Everything is changing, including jobs, professions, and industries. Some members welcome these changes as positive and exciting trends. But for others, change causes career anxiety and stress. They’re uneasy about the future of their career and/or business. Will they remain employable and promotable? Will their business stay competitive?
Your association can help members take control of their future and not get buffeted about by the winds of change. You can help them become more confident about the future by providing opportunities to increase their skills and knowledge, widen their professional network, and design a future for themselves that will evolve and prosper in times of change.
Causes of career anxiety and stress
For many members, career anxiety is compounded by other nagging concerns. Because of layoffs and business failures during the recession, their retirement savings aren’t where they should be. Even though they’re doing well now, they’re not so confident about their future financial stability.
Young members are dealing with student loan debt. They’re under pressure to make enough money to pay off loans while trying to live independently. “Adulting” isn’t so easy. Social media doesn’t help—the grass always looks greener on the other side.
It’s no longer business as usual for many. Member firms may be affected by cuts in government funding. Mergers and acquisitions are a boon to founders but often a disaster for employees.
The news doesn’t help. North Korea, China, Russia, and, for some, domestic politics add to the sense of uneasiness. Some members even have to deal with drought, fires, or floods.
It’s no wonder anxiety is the most common mental health disorder in the U.S. affecting 18 percent of Americans each year. In response, Fortune 500 firms are offering mindfulness and meditation programs. Everywhere you look, new products and services promise to relieve stress and anxiety, for example, meditation apps, adult coloring books, aromatherapy oils, weighted blankets, and the fidget spinner.
These products treat symptoms but don’t get at the real issue. People who are confident and positive about the future are less likely to suffer from anxiety. Your association can give members something more effective than “slow radio” to alleviate their feelings of stress and career anxiety. You can empower them to design a better future for themselves—starting with education.
Tap into, but don’t exploit, emotions
Researchers have found that emotions, more than logic, influence the decisions we make. Obviously, it’s wise and logical to invest in professional development. But if that reasoning is so obvious, why don’t more people do it?
Because logic isn’t enough—you have to tap into emotions too. However, you don’t want to take advantage of negative emotions, like fear. You wouldn’t want your members to associate your organization with scare tactics that exploit negative emotions, like “You better develop skills X Y and Z or you’ll be irrelevant in the future job market!” That’s not the right message.
Instead, tap into positive and empowering emotions. The exact messages you use will depend on your members’ positions, profession, and industry outlook. Some people already feel empowered by their work so may need a different type of motivator. These members have control over their day and expect to always have that control. For example, entrepreneurs or solo practitioners may respond to messages that focus on positioning their business for continued success.
On the other hand, people in support positions who don’t control their daily work, for example, entry-level jobs or mid-level administrative positions, may respond to messages that focus on taking control of their future.
Help members find the education they need
Professional development can help members reduce career anxiety and increase confidence in their future—it’s a security blanket in scary times. But when members think “education,” they may automatically think about degrees. Remind them: going back to school for an advanced degree isn’t always the best option. Degree programs are often too general, expensive, and time-consuming. Besides that, we’ve seen recently that the content of many degree programs becomes irrelevant in only a few years. Credentials—for example, certification, certificate, or digital badge programs—might be a better choice for members.
But where does a member begin with professional development? What do they need? Imagine being in their shoes making a decision about where to invest their (or their employer’s) time and money.
Make it easy for members to find the right direction, take baby steps in that direction, and switch directions when necessary.
Arrange financial support. Solicit sponsorships or offer scholarships for members who can’t afford career services and educational programs.
Provide access to career resources.
• Team up with professional coaches who can help members uncover their strengths, identify skills gaps, and navigate new directions for their career.
• Host an online career hub that includes links to internal and external resources, including books, author talks, and articles.
• Find experts in navigating careers during times of change, link to their work, and invite them to speak.
• Provide self-assessment programs like Strengths Finder, MBTI, and myIDP.
• Coordinate resume reviews, peer mastermind groups, and mentoring programs.
• Find volunteers who are willing to discuss their job and the path they took there. Match them with members for online or face-to-face informational interviews.
Show what’s possible. With the help of members and their employers, illustrate different career paths in your industry. Publish videos of people discussing their work and career path.
Identify needed skills. Interview members and employers to find out what skills are needed for the different stages of the most common positions and careers in your industry. Don’t neglect soft skills.
Map out learning pathways. Provide examples of learning pathways for different positions. Show members how they can progress through certificate or digital badge programs to acquire the skills they need for existing or future jobs.
Offer a diverse selection of online learning programs that appeal to everyone from early career professionals to advanced practitioners and executives. Provide a variety of delivery formats: webinars, mini-courses, certificate and digital badge programs, and online courses. Work with chapters or local members to offer face-to-face educational opportunities. Make sure you have programs of all price ranges, including free programs that operate as stepping stones and lead generators for paid programs.
Offer non-traditional educational opportunities
You’ll come across members who can’t afford education or haven’t yet learned the importance of investing in their future. Help them find ways to develop their skills and expand their network on the cheap. Once they see results, they (or their employer) may see the value of further investment.
Review volunteer opportunities. Don’t think traditional volunteer activities like board and committee service is sufficient for your membership. Make sure you offer additional ad hoc or episodic volunteering opportunities that help members develop new skills, for example:
• Moderating table discussions.
• Writing or reviewing articles.
• Mentoring young professionals.
• Answering attendee questions about the conference app.
• Introducing speakers.
• Helping to onboard new members or attendees.
Play skills matchmaker. Match members with volunteer opportunities that helps them develop new skills, including soft skills. Upon joining and renewal, ask members to self-report the skills they can offer and the skills they’d like to develop.
Open up leadership training. Invite members to take advantage of your online leadership training programs.
Add career education to your curriculum. Host online learning and conference programs that discuss career and work trends, for example:
• Transitioning from one position or career to another.
• Preparing for higher-level positions.
• Advice for developing new skills.
• Employer and HR panels on the future workforce.
Teach members how to take the initiative
The members you know (volunteers and leaders) have made or been given the time and money to participate in association activities. But many members don’t have the permission or budget to get involved. Or, if they do have the resources, they haven’t taken the initiative to get involved. They may never take the initiative to set themselves up for the future unless you show them how.
The truth is many people don’t know how to help themselves. They’ve never had to or they never learned how to. Help these members get into the mindset they need to stay relevant and prosper in times of change.
Regularly provide tips and resources—including external content—for coping with rapid and continual change. For example, show them:
• How to stay on top of industry trends.
• How to assess any gaps in their skills and knowledge.
• How to develop a learning habit.
• What learning pathways they could follow.
Action is empowering; it keeps career anxiety at bay. Help members take the first steps toward empowering themselves with education that will reduce their career anxiety and boost their confidence.