One of the favourite jobs that I had was in highschool/university. I worked for a somewhat popular Swedish furniture store that, back in the day, stated their name was synonymous with “common sense”.
I liked the job because it was fun, the other part-timers were fun, and well I met my boyfriend (who would one day become my husband) there. I worked in various departments and had a blast. However, never in a million years did I contemplate working there on a full-time basis.
Back then, I recognized that there were long-term employees who were the backbone of organizations. They had been there “forever”. They had the historical knowledge of every change that has happened. And it seemed as though they had seen and heard every new initiative that management and HR could possible dream up and they can tell you why it won’t work, because it didn’t last time it was tried.
And because of that attitude and the fact that they seemed doomed to spend the rest of eternity in that place, we jokingly called them Lifers. Yes, some are cynical and bitter, but most are there, plugging away and doing their job.
Back then, a lifer was someone who worked for only one company, and often in the same job, their entire career. I believe that by today’s standards, a “lifer” is anyone who remains in the same job for more than 10 years. Seriously. People still do that you know!
I have never been in the same job for more than 5 years. By choice. And really, my average is two years. Again, by choice. But one look at my CV and you will quickly establish that I’m not a job-hopper. There have been changes based on a change in careers, a change based on progression, and then a change (my most recent one) based on reclaiming my sanity.
My work attitude has been focused (most of the time) and I get the job done, but I’m not afraid of leaving. I know I can start over. I’ve done it before. It’s not that I’m not committed to my job or my organization, because I am, but I’m comfortable with knowing that this role will not be my last.
However, what I’ve come to realize is that there is that rare breed of long-term employee who may not have such a cavalier attitude. And the idea of having to start over is terrifying. I can only assume that it would be like trying to enter the dating scene after being married for 25 years. So much has changed. You are a different person.
I remember a recent discussion I had with a colleague, who happens to be a long-term employee. We were both having a bad day and my colleague was, in my mind, spinning a hypothetical situation way out of proportion.
My thought process was: shit happens – I’ll deal with whatever happens and move on.
My colleague’s thought process, once I stepped back and thought about it, was probably more along the lines of: oh shit, how am I going transition from this work experience to a new environment. I’ve never worked for anyone else. I will have to start over.
Looking at it from that perspective, I could understand how my colleague might be panicking at the thought of having to re-enter the job market. So much has changed. They are now different person then when they first started working.
It’s really easy to disregard those long-term employees and their concerns because it appears that they are only trying to block progress and clinging to the past. However, the reality is that these employees have so much to offer but may need more reassurance and support through changes.
As I’ve implied before, your career is not a prison sentence and long-term employees don’t need to be treated like “lifers”.