How does an organisation benefit from someone staying in her/his job forever?
For a long time, working for one employer for over twenty years, marked one as a stable and reliable employee. Now, it's the opposite. Employers are wary of job candidates who have held one position in the same company for ten years or more.
Having been in the “same job forever”, these applicants are (ironically) seen today as a community of talent that has not developed professionally in their careers. The general view today from the employer is based on several common perceptions that are listed below:
1. Staying in one job forever does not show the breadth of new experiences that a person accumulates with changing jobs every few years.
2. Staying in one job forever will not provide as many professional contacts and reference-givers as a person who's worked in several places.
3. Staying in one job forever naturally causes a person to fall out of practice in job-hunting.
4. Staying in one job forever does not get the wide range of experiences that frequent job-changers would obtain.
5. Staying in one job forever will deafen a person to activity outside their cubicle walls.
6. Other employers (or clients) and headhunters would have forgotten about you because you have been off the market for so long.
7. Staying in one job forever can impact one’s self-esteem should the person lose their job.
8. Staying in one job forever can make a person contented with too little and miss potential opportunities that could have resulted in career growth beyond the routine.
Many organisations have realised that keeping a talent in one position for too long can have an impact to the future employability of their talent, and have moved towards setting their jobs on a long-term contractual basis as opposed to a permanent position. Although this adds a level of insecurity, it does keep the talent on their toes, alert and focused on looking for opportunities to improve himself/herself and make a significant impact at work. Many organisations are adopting a tenure model for senior leadership roles. It helps to ensure good governance, ethical and transparent behaviour and avoid corruption.
But, is an employee’s length of stay really inversely proportional to performance of an organisation or the performance of the employee? Does experience garnered over twenty years mean nothing unless the talent was in different roles and had different responsibilities throughout the twenty years?
Many stories demonstrate the value of long-term career. Sir Alex Ferguson, the manager-coach for the Manchester United Football Club (MUFC) for 26 years, is heralded as one of the greatest and most successful managers of all time in Britain. He continued to win trophies up to his last year with the Club, winning the Premier League title in 2013. Interestingly, ten years before his retirement in 2013, he had announced his intentions to leave the club in 2001. But, he made a U-turn in 2002 and continued to win trophies for the Club for the next decade.
Since the end of the Ferguson era, MUFC has not found a comparable replacement. Much has changed – MUFC’s organizational culture, the type of board members, the owners, expectations to succeed and the attitude of current players. Can Ferguson accomplish as much if he was MUFC’s manager today? Debatable. Although Ferguson handpicked his successor – the result has been a down trend. This year (2018/19), things appear to be moving well as MUFC seem to be going through a purple patch after several manager-coaches later.
On the flipside, look at the Arsenal Football Club. As a club, they recently saw the departure of Arsene Wenger, manager-coach of 22 years. Although he brought many trophies, his departure was less celebrated. There was a clear divide among the Arsenal fans that wanted to see Wenger leave the club. His glory days were waning away and the fans were being impatient because the club was not bringing in trophies and no longer in the top four of the English Premier League table. Although there were the Wenger supporters who recognized his past achievements, the pressure even from them to consider a re-set to the old days was beginning to be seen. This season, 2018/19 marks the new season of a new manager-coach in charge of Arsenal. Already Unai Emery is realizing that it is not as easy to be the manager-coach of a successful organisation under the leadership of one man, who was at the helm for 22 years.
So why do people hold on to their positions for so long?
A Gallup report (2013) on employee satisfaction poll (Gallup has been measuring employee satisfaction for over 20 years) found that there are twice as many “actively disengaged” workers in the world as there are “engaged” workers who like their jobs. Out of 230,000 full-time and part-time workers in 142 countries, Gallup found that only 13% of workers felt engaged to their jobs. These 13% felt a sense of passion for their work as they spend their days helping to move their organisations forward. In other words, the remaining 87% found themselves doing jobs they would rather not be doing and at places they would rather not be.
The 13% of people who find themselves engaged to their work are the ones who stay at their jobs forever. Of this 13%, some of them could fall in to the following categories of general personality traits as described below:
They are brilliant visionaries who believe that they are the one person on earth who is truly indispensable to their companies. These leaders are driven by an elusive quest for an immortal, lasting legacy, as well as for the heroic stature that comes with the position. They want the world in which they live in to be different but can be blinded by their visions.
These leaders are like great Generals of the World Wars. They bring the glory back to the organisation and ensure the organisation overcomes the crisis they are in. They have the credibility to make major changes and sometimes-in doing so, they have the advantage to engineer their stay period in the organisation.
These people will stay for long periods despite being challenged to step down because they see possible new opportunities and challenges. These new opportunities are what keeps them focused but often it diverts them from the reality on the ground.
These personalities often have excellent relationships with their vendors, partners, stakeholders and community. Often it is their strong partnership and networks, that push for them to stay in their roles. The challenge is that networkers can be easily cajoled into making decisions that are unpopular.
Ultimately, the person should and must feel satisfied on the job and in the job. Satisfaction in the job context has to be boxed into three compartments:
1. To be satisfied, they must feel that they are in charge. Their work day offers them a measure of autonomy and discretion. They will use that autonomy and discretion to achieve a level of mastery or expertise by learning and developing themselves constantly.
2. To be satisfied also means to be socially engaged. They are often working on their task as part of a team and even when they are working alone, there are opportunities for social interaction during the quiet moments.
3. They find what they do meaningful because their work makes a difference to the world. It makes other people’s lives significantly better.
Whether having someone stay in the role forever or not, is something to be encouraged, is up for debate. The examples and the discussion in this article only touch the surface of whether it is best for an organisation if a person stays forever or not.
What was not addressed but can be alluded to, from what is shared here, is that every organisation must seriously consider succession planning. It has to be designed in a way that it understands and appreciates the subtleties and nuances of what could happen, if a staff who has been in the job forever leaves, and the repercussions to the organisation, especially if the person was holding a senior role.
1. Ten Ways It Hurts You To Stay In One Job Too Long. Liz Ryan. August 30. 2016. [https://www.forbes.com/sites/lizryan/2016/08/30/ten-ways-it-hurts-you-to-stay-in-one-job-too-long/#4805e4e441b6]
2. CEO exit schedules: A season to stay, a season to go: JEFFREY SONNENFELD May 6, 2015. [http://fortune.com/2015/05/06/ceo-tenure-cisco/]
3. Long CEO Tenure Can Hurt Performance. Xue Ming Luo, Vamsi K. Kanuri and Michelle Andrews. March 2013. [https://hbr.org/2013/03/long-ceo-tenure-can-hurt-performance]
4. Why work? A psychologist explains the deeper meaning of your daily grind. Anne Quito. September 15, 2015 [https://qz.com/498951/why-work-a-psychologist-explains-the-deeper-meaning-of-your-daily-grind/]
5. Why We Work. Barry Schwartz. (September 2015) is published by Simon & Schuster/TED Books.
6. The Shifting Paradigm: Permanent to Contractual Recruitment. Dinesh Goel. October 2016. [https://www.peoplematters.in/article/recruitment/the-shifting-paradigm-permanent-to-contractual-recruitment 14231?utm_source=peoplematters&utm_medium=interstitial&utm_campaign=learnings-of-the-day]
Dr. Sudeep Mohandas is the co-author of What Influences the Generation Y to join a Nonprofit Organisation and Nonprofit Management: Trials and Tribulations. He is the co-founder and managing director of I First International, an organisation that offers consultancy services to nonprofit organisations by professionalizing the Board and Management.