The Real Risk is Working 9 to 5

The entrepreneurial life is no longer the option for risk-takers; it is now the best choice for people with low risk tolerance. Those with high risk tolerance are advised to cling to their 9 to 5 jobs and say a prayer for big business.

The working world is on its head. A corporate “9-to-5″ gig is hardly secure; more and more Americans are taking the entrepreneurial plunge. But we can go further: the real risk is now working 9 to 5.

Workers can be generalized into two kinds of people: “9 to 5 types” prefer to work as an employee, performing a specific role for a finite period and clocking out. “Entrepreneurial types” play a higher stakes game. In exchange for the chance to cash out (and endure less micro-management), the entrepreneurs sign up for a different tradeoff: you don’t get to leave your work at the office.

Thirty years ago, the two types had two clear options: nine-to-fivers aligned themselves with a company “for life” and dug into a career; entrepreneurs started their own companies. Work has now turned on the 9 to 5 gang. In the global economy, paychecks are never too far from pink slips. (I have a friend who works for a company where if you get up in the morning and can’t log into the Extranet, you don’t know if you’re having technical problems or if you’ve just been fired. You have to call tech support to find out).

Companies pull a Catch-22 to justify their layoffs, claiming that workers have adopted a free agent mentality and can’t be invested in for the long term. Since employees are (supposedly) no longer loyal, companies feel justified in reducing their moral obligations towards their employees accordingly. Meanwhile, most employees know the rules have changed, but don’t always know how to respond.

Of course, you can poke holes in these two types of workers generalizations by pointing to exceptions. Food service is one obvious example of a profession that is outsourcing-proof. Contrary to the “Visit” sign I saw recently outside of a Starbucks that was closed for the night, you can’t do much about the coffee business online. There’s a whole demographic of swell jobs in the “Subway Sandwich Artist” vein that are “safe.”

If recent experiences dealing with these individuals are any indication, baristas and sandwich artists don’t take much comfort in their stability. Maybe if their wages were enough to support their families or vices they would. And anyone who has had the joy of tracking down plumbers and electricians knows that tradespeople are also very comfortable with their work options and are feeling no urgency to get to your project site.

But in the white collar world, the threat of outsourcing is universal. Even doctors are running into the outsourcing of certain functions like medical tests and x-ray processing. The entrepreneurial life is no longer the option for risk-takers; it is now the best choice for people with low risk tolerance. Those with high risk tolerance are advised to cling to their 9 to 5 jobs and say a prayer for big business.

Remember, you don’t have to start your own company to adopt an entrepreneurial approach. I know many consultants and managers who are thriving within large companies by shifting their mindset from “How can I help this company meet its instatibale needs for increasing profit?” to “How can I make a contribution while enhancing my own skills, reputation, and visibility in my industry?” Later, we’ll return to techniques you can use to inject a corporate career with entrepreneurial savvy.

The point is not to live in fear of pink slips; the point is to recognize that the seismic plates of employment have shifted. A creative and strategic response may not always save us, but it’s probably more effective than denial. Still, there are some valid questions: What about all the people who accept this argument but who are stuck on the corporate treadmill? What if you have no time? What if it’s all you can do to haul yourself out of bed, sinking feeling in your gut, and do it all over again?

Well, I can’t do much for the dread, except to say that I’ve felt it and I think we probably all have. But what I can do, and will do, is write this book. And most of the book will be about taking those first crucial steps out off the corporate treadmill, when time and resources are scarce.

Want to buy Free From Corporate America or see reviews of the final published version from readers like yourself? The printed book is now available on with product reviews.

You can also get a discounted version of the final book in eBook (PDF) format, or you can pick up a copy on the Kindle. The published version of the book is significantly enhanced from the web version available on this site.

4 thoughts on “The Real Risk is Working 9 to 5

  1. I agree with you. The corporate game is no longer a safe bet in the least. I’ve been through so many downsizings, mergers and cancelled projects that I’m seriously looking at the entrepreneurial alternative in mid-career (I’m 37). No more of this yearly search for the next IT gig!

  2. Michael,

    Thanks for using my new comments functionality!

    I’m glad to have you chime in. I’m glad you are looking at some entrepreneurial options. I know a lot of successful IT folks who contract their services back into larger companies but make more money per hour that way and it’s, in my mind, a much purer arrangement because there is no b.s. about job security, just a clean trade of $ for skills. And over time, you can definitely build a successful company that way too.

    Good luck to you and stay in touch!

    I’m currently working on a bunch of final changes to the final version of the book, I’m hoping to have it out in October.

    - Jon Reed -

  3. This is a book that must be written, and you’re the person to do it Jon. I credit you with the genesis of my true break from corporate america. Thank you and I can’t wait to read more.

  4. Jim,

    Thanks for the good word. You’ve done a terrific job of applying these approaches to your situation, I tip my hat to you. Thanks also for the encouraging words, the book is in a final stage that is pretty labor intensive so it’s always good to get that enthusiastic feedback from the outside.

    - Jon -

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