Although I was just a boy, I’ll never forget John Williams. Everyone called him Mr. Bell, because he was a manager at the telephone company. I don’t know what he did, but with his rolled-up sleeves, horn-rimmed glasses, and thin tie, I figured he must have been important.
I mowed his yard on Saturday afternoons when the other kids were riding bikes in the fields and throwing rocks at bottles. He took me aside one day and gave me a long talk about work ethics and responsibility. “Find a good company and stay there for life,” he said. His identity was completely wrapped up in that company. He was a company man.
It wasn’t that long ago when good “company” men and women put in decades at the same business. Ford, IBM, Whirlpool, Magnavox and hundreds of other great stalwarts were built with people just like John.
But something happened. One by one, these companies disappeared. They were broken up, shipped overseas or bankrupted by competitors. These days, the idea of working for the same company for an entire career is rare. Most young people entering the job market expect that their career paths, employers, and job skills will somehow morph along the way.
Loyalty is a trait that is in short supply these days. It wasn’t that long ago when companies displayed their commitment to employees through good benefits, long employment, and security. Years of mergers, restructurings, and mass layoffs of seasoned career workers have made that concept almost quaint.
Employees aren’t loyal, either. Combined with uncertainty about job security, increased productivity demands, and falling benefits, the loyal employee has sworn off his allegiance. Many wouldn’t think twice about jumping to another company if offered more money or better benefits. In fact, a recent survey said that more than one in three workers hopes to find a new job in the next twelve months. The Harvard Business School says, "Today, workers not only don't expect to work for decades on end for the same company, but they don't want to."
There is one company, however, that seems to be bucking the trend. Zappos, the online shoe seller, has annual sales of more than $1 billion. That's a lot of shoes. Besides their meteoric growth, they are also turning heads with their unique new-hire program. After the first week or so of intense training, they utilize what they call "The Offer."
It goes something like this: "If you quit today, we will pay you for the amount of time you've worked, plus we will offer you a $1,000 bonus."
They’re bribing their employees to quit. They figure, if an employee is willing to give up a career for two weeks worth of salary, it's obvious they don’t have a deep sense of commitment and would run counter to the company’s culture. Rather than live through years of disloyalty, lack of productivity and insolence, its better just to pay them to go away. And about ten percent of new hires take the money and run.
As I log another day at my job, I wonder about my own loyalty. I hold my breath each morning as I swipe my electronic badge, wondering if this is the day my job has been outsourced. And the relationship isn’t always pure on my end, either. If the price was right, I would give consideration to another company.
I long for the days of mutual loyalty, the days when Pacific Bell valued people like John Williams . . . and in return, he wore “Mr. Bell” on his name tag. I wonder if we’ll ever find them again.
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