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Longevity August 19, 2009

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Random Musings.
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In my organization, we have quarterly all-hands meetings.  Depending on the calendar, the meetings have different agendas that match the flow of our business year.  But no matter what the time of year, we always celebrate service awards.

There are always a bunch of one- and five-year awards, which are great to celebrate.  Just last week, however, we celebrated a ten-year and a twenty-year service anniversary!  In these days of rapid turnover and short-term jobs, seeing someone spend twenty years at a company is a rare delight.

Beyond the award, however, was the manner of celebrating.  In both cases, the presenting manager had prepared a slide show of photos spanning the career of the individuals.  As the pictures went by, people would laugh and remember a moment, calling out a particular memory or exclaiming over long-lost hair and out-of-date clothes.  And the pictures weren’t just taken at work.  They showed coworkers bowling, at hockey games, and socializing with their kids.  In short, the slide shows captured years of friendship intertwined with work.

Beyond the slides, others got up and shared funny stories and past memories.  It was a great testimony not just to the honorees, but to the organization whose culture created those memories and shared stories.  I’ve only been there just under five years, but I was proud to be a part of such a tight-knit team.

These days, much is made of the new workforce, able to move from job to job, bartering skills via the internet and working remotely from home.  It is said that people may have ten or more jobs in their career.  Over a 45 year career, that means you won’t even last five years in any one place.  While this may be the best way to broker your skills and make a living, it doesn’t seem to be the best way to create these bonded teams with a long, mutual history.

I think that’s sad.  I’m all for the modern technology that enables all this job hopping and remote access, but I sure hope we aren’t sacrificing the crucial personal bonds that make work so rich and rewarding.  When we reach the end of our careers, the projects we worked on long ago will be forgotten, but the people we knew along the way will form the memories that we keep.

Perhaps the social network tools with which we currently tinker will provide the connections that will last beyond individual jobs.  Maybe the foundation of these long-term relationships will shift from our place of work to the hub of our social networks.  Will we someday celebrate twenty years of tweeting?  Perhaps, but I don’t know that all of our followers will gather to see our photos and exclaim as we put on our new watch.

Truly rewarding work is often coupled with long, strong bonds between people.  As traditional ways of creating those bonds fade away, what should we be doing to create them in new ways?  Who will celebrate you in twenty years?

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Comments»

1. John Baker - August 19, 2009

I have worked in companies large and small over my career and treasure the bonds of trust and respect forged from working hard to see the company achieve its goals. However, in companies that have created a family like culture, it is traumatic when management of the company need to lay people off for financial survival. On the part of the employee, that feeling of being part of a family is destroyed. And the manager telling someone he/she has worked with for years that they are no longer needed is heartbreaking.
So as an executive of a company how do you strike a balance between longevity of employees and the periodic need to reduce workforce during a recession?

2. Chuck Musciano - August 19, 2009

I don’t know that you can strike that balance. I think the two are somewhat disconnected; business conditions occur independently of employee longevity.

Certainly, tightly bonded employees suffer more when someone is let go. However, within any organization, the bonds are different between different employees, and some people never really bond into the culture. When layoffs occur, the less-bonded employees are certainly at a higher risk of being let go.

While layoffs are difficult, everyone recognizes that these kinds of cuts are periodically needed. If you make your layoff decisions as fairly as possible, the remaining employees generally tend to agree with (or at least understand) your decisions. In every group, no matter how tightly bonded, there is deadwood and under-performing employees. These are the ones that go in a layoff, and few tears are shed when some of them leave.

I guess that’s pretty good advice for surviving a layoff: bond tightly, engage your team, and above all else, work hard!

3. courtney benson - August 19, 2009

The new corporate motto in the U.S seems to be if you want bonds move to China for a job – they are busy building businesses to serve billions including what might be left of the west.

4. Brian Blanchard - August 19, 2009

Chuck,

In a time of continual job hopping and growing layoff statistics, this article is refreshing. The work force has changed since the days of corporate dedication and 20 year jobs. However, people still crave an environment in which they feel camaraderie in the work place.As business leaders, we owe it to our employees to create as much of that sense of involvement as possible.

Your comments regarding layoffs are dead-on. Seeing employees as people in a functional community and not just resources, does make the leader’s job more difficult. However, when tough decisions have to be made, the leader is more likely to do so in reverence for the person and the company. I firmly believe that a genuine passion for the employees (long before a layoff) is the biggest indicator of the riffs that will follow any necessary, but unpleasant actions.

5. Scott Duncan - August 19, 2009

Having been in software over 37 years, I believe the inclination for people to move and change jobs (or major areas with a company) began quite a while ago, at least in the tech area. I know when I was doing this early in my career, moving about every 3 years, my father and other older folks looked at it oddly. But it was in this new tech area and, after a while, they got to see that it was just the way tech seemed to work due to rapid change.

So the tendency for people to move and companies to see them as “resources” to move around or “quantify” may have grown in parallel, especially as tech concerns moved into more industries. I cannot blame companies for somewhat getting into the state of viewing people as “resources,” combined with MBA/PM approaches to how to manage resources..

We all, employees and companies, seem to have ignored the early admonitions of people like Deming when it came to workers and organizations. And, in software, it is telling that, for example, that the least frequently mentioned or employed maturity model is the People CMM(R).

However, something could have been done about that at various times over the years. It hasn’t in many places and, in some places where it was, it was not sustained. So if organizations haven’t figured out how to get the best out of people and people haven’t gone to work concerned about how to get the best out of themselves, I think that brings us to a place where layoffs seem reasonable.

The social ideas promoted by the Agile software development methods emphasize a more effective approach to handling workers, work, customers, management, and the relationship(s) between all of them. At the heart of this approach, though, seem to me to be ideas promoted by folks like Deming and the lean concepts from the Toyota Production System which, I’m sure, trace back to Deming as well.

6. Susan Mazza - August 20, 2009

This is a great point – “Maybe the foundation of these long-term relationships will shift from our place of work to the hub of our social networks.”

Before the industrial age that “hub” was where we lived. I believe we are in a time of transition in this regard. As someone who worked for a very large company for almost 10 years I missed that sense of community when I went off on my own very much. Yet with the emergence of Web 2.0 technologies I have found the ability to recapture that sense of community, at least to some extent, in my day to day life even when I don’t leave the house! Seems to me the “hub” over time will continue to take new forms and that multiple forms will coexist.

As you have written about before though, it does not replace the experience and impact (or need) of face to face to face interaction. And connecting based on shared interest will never provoke the same level of camaraderie as connecting based on a shared purpose or goal which is what the structure of belonging to the same company over time can provide.

7. Wally Bock - August 21, 2009

I must push back. I read all the material about four and five jobs in a career and how it’s new, but I don’t think so. I think that pattern, since at least the late 60s is for two or three jobs after college or technical school, followed by A job that lasts at least until the early 40s. Then there may be change, followed by another long stretch.

There are also different career preferences. In IT, many people have a primary loyalty to the craft and prefer to work on interesting projects. They move with the projects, either internally or to a new company. But other people prefer to stay in the same community and support system.

8. Chuck Musciano - August 21, 2009

I don’t know, Wally. While there has always been a certain amount of churn in the marketplace, it sure seems that it has increased in recent years. When I first started working, we celebrated long service anniversaries on a fairly regular basis. Now when it happens, people remark on how unusual it is to see even a 10-year event, let alone 20. Next year a co-worker will celebrate a 30-year anniversary!

It would be interesting to see job longevity data from previous decades.


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