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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by, people would laugh and remember a moment, calling out a particular memory or exclaiming over long-lost hair and out-of-date clothes.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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