My uncle recently retired from a large manufacturing company after 40 years of service! This is no doubt a great accomplishment, and I congratulate him for this achievement. However it really does cause me to wonder. Could I ever work for the same company for 40 years?
Let's just put this into perspective.
My uncle retired in 2006 which means he started working in 1966. Let's put this in modern terms. I graduated from college in 2003 and was very fortunate to land a job at a great company in December of 2002 before I graduated. If I were to stay with my current company for 40 years I would retire in the year 2042. Needless to say I would be vested in my 401k and probably have about 200 vacation days. Is it very likely for me to stay with my current company for 40 years? No. Does my employer know that this not a very likely scenario? Yes.
Isn't it true that today's young people do not even consider finding a job out of college or high school and staying with that company until retirement? I know I sure don't. Our priorities have changed; our outlook on work has changed drastically. When my uncle graduated from high school to go to work, work was something quite different than it is today. Then it was a means to an end, it was a necessity. You went to work did your time and came home, end of story. Then after 40 years you retired with a sweet pension plan and Social Security. Today that simply isn't the case, is it? Work is something more than eight hours a day five days a week. It is a piece of the total person. It is a slice of who we are. It speaks about what type of person we are and how we want to be identified. For many, work has become who they are. They do not work because they have to they work because they want to. This is especially true for the self-employed. And I am not only talking about the sacrifice of our thumbs to the almighty Blackberry's and Treos.
Not only has perceptions of work changed but the type of work has drastically changed. When my uncle started his career in 1966 most everyone worked in some type of manufacturing or factory facility. The type of work was very repetitious and blue collar. Please don't think I am demeaning that type of work because it is still very necessary to our country. However, the need for thousands and thousands of factory workers is not there any more. We still do need some "factory" workers but even those who work in manufacturing today are very skilled workers. The need for general labors is not nearly as high as the need for engineers and technicians of all types.
Since the perception of work and the type of work has changed the attitude of the employee has changed. Employees do not feel as committed to their company for a variety of reasons which we will briefly mention today:
Commitment as a whole across society has waned drastically (i.e. the United States divorce rate of over 50%).
Students are told from a young age that the world is their's for the taking. Upon graduation they feel like there is so much to accomplish and so little time. In order to conquer the world you really can't stay at the same company for 40 years can you?
The "grass is always greener" syndrome has increased greatly over the past 50 years to cause a feeling of discontent across of the country. Discontent will not allow you to stay at the same company for 40 years.
Since white collar jobs are not usually repetitious like blue collar jobs, you would think employees would stay longer because they are always working on something new. That isn't the case though. In some industries turn over is as high as 90%.
One other issue we must not forget is that percentage of the workforce who is fired from their employer because of certain choices they have made. Those workers striving for the 40 year certificate of service may want to think carefully about the actions they take on the job so they do not jeopardize their shot at having a long and successful career.
Another major reality in the 21st century job market is the volatility of corporate America. The cold hard truth is that business is moving much faster than it was in 1966. Jobs come and go, companies come and go, and products come and go at an accelerated pace. What this means for the workforce is more change. In my book "The 7 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Graduated," I talk about this very issue. Those who aren't afraid to change will never be unemployed.
Working toward retirement is not as sexy as it once was since the world of pensions and social security is no longer a possibility for workers in their 20s.
My uncle worked hard during his 40 years, he saw management come and go, he learned new skills, and he stayed valuable to his employer. That is a key that all of us need to take from this article. Weather or not you work for a company 40 years or 4 years you must stay valuable to that company in order for them to keep you around. What value do you bring to the company you work for or will work for? That is the question that the 21st century must continually ask itself in order to stay marketable.
If you are one of those few people who are trying to stay with the same company for their entire career God bless you because there aren't many left. Also please email me; I would love to hear from you.