Tours of Duty
In September of 2016, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released updated employee tenure stats. I think we all predicted what they would reveal: the median number of years that the average employee stays with a company is 4.2, which is down from 4.6 years when last published in 2014. Employees in professional occupations and management roles have the highest median tenure of 5.1 years. On the other side of the coin, workers in service occupations have the lowest median tenure of 2.9 years, with those specifically in the food service industry coming in at only 1.9 years.
What does this mean? For one thing, the days of hiring for a lifetime of service are long gone. Today’s business owners should be making strategic hiring decisions with the expectation that any given employee will likely advance to their next employer in under five years. This is a dramatic paradigm shift for seasoned business owners who have spent the majority of their career expecting “loyalty” from their employees, and giving loyalty in return - even to those employees who may have become complacent or ill-suited to the role over the years. The shift that we have experienced is a movement from “loyalty” based relationships to “alliance” based ones.
A successful business relationship between employer and employee is one in which both parties benefit – and that mutually beneficial relationship can continue to exist well after there’s been a separation of employment. Consider this: most employees will take advantage of a better opportunity – more flexibility, higher pay - whether they were actively looking or were recruited. Our goal as business owners, therefore, is to develop and cultivate strong alliances with our employees, and then to treat them as valued alumni after separation. Such alumni can and should be resources for the company in the many years that follow the separation.
Many companies are successfully tackling this paradigm shift by offering “Tour of Duties.” Simply put, the average Tour of Duty is a four year commitment by both parties. The employer commits to investing in the employee’s lifelong career development by providing training opportunities and on-the-job experience, and is rewarded with four years of productivity and a connection that can be leveraged in the years that follow. Meanwhile, the employee commits to completing the assigned mission and can take their newly acquired skills with them to their next role.
Why do Tours of Duty normally last four years? Four years is a magic number. Currently, this is the average tenure for an employee in the US anyway, so it fulfills the expected term. Beyond that, four years is the average lifecycle for a lot of things: it takes four years to earn an undergraduate degree, US Presidents serve four year terms, and so on. A four year Tour of Duty gives the employee a mission to complete within a finite and agreed upon timetable, and takes a lot of fear out of the relationship. Beyond that, it provides both the employer and the employee the flexibly they both need in order to adapt to today’s ever changing business environment without any fear of disappointment should either decide to part ways after the tour is completed.
After one tour has ended, both parties have the opportunity to extend their relationship with an additional tour, enabling the employee to gain operational experience in new areas of the company; or, to separate without any fear of disappointment, both having fulfilled their commitment.
Please reach out to us for more information about how embracing this Tour of Duty model can help your company by providing realistic commitments to your employees yet gaining the flexibility both employers and employees need to be successful in today’s dynamic environment!