MANAGING YOUR CAREER UNDER CONDITIONS OF SHORT JOB TENURE AND LONG MIDDLE
Two trends are converging to fundamentally alter the assumptions behind your
retirement plans: short job tenure within organizations combined with longer
What are the implications?
Short Job Tenure
The trend towards organizational "right sizing" won't go away with
the recession. Few of us can realistically think of a tenure track within one
organization lasting longer than five years. Indeed, we can't remember a recent
time when a senior executive client of ours referred to an organization as a
place to stay for longer than five years. Most of our clients refer to job
opportunities as "assignments."
Indeed, the best model for career planning may not be taught at Business
Schools. It is theater and professional sports that provide the models for
career planning in today's environment.
In these professions, jobs are understood to be little more than temporary
assignments. Work groups are put together and altered on an on-going basis.
And being "between assignments" is not an unnatural state. It is
merely an uncomfortable phase of life one must go through as part of the price
for having selected one's career.
Longer Working Life
Many of us think of age 65 as a "watershed" year. It is the year
when we should either be well retired or well on the way to retirement. When
the Social Security Act was established in 1935, age 65 was the time when
citizens could begin collecting full benefits. But in 1935, the average age at
death was 62. The AVERAGE age of death for a child born in 1991 will be 75!
We have added thirteen years to the average life span for U.S. citizens in a
sixty year period. And these additional thirteen years will not be an
additional period of old age. It will be an extension of middle age.
The cause of this tremendous expansion of the length of life is still
unknown. The implication is profound:
Most of us will find the middle period of our lives to be twice as long as
we think it will be. According to psychologist Lydia Bronte:
"If you have had reasonably good health habits, by the time you
celebrate your sixtieth birthday, instead of being on the downward slope of old
age you may have two or three decades of productive adult time ahead of
you--time that is not much different in quality from what you experience at age
Funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Bronte interviewed 150
people actively employed and between the ages of 65 and 101. These people range
from the famous to the unknown. Bronte believes these people may be more
appropriate models for how we live our lives after age 60 than the ads we read
from mutual funds advertising pension programs. Her work was published as The
Longevity Factor: the new reality of long careers and how it can read to richer
lives. (New York:Harper Collins, 1993).
New Career Models for a New Reality of Life
The trend towards shorter tenure within organizations means that many of us
will not have saved enough money to finance a retirement on the traditional
manner. Our retirement models often assume slow and steady contributions from
the earnings of a stable career. The reality is that many of us will not have
stable careers. Indeed, we will have periods of unemployment which may
negatively impact our savings.
On the other hand, the longer life model implies that there will be more
time for us to accumulate money for retirement than we suspected. Many of us
who could not afford to retire at age 62 might be able to do so at age 70.
Bronte found that her study participants loved the work they did. Loving
your work is going to be important if you are going to be at it for ten more
If you don't like what you are doing now, don't wait to collect your
retirement benefits. Begin the process of positioning yourself to find
something you like better. The chances are you will have the time to make both
major job shifts and career shifts if you wish. As Bronte states:
"Flexibility, adaptability, and a refusal to stay too long at work they
didn't enjoy are all trademark qualifies of the study participants that worked
to their advantage. The single most important element to developing a long
career or creating an active post-retirement life is to find meaningful and
fulfilling work, whether paying or nonpaying, that keeps you active, engaged,
The older models of career had rigid phases of life called "School,"
"Full Time Work," and "Retirement." The present model has
fuzzy boundaries where school, full time, contingency employment, and periods of
non-employment all mix in exciting and scary possibilities. And that model
won't change anytime soon!
Bronte's book shows the range of possibilities now open to people in the
decades beyond age sixty-five. It is useful to see what they have done with
their lives. But it is also important to remember that they are pioneers. Many
of us have yet to come to grips with the implications of a professional world
marked by short tenure combined with long middle age.
Dr. Laurence J. Stybel and Maryanne Peabody are co-founders of Stybel
Peabody Lincolnshire, a senior executive level career consulting firm based in
Boston and twenty five other cities in three countries. They were voted "Best
retained search Firm" by the readers of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly.
Maryanne and Larry can be reached at 781/736-0900.