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Team & Culture

September 1, 2016

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Long-term Employment: A virtue of a bygone era?

 

As an employer, think of the ideal employee - long-term employment is one of the foremost characteristics that comes to mind. Lifelong employment that was prevalent in the 1980s is perhaps an impossibility. In the contemporary global economy it can even be undesirable, so I will stick to the notion of long-term employment.

 

Then-Now

Before the 1990s, if you were a model employee who valued your career, you would remain with one company and learn the ropes. This was the case particularly in manufacturing industries.  One had to learn every aspect of the product before one could specialize in a particular field. One ascended from the grassroots of the company to the offices on the top floors. One would rise and fall, and rise again when the company recovered. One lived the history of the company for thirty-odd years.

 

Contrast this kind of ideal employee with the graduate you are going to hire in a rapidly growing economy. How long do you realistically expect the young, motivated, and highly accomplished employee to remain engaged with, or even just employed with your company? You’re lucky if they finish the contract and walk out after two years. Five is a rarity. Ten is even less heard of. The way in which the youth in present times view employment is a function of the way in which rapidly growing economies operate. More and more youth are choosing to turn to freelancing. Others choose to join a startup. Can we say that the older kind of employee was the ideal vis-à-vis the contemporary employee? Or shall we consider that shorter spurts of motivated work are more beneficial for the organization in the long run, and more lucrative for the employee in the short-term? 

 

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What is Loyalty?

Loyalty towards the company cannot be equated with the time spent by an employee in an organization. It can be argued that employees who remain with a company for several years could have reached the peak of their careers. They may not have any relevant skills to offer the changing economy. They remain safe and secure under the umbrella of the job and the product they know well. This cannot really be equated with loyalty.

 

On the other hand, short-term employment may be beneficial for certain kinds of industries and roles. This includes IT and software, the call-center industry, departments such as finance or human resources. This can be seen in the duration of contracts that are offered to employees with specialized skills. 

  

What can we expect?

The time and cost attached to training and engaging an employee is not something companies want to face on a regular basis. In the long run it is more productive to have employees rising in the ranks, leading to that high-ranking CEO- the CEO who will go to your house to fix your Japanese sound system, because you complained about it at a party and it was beneath his dignity to accept that complaint. Do such instances belong to a bygone economic era? How many employees today are likely to feel emotionally scarred by your negative comments about the company that employs them? In the ‘pre-globalized’ economy the number of such employees was arguably far more. Such employees have become the ‘ideal’ to be emulated today. However, one must understand the reason for this as it is rooted in the socio-economic circumstances of the individual. The economies that offered job stability and security were more likely to produce the ‘loyalist’. You get what you give. So as an employer if you give your employees a constant sense of insecurity- the feeling that they may be made redundant in an instant, then you will get employees who will risk moving to greener pastures instead of committing themselves to one institution. The economy asks for it, supports it, and creates it. This generation will not value long-term employment simply because the economy does not reward them for it.

 

In the end, I would urge the reader/employer/employee to realize that people are impacted by the socio-economic and political landscape surrounding them. If the pursuit of wealth is a valued goal, then one must do what it takes to create it. And this value is created and fueled by the economy, acted out and reinforced by the individual. So don’t be too quick to judge that twenty-four year-old who didn’t make it past the second year in your company. Expect it.