. Burkeman’s premise is that we have, on average, four thousand weeks on the planet to live out our lives. When we truly live with that in mind, we realise that we can’t do it all, and we don’t have all the time in the world to do it in. We must prioritise what matters. Aty the same time, four thousand weeks is enough to play a long game on something truly worthwhile. (By the way, also check out this brilliant post Your Life In Weeks by Tim Urban. It’s a great visual reminder of our impermanence.)


The Great Resignation (or, as Gartner puts it, the Great Reflection) is evidence that employees are seriously re-thinking what matters most. People are waking up to the idea that a job doesn’t have to be permanent, and that their work is not the centre of the universe. 


Last week, a participant in the Change Makers programme said “If we think we own people’s minds, hearts and souls, we’re in for a shock.” He said this after another participant mentioned that their employer is mandating people come back into the office to work – no exceptions. This other participant knows their worth and will likely look for a new employer rather than be forced into an unwilling compromise with the other priorities in their life.


An up-and-coming young professional I know has just moved organisations. “I’ll stay here in this place for probably 18 months. I’m going to contribute as much as I can, learn as much as I can, and then look for the next thing.” 


Anecdotes like these are everywhere.


As we adopt the idea that we are all fixed-term, the balance of power is shifting. If you’re thinking about your career, all other things being equal, you’re in a strong position. With a severe talent shortage, and career mobility on the rise, you have plenty of choice. You’re probably already thinking in terms of your career as a series of fixed-term gigs, linked together by a meaningful narrative.


If you’re thinking about attraction and retention, it might help to accept that your people are all fixed-term. No-one is permanent, and everyone has choices. The old deal of people giving their time in exchange for money is making way for something further up Maslow’s hierarchy. Time in exchange for meaningful work. Expertise in exchange for flexibility. Security of income is no longer enough. As I wrote about at the beginning of the pandemic, the Four B’s of Belonging, Bringing, Becoming and Being are a useful starting point for what you might offer.


We are all fixed-term. Let’s reshape our lives, and our organisations, to work with that fact.




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