Workplace Longevity – How Long is Too Long?
When I was coming up in the business world, it was impressed upon me that establishing roots in a company was a good thing. Staying an entire career in one company was not only considered normal but was the ideal. Longevity meant seniority, a pension, reliability (not to mention longer vacations!). You were a “keeper”.
When interviewing potential new hires, I would look at the length of time candidates stayed at their previous employers. Anything less than five years was a red flag — we wanted to hire dedicated people who would stay with us. The lower the turnover, the better it was, we argued. It wasn’t unusual to have the same colleagues for many years. My dad was an engineer at Domino Sugar for 37 Years; my mom was with Air France for 17. My business partner has her mother’s bracelet with 9 gold pendants -one for every five years she worked for the NJ Bell Telephone company…she was there for 49 years!
Longevity served a few purposes. First, new hires got to know the company, the history, our way of doing business, generally what we refer to as the “culture”; and we got to know them. Let’s be honest, you don’t learn this stuff overnight or even in two years. Hiring from within was encouraged, and both lateral and upward mobility served to satisfy both the company’s and employees’ needs for internal growth and reward.
A while back, appreciation for employee longevity began to change. People began to view negatively candidates who had stayed anywhere for more than five years and labeled them as “stagnant.” Stagnant? After five years?
I stayed at Nikko Hotels for 14 years; holding 6 jobs in many departments in a number of verticals, in multiple locations and wearing many “hats”. I would be hard-pressed to call myself “stagnant”. In fact, that experience is why I am able to do so much today. But sadly, my resume would actually be viewed by some as a negative.
In 1996, according to the Bureau of Labor statistics nearly half of all American workers age 45 to 54 worked for their employer for 10 years or more. Among those in the 55 to 64 years old group, nearly 1/3 have worked 20 plus years for the same employer.
The new generation of Millennials, Gen X and Gen Y have some different expectation of their workplace experience than us Baby Boomers. Like us they value a good work-life balance, new experiences, learning new skills, and feeling appreciated. But they also expect flexible hours and telecommuting as well as sabbaticals for continuing education or career change training. As a consequence, many companies have begun to embrace these perks.
A main reason (I believe) people go from place to place is a deep desire for self-expression. If people felt like they could use all of their strengths and talents in a particular position and get recognized for it, why would they ever leave? Many people start jobs thinking that being in a new position is going to make them happier than the last one did.
Today, the average worker stays in a job 4.6 years. That’s an average. Clearly “youngsters” (those under 25) have a much shorter longevity (2.3 years) as they are still trying to get their careers on track, and haven’t yet decided what they really want to be when they grow up. Thus, experts don’t call this job-hopping, but rather “professional pivoting”.
For some types of jobs such a move can be extremely advantageous. For example, in technology, the opportunity to gain technical knowledge in different environments can make for a better candidate – moving keeps their skills fresh. And at times, employers view the prospect of turning staff over frequently as rather easy on the budget — salaries may not need to keep pace with the longer tenured employee.
Having said that, it is still true that when I see resume with six jobs in a 4-year period I have to question the quality of the candidate to work through challenges and their willingness to commit to an organization no matter how old the candidate is. I can’t deny that to me job-hopping means that we may not be able to rely on you to be a loyal member of our company family; whether you will jump ship at the first sign of trouble. Are you always looking for the next big thing? And if so, why should I invest in you? My inner voice is shouting: “If you’re the kind who always thinks the grass is greener someplace else, maybe you’ll fit in better somewhere else!”
These days, job hopping seems altogether normal for Millennials. And, like it or not, we all have to adjust. However, I’m beginning to believe that instead of moaning about it, we could use it to make us better bosses. Let’s ask ourselves…
What are we doing today to create a positive culture within our organizations?
Are we making sure that the jobs we have open are actually interesting and that you can learn something?
Of course, I don’t think we’ll go back to the days of spending entire careers in one organization; but instead of resignedly expecting high turnover, let’s shoot for increasing longevity from 2.3 years to 4.6 years and then maybe to 7 years?
In today’s hiring environment, the economic situation has been altered by huge pool of experienced, but older candidates. For those looking for employees who will bring a loyal and long view of employment, these hires are ideal. They may not be as tech savvy as the young bucks, but their professionalism and experience is not to be denied. Finding the right combination of the new kids on the block and those who are a “little longer in the tooth” could be a winning solution.
Share with us how your corporate culture is evolving to deal with or change this new trend.
Please join the discussion and comment below!
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