There are three new realities that have forced Generation X (and now Millennials) to redefine loyalty to an employer:
1) The deal is off.
My father-in-law believed that if you took care of the company, the company would take care of you. But most of us don’t believe that anymore. Organizations aren’t sure they’ll need you in four years, let alone until your retirement. Randstad’s 2009 World of Work survey discovered that 57% of workers describe themselves as loyal to their employers, but only 25% think their companies are loyal to them. (Surprisingly, this number has not been affected by the Great Recession. The percentage is unchanged since 2005, the height of the economy.)
Gen Xers get criticized for showing less loyalty than the Boomers and Traditionalists, but they know that pensions and seniority are gone, Baby Boomers aren’t retiring, and whole industries like manufacturing, telecommunications, and print media are redefining themselves, so security comes from having the savvy to handle whatever comes their way. They are ready to move on to the next best thing or to learn something new; they don’t intend to be the last person standing when the music stops. Xers don’t expect the company to take care of them; they know they have to take care of themselves. To many Traditionalists and Boomers, this comes across as self-centered and disloyal. To Xers, it’s a matter of survival.
2) Jobs are fading.
The shift from stable jobs to project-based work that hit the Boomers has intensified, and these new jobs don’t encourage loyalty. Douglas Alden Warshaw, in a cover story for Fortune magazine, describes this shift:
Steady progression up the corporate ladder? Yeah, right. We’re living in a project-based economy, one moving from full-time employment with benefits to part-time employment with project-based assignments.
3) All dressed up and nowhere to go.
Another reason the definition of loyalty has changed for Gen Xers is that they are jammed up behind the huge generation of Boomers, many of whom got their first promotion when they were young and aren’t planning to retire at 65. The Center for Work-Life Policy found that 66% of Xers are eager to be promoted, but 49% feel stalled at work. In 2011, Mercer found that 37% of them were “seriously considering leaving” compared to 42% of Millennials (who have the reputation as the least loyal) and 26% of Boomers.
In addition, companies are less loyal when handing out promotions. They don’t hire from within as much today. Bill Novelli and Peter Cappelli show how significantly this has changed. They report that Taleo, an employment software firm, studied their large clients: two-thirds of hires were outsiders. (In the ‘50s and ‘60s, only 10% of hires came from the outside.) In addition, a recent study found that 68% of executives came from different organizations than the ones they now serve.
Because Boomers got promoted earlier, more often, and from within, they often did better staying with their organizations. But Xers frequently get ahead by leaving. Many of us know Xers who left organizations and then came back later, leapfrogging in the organization chart those who stayed put.
[Photo via flickr.com]