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Tours of Duty: Matching Workplace Flexibility with Career Flexibility

Have you seen the interesting article in the June Harvard Business Review by Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha, and Chris Yeh called “Tours of Duty: The New Employer-Employee Compact”? It gives us a new way to think about our careers – with an emphasis on increased flexibility. Instead of thinking of a career as a series of moves designed to get us up the ladder and into the corner office, the authors suggest that we think about the different stages and work assignments through which we progress as a series of “tours of duty” and that we maximize our career flexibility by building networks of relationships outside our current employer. This approach rewards both the entrepreneurial employees who take responsibility for their careers and the organizations that benefit from a more dynamic employee mix that discourages the concept of “retiring in place.” It is a concept that many people, particularly those in the Millennial generation, find very appealing.

And it fits right into the concept of a more flexible work environment. It transfers responsibility not just for day-to-day accomplishments but for career progression to the individual. Like the concept of workplace flexibility that says that performance and results matter more than location and taking up space, the concept of career tours of duty says that the individual should own the responsibility for determining where and how a career progresses. Does this apply to Federal workers as well? While this may not represent a common approach to career management today, it suggests a possible evolutionary path for the future. As the Federal workforce evolves, as people retire and Millenials come in the door, the desire for flexibility in both one’s work day and one’s career path will rise. While some people may choose to pursue a long term role in the government, others will want to do a tour of duty in the government, go to private industry, move to a non-profit, and then return. This will make for a more agile and innovative workforce that is ready to address the challenges of the future. Flexibility is the key.

You can find the Harvard Business Review article at: http://hbr.org/2013/06/tours-of-duty-the-new-employer-employee-compact/ar/1

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Jill Nissan

Thanks for making us aware of this “Tours of Duty” concept. This resonates largely with me. I am a GenXer with about 10 years in the government. I have approached my roles much like tours of duty, mostly because I like getting engaged in challenging projects. As I see the project coming to a close, I start seeking new opportunities either internally or externally. It would be great if we could design HR infrastructure to support the tour of duty concept. Another term I have heard before is a career lattice, rather than a career ladder.

I see these as great ideas with much potential as our society/workplaces shift from industrial era models to knowledge era models.