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Working in the same company for 20 years

March 30, 2008

I’m always impressed by people who work in the same company for 15-20 years. It feels unsettling too cause I’ve never stayed in a company longer than 5 years. My brain can only hold so much toxic bs before I bail but that’s just me.

Consider this. Lim has 15 years work experience. 3 years in company A, 5 in company B, 1 year in company C, the rest in company D.

Aaron also has 15 years work experience but he spent it all in 1 company.

Let’s say you are the boss who’s hiring. Lim and Aaron work in the same line. Both have similar track records. Who do you hire?

I think you’d go for Aaron right? Why? Because on paper Aaron appears more loyal and stable. He can’t survive 15 years in the same company unless he can weather good and bad times without flinching, you’ll argue, and that’s a sign of strength. Since you like strong people, Aaron gets the job.

And then one day, people start commenting that its dificult to work with Aaron because he’s got a one-track mind. He has a set way of doing things and wants everyone to adapt to his style. He likes to say, “In my previous company, we don’t do it like that.” While it was entertaining for a while, its starting to get on your nerves.

But then, management says long service = loyalty = unwavering = unchanging = good. Aaron was brought in to change things, the boss would say. We will change the company by bringing in people who’ve never changed.

Is seniority = superiority? Sometimes yes but often not. The ugly truth is many of them are simply not good enough to attract better-paying jobs or are just too afraid to venture outside their comfort zones. Stability is not always what it seems.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m the only one who thinks management’s craving for loyalty is out of step with the new reality: that markets are no longer loyal to anyone.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 7, 2008 11:26 pm

    Damien,

    I think the new reality is that management now looks for people with diverse backgrounds and that can get the job done. In part, this is the result of a new generation of managers moving in and the baby boomers starting to step down and retire.

    Back in the day when I first started my career, longevity was synomymous with loyalty and management did look for that value in their staff. .

    My own theory for corporate loyalty is that in addition to the concept being passed down from the past generation, the majority of managers probalby had no idea on how to keep a person motivated to come in to the office every day for 20 years or more doing essentially the same job in the same company. So they played the one card that they had by creating a culture of loyalty to the company.

    Fast forward to today’s culture where there is a focus on getting projects completed. The length of employment for a person is about 3 to 5 years or just enough time to get in a few projects, before going off to find the next string of cool projects.

    The length of time for a project or two is a whole lot shorter than 20 years, so managers don’t have to work as long at keeping the staff motivated and the person doing the work sees a lot more value in what they are doing.

    Any manager touting company loyalty is going to have a hard time of finding and holding people in this environment. There is no more loyalty in the traditional sense.

    From my observations, not only are individuals required to sell themselves to companies as the best person to get the job done, the corporate management team also has to work extra hard at selling the opportunity in order to attract and keep the right talent or they will jump to a competitive bidder. And as a manager, if I’m bidding out to a “contractor”, they are loyal only to getting the job done and not to the coporate environment.

  2. damien permalink*
    April 9, 2008 3:28 am

    Larry: Welcome to my blog. I agree with your observations. I’ll add that loyalty is advantageous if one is managing craftsmen because the cost of staff attrition can be prohibitive. Training and retraining costs alone can kill you on top of the productivity wasted with people coming and leaving. So under those circumstances it still makes sense to reward loyalty.

    I think the nature of the workforce, like all things, is subject to demand and supply. If skills are in short supply, promoting loyalty is beneficial. If there is an overabundance, rewarding loyalty can backfire. I am assuming that the longer one serves in an organization, the higher the tendency to preserve the status quo which partly explains why loyalists tend to be suspicious of change. And that’s tough for companies that must change along with a fickle market to survive.

    I think we are witnessing an interesting time where the workforce is transitioning from a loyalty-based pool to a merit-based one. In this transition we have employers who are loyalty-cherishing baby boomers dipping into a younger talent pool that believes in a merit-based system. I am seeing classic generation gap problems in companies – stern father figures trying to corral rebellious young programmers running amuck. I’m sure the situation will play itself out in a few years.

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