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Jun 29, 2017
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

I am 42 years old. My first “grown up” job was at the tender age of 22. I have had 12 jobs since that first job. That’s means I average a job change every 1.83 years. Some, I left because I wanted too. Some, I was fired like an FBI director getting too close to the truth. Once, I was laid off because I did my job too well!

When I started recruiting it was May of 1998, Jetblue was founded. MP3s had just been invented. Jesse “The Body” Ventura was the Governor of Minnesota. I was placing engineers in financial services. One of our “tells” when parsing a resume was the length at current company. We wanted a minimum of five years of experience, and we needed it to be one of the “major banking players.” If you had less tenure than that and it happened multiple times through multiple jobs, well, both eyebrows and multiple red flags were raised.

Since then I have worked in a variety of industries and environments. I have moved from Wall Street to Silicon Valley. While many people say that these industries are polar opposites I have found them to be similar in many ways.

The marquee names of the industries still play a big deal. The length of time at one company has undergone a complete reversal. Five years at one company is not looked upon with favor, in some fields. Some feel it shows a lack of ambition and a sense of complacency in a potential hire. Much like we questioned someone who was “jumpy” now we question why someone stayed so long.

I have a few goals in this article. There are many reasons why the old model of employment died. We now have a culture of career and company transitions. I will detail them with a focus on “white collar” areas as opposed to manufacturing. I will also offer alternatives that are better and how we can make changes.


The WHYs

The definition of the old model of white collar careers began by getting your two or four-yeara degree. Then you got your first job. You got promoted. You built up your pension. You took your ten holidays. You took your two-week vacation every year. You had a solid stable, consistent life. It allowed you to throw your family in the old Nash Rambler and drive from Chicago to Wally World every year. The promise of zany adventures was palpable. Then, you either retired with a gold watch or died, with your tie on, at your desk at the age of 62. The desk at the same company you started with, 40 years ago.


What changed?

When we talk about historical events, we often discuss triggers and causes. World War I began after the murder of Archduke Ferdinand by Gavrilo Princip, a Serbian extremist. That was the event the war sprang from. Prior, we had a system of alliances between countries and the families that ran them. The unprecedented buildup of every nation in Europe’s military was the norm. The Monarchs were all cousins. Ethnic hatred ran deep. World War I only needed a spark.

When we talk about how the American workforce changed it is more opaque. The whole idea of what a job and a career are have changed.

Since 1965 women entered the workforce in ever increasing numbers. Fields denied to minorities became more inclusive. The children of the Greatest Generation went to college in a volume that eclipsed everything that had come before it. Unions and other trade organizations continued to lose support. The “Archduke Ferdinand” moment was the creation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in July of 1965. This gave people who had no protection at all a semblance of safety. A place they could go if needed. Even if it took a long time.

The 1979 Oil Crisis was a major game changer, as well. Another we can point to is when Ronald Reagan fired all the air traffic controllers. The mass firing of all those skilled workers changed the dynamic of the workplace.

Alan Greenspan stated that “far more importantly his [Reagan’s] action gave weight to the legal right of private employers, previously not fully exercised, to use their own discretion to both hire and discharge workers.”

By the start of the 1990s, we had a supply and demand situation but with human beings. It was an old school Adam Smith situation. However, it was one no country had ever experienced.

The supply was always less than demand for more than 200+ years of American history. When it came to college-educated leaders, there was always a smaller supply than demand. Even when having a high school degree meant something more than one more hoop on the way to more school, there was never a greater supply than demand. Even when we added women and minorities to the white collar pack, there was still not enough bodies. I don’t even take into account the way diversity groups got shafted on their rise up the corporate ladder.

During the Industrial Revolution, in the Manufacturing Revolution of the late 1940s and 1950s, and during the Tech Revolution that began in the 1980s it seemed a simple thing. The volume of skilled and semi-skilled labor would fluctuate. Jobs would come and go. You didn’t like working for some pig of a boss, “So What?” They could replace you with another worker before the day was out. There wasn’t enough labor to meet demand? Well, let’s form a union and renegotiate contracts and demand more benefits. If the boss didn’t like it, he would get the same “So What?” Supply and demand dictated what occurred.


Now, ponder and absorb this graph:

We have a brand new trend. Having a college education is no longer as exceptional as it once was. It is a supply and demand relationship. The pool of Humans to fill those white collar degree roles has exploded. Once there was protection by your attainment of that piece of paper and your unique skills, well, those days are over.

When you combine this with the societal issues taking place in the Postwar United States, the erosion of trust in institutions and authority in general, it is no wonder people began to feel less loyal to “their” companies.

