The tours-of-duty concept spotlighted in the May 27 issue of Chicago Tribune and the June issue of HBR is fascinating. Back when I was in my prime (i.e. childhood), employees hoped to stay with one employer for many years—if not life. Life-long employee-employer relationships were not only desirable, but also common. Today’s global economy—both job and fiscal—is much different than that of our parents’, which has forever changed the way employers and employees cooperate. From an employer’s standpoint, expecting employees to be with the company for life is unreasonable, even illogical, and potentially constraining. To employees, staying with one company for an entire career would be both personally and professionally disadvantageous.
At DecisionWise, we have witnessed the tours-of-duty concept first hand. One of our employees first joined our company in 2006. Around the end of 2008, he took on different projects and opportunities with a different company (no hard feelings). When February 2012 rolled around, this employee rejoined the DecisionWise team and was handed what he calls a holy-grail opportunity for someone in his industry.
When I sat down to talk to this employee about his tour with our company, and his career path afterward that eventually led to his return, I was expecting to hear an echo of the HBR article: that during his time with us he had been able to see a project through completion and wanted to start working on newer, bigger projects. And that’s basically what he told me, but not for the reasons I expected. You see, this employee—and likely millions of employees just like him—would rather not leave a company after seeing a project through completion. Employees are looking for consistent growth; if they can find it in your company, they’ll stay.
When I asked our returning employee about his opinion of the tour-of-duty concept, he explained, “Tours of duty have a lot of overhead. A better solution would be to find another challenge for an employee. Smaller companies can switch an employee’s projects or tasks; bigger companies can move employees to new teams. Jumping from team to team would be more effective.”
Employees are looking for challenge, for growth, and for continued development. Just because today’s companies are failing to provide adequate growth levels does not mean that tours of duty are the new ideal standard. Au contraire, if companies want to hire and maintain human capital—the most valuable resource (and quite possibly the highest expense) in nearly every company—then they need to start promoting continual growth and development within the organization.
Growth is also one of the five essential elements for employee engagement, which explains exactly why the average employee-company monogamous lifespan has been steadily declining over the years: employees are becoming disengaged. Engaged employees are those who find a healthy portion of meaning, autonomy, growth, impact, and connection in their jobs. Employee diets deficient on any of these five ingredients are recipes for disengagement.
Are you currently receiving an engaging level of growth and development opportunities in your job?
Respond to the following statements, with ratings from 1 to 5, 5 being strongly agree and 1 strongly disagree:
- I feel challenged and stretched in my job.
- My job offers enough variety to keep me challenged.
- I feel challenged and stretched in my job to increase my abilities.
- My job stretches me to be the best professional I can be.
- This organization provides attractive opportunities for growth and development.
- My work gives me opportunities to learn and grow.
Share your results in the comments; we’d love to hear your stories.