Actual loyalty and dedication is not achieved through counting and tracking working hours, but through supporting people in their development, writes career advisor and psychologist Tiina Saar-Veelmaa.

Relying on my 13 years of experience as career advisor, I second to Vilja Kiisler, whose recent article in business paper Äripäev explains the reasons behind the poverty of Estonians. In addition to less-flexible working time, this is caused by outdated working culture, which is often topped with low self-esteem resulting from the methods used in raising and education.

I consult approximately two dozen people a month. There are doctors, teachers, engineers, sales managers, officials, artists, executives, and students, university students who are not quite sure which path to choose. Despite their different fields of activity, gender and age, they all wish for the same thing – to find what really captivates them, makes them tick, and provides opportunities for self-realisation. By the time they come to the consultation, they are usually either frustrated due to their (working) life, on the edge of burnout, doubting the accuracy of their choices or lost their path temporarily. I usually start with an interview, continue with self-analysis exercises, “dig gold” and by the end of the counselling I am usually touched to the core by people’s talent, hobbies, exciting experiences, interesting educational path and dreams.

People cannot realise their talents

And then comes the moment of truth. There are no easy ways leading to true self-realisation. In the Republic of Estonia, re-training or in-service training alongside working continues to be a prickly path. Majority of employers do not support any hobby-related training that is not directly related to work. Most employers are not willing to allow flexible employment relationship, e.g. provide free Fridays or Thursdays so that a person could focus on studies or set up their own lifestyle company. Majority of employers are not ready to agree on employment relationship based on results and personal talent, and more likely demand following a particular job description.

Working time is not always the problem why people become frustrated or switch jobs. The actual reason is that they cannot use their talents to full extent. They are not free. Current full-time employment relationships consume entire waking time and creative energy of a person and give in return borderline income, which ensures elementary standard of living at best. Only a few people can afford retraining thanks to the support from their spouse, partner or other sources income, they can fully develop their actual interests and talents and create true value for the society.

I recently advised a talented salesperson. He is very good at his job, which means that the employer appreciates him and wants him to work even more. But here is the catch – sales work (and to some extent the culture of particular company) is not what makes that person happy. His calling has been something else since he was little, and although his creative talent and competencies could find use and challenge in that same organisation, it is not profitable for the company. Result – burnout?

In the sales, profit is gained only by those who sell, and sell a lot. Meanwhile, the design and style knowledge gained by persons at their own risk remain useless. The only option would be starting own company, but they also need to ensure income for the time of change and creating own portfolio. It is a vicious circle. Moreover, this is not an isolated incident. There are doctors who want to do nature hikes; officials who dream about being a physiotherapist; financial analysts who would enjoy keeping a tourism farm; civil engineers who dream of establishing a calvados manor in Estonia.

New type of employment relationship

The solution is actually already present. The companies that employ multitalented people should allow them I-deal employment relationships (i.e. idiosyncratic employment relationships). In other words, personal agreements that benefit for both the employee and employer. Such agreements may regard working time, remuneration, content of work, or other aspects that would allow both parties to gain maximum benefit from their cooperation.

Psychology professor Denise M. Rousseau came up with this theory more than 15 years ago, and even then, she relied on her several predecessors, who had discovered that idiosyncratic employment relationships are the most beneficial for people and economy alike. However, it has not received large-scale use in the business world, except for knowledge enterprises and start-ups, who would rather allow their engineers to have a yearlong vacation to engage in underwater photography than let them leave.

While the accounting side of the company scrutinizes each training cost to be strictly work-related, employees that are more active should be provided with training that relates to their interests. This results in more dedicated person. Why? And for how long (as a more incredulous manager would ask)?

Career without boundaries

Pursuant to contemporary career paradigm, people want to have career without boundaries, i.e. they want an employer, who would help the employees to realise their dreams and support their lifestyle. Not the other way round, where people only serve the companies and are squeezed empty like lemons.

Thus, actual loyalty and dedication does not come from counting and monitoring the working hours, but supporting people in their path of development. Every adult working-age person desires that their current employment relationship would boost their competitiveness on the labour market. If they are equal partners with their employer, they are more likely to succeed in their self-realisation and such jobs and employment relationships are highly appreciated. However, if the employment relationship tilts towards the interests of the employer, it results in smouldering and suffering for both the employee and the employer, because genial person would deliver at best only average result.

I can already hear how some managers harangue that business is not something to joke about, go make your own company and see how hard it is. Sure, it is hard, no one doubts it. People who got out from regular employment relationship and work in their own micro-companies do create matching value, they are more balanced, but their financial coping may be rather shaky. Especially when they are no longer in their daring twenties, but at a more advanced age, with family and responsibilities for their children.

Everybody would win from employment relationship that values personal originality, talent and abilities. The manager should step into the shoes of the career advisor and ask, “How will this job, our company, help you to realise your dreams?” After finding the answer, we can create trust-based work culture. Because majority of working people are beautiful and colourful inside. They would make a more colourful and flourishing society.