Then a generation enters the workforce that saw Dad fired after 19 years at the same company. All Dad got was two weeks severance and cirrhosis of the liver after looking for two years for a new job. A generation that came home from school to an empty house, because Mom was working.

Many who tried to live the “Leave it to Beaver” dream found that it was unobtainable without two incomes.

Which leads to our current state. We have a youth generation who believe in Government less than a 60’s hippie. They believe corporations have their interests in mind as much as a member of the Maoist Shining Path. They want to change the world but feel overwhelmed and outnumbered. Is it no wonder that they are all so drawn to technology?

In the world of technology, 27-year-olds become millionaires overnight. Nerds have become the new cool. Corporations have the potential to be “good.” Supply and demand are making the boss behave like a leader.

The STEM experts are now where the whole college educated elite once was. Small supply and a HUGE need.


The One Constant

The only stability in this period of change is the stock market. The goal of every single corporation, from the most benevolent to the vampire squids, is to show a profit every single quarter. It doesn’t matter who is in the White House. It doesn’t matter who is on the top of the Pop Charts or if the Yankees lead the division. Wall Street is a version of Ray Liotta in “Good Fellas”. “Had a bad quarter? F* you, pay me.”



So, where does this put us now?

The belief that one company will see you from the first job to the grave is dead. The idea that a four-year degree will take you to the next rung on the economic ladder? Good luck with that. It will leave you with a mountain of debt to pay off, though.

Many graduates face the age-old conundrum that many of us face. You can’t get a job without experience, but how do you get experience without a job? The answer almost always lies in who you know, or who you can get to know.

The loyalty that goes up the ladder is a myth no one believes in any longer. The idea that loyalty goes down the ladder? If you believe in that one, let me ask for your donation to the Human Fund. Write a personal check made out to CASH and send it to me.

I love where I work. In fact, I pretty much have enjoyed the majority of things at every job I have had since I moved to San Francisco in 2013. The people are lovely. The perks? If I start, I will never stop. Food, snacks, freebies, great benefits and all sorts of “small things” that add up. That seems to be the way in the Bay.

In my experience, people stay two to three years and move on. If they are in STEM or another specialized skill set, it is almost a guarantee. While the day of the pension is dead, many companies have 401K matching. Plus, there is the equity. Stocks are granted in such a way that it takes four years to get them. Plus, you get more every year, so to get more you need to stay longer.

If all that is true, why is there so much moving from company to company to company?


Why all the Jumping???

My information is colloquial and “experiences” based. If you are in one company for longer than about four years (See the stock vesting thing above), well something is up. It is believed you need to move to a new company to get a bigger pay increase. To get a real promotion, not just a better title and perhaps more money you need to change companies.

I don’t think this is a healthy way for a person to get the most out of life, of which our work day is such a huge part. I have often told people that you will spend more “awake” time with your work peers than with your family. The more time you spend with them, the more you will grow to love them. The better you will work together. The more productive you will be as you learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

A company of any size, from the smallest to the largest, will benefit from long term commitments.


Let’s See if we can Fix it!

I hate complaining about something without offering a solution. Also, I know if my ideas take hold, it may put me out of a job. Alas!

Here are some short term and long term solutions we can put in place. Let us make an average length at a company go way, way up.

Some Solutions: Easy, in the middle and the Opium Pipe Dreams.

  • Retention Bonuses. Stay longer, get a check. The longer you stay the bigger the check. It works with the “Golden Handcuffs” of stock options. The market is to variable. A promised number, delivered year after year feels safer.
  • CEOs in 2017, if averaged out, make 355 times more than the average employee. I like the idea of Ben and Jerry’s, back when they were still private. The highest paid employee could make no more than 5x what the lowest earned. I’d go with no employee can make more than 3x what the person below them makes. If pay scales are fair and transparent, it will increase loyalty and retention
  • Add profit sharing and equity, and make it as much as possible. If people feel they have a direct hand in profiting from their work, they will work harder. They will also stay longer if the shares increases.
  • Increase transparency at all costs. Make financials open and free to see. Make future plans “out there.” An online forum where Employees can vote, make comments, etc. People want to be part of something. It should be more than  talk and a list of values that no one follows.
  • Teach our hiring managers that length at a company is something to be added to the list of things NOT to make assumptions about. In fact, the more we can train HMs to ask questions and not to make assumptions would be a victory!

I am sure there are more than my simple five. I’d love to hear about them.

At the end of the day, I know happy employees lead to a better workplace. This in all senses of what creates a positive work space. The employee will be happy to come into work. The board and the CEO will be happy in making profits. Investors will have satisfaction in the yearly profits even if it takes a few quarters to get there. What else can a company ask for? 


This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.
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