Loyal Is Not a Fault: Companies Can Keep Workers Longer

By James Tehrani

Jul. 8, 2015

Today’s average U.S. worker stays in a job about 4½ years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which means employees just aren’t loyal anymore, right? Especially those job-hopping millennials?

Calm down; it’s just not true. While some workers do prefer changes of scenery, many are happy to stay put if there’s reason to do so.

Take Bob Miller for instance.

The recently retired Dallas Morning News reporter and columnist explained to his former colleague, Cheryl Hall: “When your knees pop and your mind doesn’t, it’s time to go.” But it took the 91-year-old Miller 64 years on the job to come to that conclusion.

Just read that number again: That’s a six and a four scrunched, not added, together. Wow.

If 64 were his age, it’s the number at which a young Paul McCartney thought he’d be an afterthought grandfather hoping for a birthday greeting and a bottle of wine. Yet Miller didn’t see it that way. He carried on with his daily duties under his assumption that his career would end only when he was “carried out.”

But as life goes on, of course plans change, and 64 years of tenure is pretty much unheard of, although not unprecedented.

According to Guinness, the record for tenure belongs to Thomas Stoddard, who started his career as a “mail boy” at Speakman, a plumbing pipe-fitting company, in 1928 and retired as a board member in 2008. In all, Stoddard who died April 8, 2014, at the age of 102, worked at Speakman for 80 years. That's about a year longer than the current average life expectancy in the United States.

While Miller and Stoddard may be the exception to the rule, logic says the men stayed because they were happy where they were at, and, of course, the companies were happy with them. Indeed, Laura Jacobus, The Dallas Morning News’ assistant business editor, told Hall, “I’ve never known anyone who enjoyed his job more” than Miller. Can’t beat fun at the old job game.

But the workforce has changed; that’s for sure.

While companies used to take a paternal approach to their employees, offering great benefits, like pensions, to entice them to stay for their career, those are rarities in 2015. I’m no economist, but it’s pretty clear that current economic conditions wouldn’t support yesterday’s paternalistic ideals. Although, even though some dispute the findings, it does give one pause to read reports that CEOs of the largest publicly traded companies make 373 times as much as average production and nonsupervisory workers, especially when average annual salary increases for nonexempt workers have been averaging about 3 percent.

Beyond compensation issues, as Patty Kujawa writes in our upcoming feature on financial “wellness,” companies are realizing that they probably should rethink their current laissez faire approach to workers’ retirement and help employees manage their 401(k)s. And health care has changed, too. Twenty years ago, no one knew what a consumer-driven health plan was. Now young workers in particular can’t remember a time when companies flipped most of the insurance bills.

It would be naïve to think that we will return to the days of paternalism, but that doesn’t mean companies can’t look out for workers in other areas. I really liked what Daniel Andrew, founder of Trademark Tours, wrote last year about allowing staff to work from home, flexibility with time off and listening to employees’ ideas. Those types of things make people happy.

If you’re looking to keep workers for the long haul —  and you should since finding new employees is really expensive — it pays to be nice even if your company can’t afford to pay a nice wage.

So let's congratulate Mr. Miller on his retirement; he earned it.

James Tehrani is the director of content strategy at FlexJobs.

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