We Broke the Employer-Employee System

Once upon a time, a person went to work for a company and stayed there. For his entire career.

This arrangement had positives and negatives.

To keep people, companies promised sweet retirement packages, which they then had to maintain and manage long after employees retired. Pension structures and commitments to keeping people employed for the long-term outside significant changes in circumstances (large-scale staff downsizing or employee malfeasance) meant employers kept many nonperformers.

For staying, employees received increasing pension funds, outlined career paths, continuing education, and mentorship. They had a home for their careers and could breathe more easily as a result. However, to vest their pension funds and grow them sufficiently for retirement, employees got locked into jobs at companies they may not have loved and in fields that may have grown uninteresting over time.

And then it changed.

Exacerbated by recessions, the old employer-employee status quo dissolved. Employers stopped offering pensions and instead increased pay, desiring greater flexibility with managing funds and people. Employees, no longer tethered by vesting pensions, fearful of future economic instability, unsure of employer intentions, and comfortable with moving companies and roles now that they’d frequently done it and seen it done, started moving.

In turn, feeling betrayed by employees who take what they can get over a few years and leave, employers stopped investing in staff development and began looking outside their organizations for experienced candidates. Seeing this shift from employers further increased employees' impetus to hop jobs regularly for career advancement.

Today, each side holds each other at arm’s length with a wary, distrusting look.

This cycle hurts us all.

Turnover dearly costs companies in onboarding, lost productivity, and recruitment. And leaving after two or three years stunts employees’ development. Continually starting over—on both sides—significantly hampers growth.

As I’ve argued elsewhere, employers and employees need to change:

  • Employers need to develop internal team members, provide career paths, and promote from within their organizations.
  • Employees need to commit for the long term, provided the employer commits in turn.

Who starts this process? Perhaps the employer takes the first step, outlining career paths for employees and providing training that helps them grow in their desired directions.

Or perhaps employees start the process, finding employers that will develop them and provide opportunity not just immediately, but over time. Eventually, when the best employees stay at the best employers long enough, other companies will pay attention.

However it happens, it needs to happen.

Ideas?