A lot is written these days about how employees’ age affects their performance: Those entitled millennials! Older folks don’t understand new technologies! But we often overlook important factors that are not as visible – such as tenure.
How long an employee has been working at their organization can have a significant impact on what they think about the organization, its culture, and what they value.
We generally tend to think of tenure in three main categories: Honeymooners, Mid-Tenure, and Long-Tenure. Tenure, age, and job level often are related, but they are not interchangeable.
You might have millennials who’ve been with your company for 5 years, and you might have Baby Boomers just starting at your company.
You can see how different tenure groups might distinguish themselves from one another by looking at one of our annual benchmark study questions: Let’s learn a little more about these groups.
Honeymooners (Blue): These are the newest employees, considered to be in the “honeymoon” phase of their employment where they view the organization highly positively. How long this honeymoon phase lasts varies; at a high-turnover organization, it might last 90 days, while at another company it might last a year.
These employees are already engaged. They’re exploring whether the organization lives up to the excitement they’re feeling – essentially, does the reality match their expectations? An opportunity exists for you to bridge that gap.
Many companies have a standard employee orientation, but what happens after the first week? First month? First six months? The needs of new employees extend beyond logistics – getting their computer set up, locating the cafeteria, etc.
You have an opportunity with this group to re-calibrate their expectations by letting them know what a future at your organization looks like. How can you improve support from managers and peers? What types of career development and training are offered? How does the organization live and communicate its values?
Mid-Tenure (Purple): These employees are past the honeymoon phase, but have not made a long-term commitment to the company yet, either. The end of the honeymoon phase is distinguished by a distinct – and often dramatic – drop in perceptions about the company; we see an average 9 point decline in perceptions of the culture following the honeymoon period.
Employees are no longer as excited and have settled into the reality of their company and their role. As tenure increases, we often see satisfaction decrease further, but not nearly as dramatically as immediately following the honeymoon phase.
This group has been around a few years and understands how the company works; now they’re deciding whether to stick around or to look for another opportunity elsewhere.
Your challenge is to provide a culture where employees see the value they provide to the company – and see the value the company can provide to them.
However, remember that not everyone has the same goals: management training might be highly valued by one employee, while another might prefer more advanced technical skills training.
What’s crucial here is to show employees how your organization could be a long-term home for them. How can you offer your employees compelling long-term opportunities? How can you communicate what the organization has to offer them?
Long-Tenure (Green): This group consists of employees who’ve been there 10 or more years, depending on your organization.
They’ve likely seen the organization change quite a bit in their tenure; they’ve had multiple managers, probably good and bad; they’ve seen policy and culture changes; they might even be nostalgic for how things “used to be.”
We typically see a slight uptick on issues including benefits and intent to stay.
We might assume that because they’ve stayed so long, long-tenured employees’ needs are being met. And while we do sometimes see satisfaction improve for this group, that’s not a consistent trend; in fact, there may be areas where this group is the most negative, including confidence in senior leadership, bureaucracy, and risk tolerance.
It’s important to consider what has retained this group for so long, but also consider their retention like any other group. Are their core needs being met? What can you do to keep these long-term employees dedicated and making a positive impact on your organization?
So what can we do with this information? Here are a few areas where you might not expect perceptions to differ by tenure – but perhaps you should:
- Total Rewards: We often consider total rewards as a way to attract talent, but it can be just as important in retaining talent. A new employee coming from a competitor might have different expectations than a long-tenured employee. Or conversely, a more-tenured employee might be more sensitive to the removal of a particular benefit than a newer employee who hasn’t gotten accustomed to having it. As the makeup of your company changes, it’s good to re-evaluate your rewards offering to make sure it meets the needs not just of your newest employees, but of your more tenured employees as well.
- Collaboration: Create situations where newer and more-tenured employees work together. This can be beneficial for both groups – your new employees get to meet and learn from your most experienced employees, and the longer-tenured folks get to share their knowledge and maybe even learn from the new employees. People who’ve been at a company a long time can get entrenched in their thinking – “that’s the way we’ve always done it” – so pairing them with newer employees can provide learning opportunities for both groups.
- Career goals: It may seem premature to ask new employees about their career goals, but having a good understanding of what they hope to achieve can provide valuable insight into what motivates and challenges them. And, given the declines on survey items around career development that correspond with longer tenure, it’s especially important that long-tenured employees’ development needs are considered as well. Have on-going, in-depth discussions about career goals with ALL employees, and make concrete plans for how to achieve those goals.
- Recognition: Satisfaction with recognition often drops as tenure increases; companies expect great things from their more-tenured employees, and we often forget to show appreciation when they do those great things. While it’s easy to encourage new employees, don’t overlook the importance of recognition for employees with more tenure. Realize also that what’s a valuable form of recognition for a new employee may not prove as motivating or rewarding for a more tenured employee.
- Voice: Ensuring all employees have opportunities to voice their opinions is a crucial part of engaging ALL employees. New employees may be reticent to share their thoughts or experiences, and may need a gentle “push” to provide input. Or, significant organizational changes often drive drops in satisfaction; this can represent a great opportunity to involve long-tenured employees (who might otherwise be disillusioned with the changes) to be more active participants in the process, even serving as change ambassadors.
It’s crucial to remember that tenure effects vary across companies, geographies, industries – and even by issue.
We strongly encourage you to use all data available to you to look at your organization’s culture. Understanding how tenure impacts employee perceptions can be a crucial key to unlocking greater employee satisfaction at your organization. For more, check out this webinar How To Create A Positive Culture For Employees Across Tenure.
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