Those who leave and those who stay
Why some people stay in one job for decades at a time when one in four millennials is likely to quit her current employer or do something different the next year
Next week my brother Siddharth, 43, who lives in the US, completes 20 years at the same company. Next year, my father will complete 50 years at his job, he’s still as passionate about his work as he was in the first year, so it’s fair to say that his son probably drew some inspiration from that commitment. Mostly though, from what I can tell, the one-company bug didn’t get passed down to our Generation X. By the time I had completed two decades in the workforce, I had worked at seven news organizations, gone on one round-the-world trip and taken two other time-outs. Most people I know and worked with, flitted from job to job.
Millennials, that ungovernable generation that came after my brother and I, are even less loyal to an employer. In 2016, Deloitte surveyed millennials in 29 countries and found that given the choice, one in four millennials would quit his or her current employer to join a new organization or to do something different in the next year. Most said they would leave their present employer by 2020; at 76%, India tied with South Africa for second place after Peru.
Companies know this and try all kinds of approaches to retain their employees these days. Amazon even allows employees to share their parental leave with a partner who doesn’t work at Amazon and whose employer does not provide paid parental leave. In a PowerPoint presentation that was shared by millions on the internet, Netflix outlined a revolutionary “Reference Guide” on its “Freedom & Responsibility Culture”. The document redefines hard work: “It’s about effectiveness—not effort—even though effectiveness is harder to assess than effort. We don’t measure people by how many evenings or weekends they are in their cube. We do try to measure people by how much, how quickly and how well they get work done—especially under deadline.”
It also outlines the company’s unique leave entitlement policy of no fixed vacation days. “We realized...we should focus on what people get done, not how many hours or days worked. Just as we don’t have a 9-5 day policy, we don’t need a vacation policy,” it states. It has a simple expensing, entertainment, gifts and travel policy: “Act in Neflix’s Best Interests.”
My brother’s firm, a leader in the hospitality business, doesn’t have any particularly innovative human resources policies except for the 12 free nights in a company hotel every year for every employee rule. In my world, his employment history is unique, so I asked him why he stayed. Here’s what he said:
The job keeps changing. Every two-three years, the employees at my brother’s firm change locations. Since 2015, he has lived in three cities across the US and he thrives on the excitement of being able to redefine himself with every new posting. “When you go to your next hotel property, nobody knows the leadership mistakes you might have made in your previous gig. The downside is that what works in one workplace may not work in the next,” he says. Over time, he adds, you develop an awareness that every team is different and that you have to be empathetic to all the work they’ve put in. “Some places will have newer managers, first-timers, and what they need from you is different from what more seasoned managers need,” he adds. Along the way you see the country, interact with different ethnicities and learn not to get complacent.
You build a reputation. “One big benefit is the continuity of your reputation,” he says. “If I switch companies, I become the new guy and I have to prove myself all over again. I don’t know if I want to start from scratch, even if I get paid more.” Longevity also means you have a greater ability to get things done in the company through the contacts you’ve made. “You can leverage these contacts to get people to perform or to better the place,” he says.
You have many mentors. “Most of my mentors have been in the company 30-35 years,” my brother says, counting three-four people he turns to regularly for guidance. “As you build relationships, you have this amazing network of people. Over time you figure out who to call for what depending on their strengths. I don’t expect one person to have all the answers for me,” he says.
You grow with the company. At the 10-year mark, my brother got worried because all he knew was what the company had taught him. Would these skills hold elsewhere, he wondered. Then his company went public, and overnight it switched from an inward-looking mom-and-pop business to a firm that was held accountable by its new shareholders. It got a professional CEO from outside the family, started working with Stanford University to innovate. Suddenly, everyone was discussing concepts such as “design thinking” and “conscious capitalism”. “As the company grew, we had to grow too. Now I’m confident my leadership skills will work anywhere,” he says.
Why leave a place that loves you. One of the big reasons my brother has stayed is that he hasn’t felt any kind of glass ceiling. “The next opportunity keeps coming based on my present action. Even today, I know people are waiting for me to get ready so they can say, ‘Hey, here’s the next thing for you’,” he says. It’s all a pay-off for the early years of hard work, he believes.
More importantly than all this though, my brother stayed because from that first day on the job when he wore a houseman’s uniform to understand that you first needed to learn how to do the line person’s job before you became a manager, to the time his company told him that they would protect his job in the layoffs after 9/11 and the time he met his future wife on the job, the organization became entwined with his life. “These are the people who have watched me grow up more than my family,” he says. “If I had moved, nobody would know who Sid is.” At the 20-year milestone, he feels like he’s just getting started.
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