Recently, we had our corporate annual function. One item on the agenda was honoring long serving employees who had worked for ten years or more. Happily, the list was fairly long, comprising of a fair percentage of staff.
I have seen the ritual in other companies. In one of the multinational companies I worked for, you got a gold medal upon completion of ten years service. On a lighter note, it might have been a medal for bravery for surviving under difficult conditions.
Long service, of which the governments are pioneers and ‘perpetrators’ may be classified under two main heads.
- Long Service with minimal growth
- Minimal growth due to job nature
- Minimal growth due to performance
- Long Service with consistent growth
I have come to realize that the above situations affect the employees and organization in a vastly different manner.
Where a job does not inherently offer growth track, the ones who are ambitious, willing to learn and strive to grow leave rather early; within 3 years. Those who are unable to leave or do not plan to leave, cast themselves in a frame of mind where they accept the reality of growing at a snail’s pace. They may be a happy or unhappy lot.
Position of office assistant in any department is a good example. The position will always be around though the incumbents may keep changing. Personal/departmental secretaries are another example. If someone joins on these positions knowing fully what they are getting into, she/he is contented and keep doing a good job day after day. They are usually neither dissatisfied nor discontented. We have seen secretaries and assistants performing greatly and consistently year after year. It is important that only appropriate people should be hired for these positions.
Long service employees with consistent growth and job enrichment history are positively energetic. They are true asset and must be preserved and nurtured.
Then there are positions which have a definite growth track. Those who perform keep growing while those who are unable to perform keep complaining (of politics, favoritism, policies, measuring parameters, opportunities and lot more). They do not leave and go elsewhere due mainly to inherent lethargy and insecurity. It is this lot that is the focus of this article.
Long serving, not growing employees are the main, and the biggest source of toxicity, negativity and inefficiency in any organization. They are the fiercest opponents to change and will do everything to derail the process. They discourage and demoralize new hires, tell everyone not to do any extra work, criticize policies, spread general discontent, issue doomsday prophecies and waste enormous amounts of time and energies; theirs and others. They also excel in politicking, silo making and putting up barriers to smooth functioning. These (mostly) guys believe that the organization (and some seniors) are wholly responsible for their failures and therefore they consider it legitimate to take every option for revenge. They work (or pretend to work) enough to keep surviving and hence block the possibility of replacing them with better ones. As they grow in age, they stick even harder, become more venomous and more lethal.
Everyone says people are your asset and long serving employees are a huge asset. It is true but after putting certain conditions on it.
I have no doubt that the biggest challenge for an organization is to keep moving people, upwards, sideways, even out. I also solemnly believe that without this effort, the organization will not achieve excellence.
I suggest three steps to do this.
- Put maximum (not just minimum) time limit on staying at a position: Normally an employee is required to spend a minimum time in years before becoming eligible for moving to the next one. It is important for seasoning; however a maximum time limit should also be applied for staying on the same position. Those who fail to have any growth may be replaced.
- Improve performance management: Behavioral aspects should be included in the performance management system. Anyone scoring poorly on these should be penalized quickly and visibly. Presently, this is the most neglected area. Given the seriousness of the matter, it should be immediately addressed.
- Push people to move: Enrich jobs, give additional responsibilities, rotate jobs, switch departments where possible, train, coach and give opportunity to grow. The fate of those who are incapable or unwilling or both must be decided urgently.
Employees’ career is like water. If it keeps moving, it remains clean and healthy and life promoting. If it stagnates, it becomes dark, it rots and gives life to mosquitoes on the surface and frogs below the surface. Employee stability in itself is incomplete unless it is put in perspective and then assessed for what it is worth for.