The Lifer Mentality
Although I help people change jobs for a living I thought it interesting that the one individual that has had the greatest impact on me is a guy who spent his entire career at one employer.
I thought the “Lifer” mentality might be of interest to some of you who have great employees you might like to hold on too for life, or at least for a longer time than the average 17 months. Or, perhaps you are thinking of spending your entire career at one company. At any rate here’s the interview.
JMI: Did you plan on retiring with them from the very beginning?
LIFER: No, and after 5 years or so, I began looking around. I interviewed at three or four places and while I was interviewing, my employer gave me a promotion. Two days after I got a promotion, one of the companies I was interviewing with came back and offered me a position. I said, “Gee, if you’d called me two days earlier, I’d have gone.” Other promotions and challenges came along with different kinds of work and before long, I’d been there 38 years.
JMI: You started in 1963?
LIFER: Yes I graduated from college in 1963. So I hung out for a while and after a couple of weeks, I hadn’t heard from anybody. You know, there had been some recruiters who came to the college, but I hadn’t heard back from anyone. So I took a drive to the City and I went to see one of the guys who had interviewed me on campus. I asked him if they had any plans to hire new people. So the guy took me up to the front office, put me on the payroll and I’ve been there ever since.
JMI: They hired you on the spot?
LIFER (smiling): Yeah!
JMI: Do you remember the first retirement party you went to? What did you think?
LIFER: The first one…might have been for Bob…trying to remember his name…
JMI: What’d you think?
LIFER: I didn’t think about retirement at that time.
JMI: Weren’t you amazed that this guy had worked there for more than 30 years?
LIFER: Well, yeah, it’s amazing that he had worked there all those years, but I didn’t know (then) what that meant. It didn’t really have any value to me in terms of my own experience, and I wasn’t thinking that I would be there (38 years). It was good to see these guys who had been there for 30 years and were really good at what they did, and from that standpoint, you honored their status. But the aspect of my retirement and all that stuff didn’t really fit into it for me.
JMI: Was there a time when you knew you were going to have your retirement there some day?
LIFER: No, even in 1989, when I was promoted. It wasn’t locked in. I still didn’t have that closed in my mind.
JMI: What in your opinion did your employer do right, to keep you for 38 years?
LIFER: I had an opportunity to do different kinds of work. I had an opportunity to get more responsibility and more pay and all of that stuff, which is not the primary consideration but it’s certainly part of it. The opportunity to get more money, the opportunity to get more responsibility, the opportunity to do different kinds of work and to work with other people and all that stuff is what keeps you going.
I was doing work that I enjoyed. There were a lot of people who went to work and sat at one desk for 20 or 30 years, and if I had done that, I probably wouldn’t have been there. All the departments and divisions I worked for operated like separate companies.
JMI: I’ve read some studies where the average tenure is 17 months. That’s not very long. I mean, it takes a year just to get someone up to speed at most places doesn’t it? What can companies do to keep someone around for 38 years?
LIFER: I think, encourage them to grow, to make their own self-image better, to be able to do more things that make them grow as employees. The other aspect of it is to figure out a way to make it attractive for them to stay. Dollars is a part of it, but your investment in the company is part of it also. They came to me and said, “We can’t afford to let you go. What would it take for you to stay?”
I think of myself as an individual, but I’ve identified myself with (my employer). I think the key to all this is to get the individual to buy into being part of the organization. I identify myself as a _________ employee.
That’s what I am. I’m fully invested in what I do and that’s what keeps me going. If I were just going to put in 8-to-5, I’d become very unhappy with that. You have to have the people have the perspective that they are part of an integrated operation, and that each of them has a little part of the success and also that they take responsibility for some of the failure if what the organization is doing becomes a failure.
JMI: So in summary, the key to get the employees to stick around is to get them to buy into what the company is doing. The key to getting that buy-in is to allow them to feel like they’ve got input in the movement in that company.
LIFER: Yeah…allow them to really experience that they are having some impact on what goes on. You know, not just coming in every Monday morning and seeing a whole stack of memos (that say) “This is what we want you to do, no matter what, I don’t care, I don’t even want to talk about it, this is what you’re going to do.”
JMI: Sounds like me sometimes 🙂
LIFER (laughing): Well, sometimes you have to do that, but I think that you’re a lot better off to open it up and allow people to give you the benefit of their experience, Whether you necessarily adopt everything that they will tell your or not….The boss doesn’t always have to listen to everything that people tell him, but I think that he is being foolish if he’s not willing to listen to what people might have to say.
JMI: Thanks Dad, Happy Fathers Day, and happy retirement.
Joe Pelayo, C.P.C.
Joseph Michaels International
Global Recruiting Solutions
One of the top 75 Recruiters in the United States ~ Recruiter Life Magazine