Monday, May 01, 2006

Longevity in Employment: A Thing of the Past?

Longevity in Employment: A Thing of the Past?

On Friday, I happened to have the pleasure of attending a retirement party for a civil servant who had put in 28 years with the city; and a few hours later, an event honoring (among others) a college professor who had put in 40 years with his university and was still going strong.

It got me to thinking - could I ever do that?

I'm not sure that I could. Such staying power used to be really common across the board. You still hear occasionally of people who have civil service protection lasting 20, 30, even 40 years of service. On occasion, you'll even hear of a tenured professor who has been in the same institution for 50 years!

But outside such relatively protected job classifications, and even to some extent within those groups, long-term employment (that is, 20+ years at the same place) is definitely getting more and more rare.

In some ways, that's a good thing. If people feel like they have more and different workplace options, and they feel secure moving around every 5 or 10 years under their own volition, that's fine. Nobody said you had to be loyal to a given institution forever.

Unfortunately, it's more likely that more experienced, higher-paid, slightly older workers are being forced out, quietly or not, in the name of cutting costs and increasing net revenues. And then, when you do retire, lo and behold... the pension is gone!

I'm not saying this is the case in academia nor in government work; in fact, those institutions still tend to have relatively stable defined-benefit pension plans. And since they don't have to worry about profits and pleasing stockholders, it makes the pressures somewhat less severe.

But especially with the fiscal strains on public institutions in the past five to seven years, they are starting to feel the pinch just as workers in the rest of the world have for at least that long, in the form of higher employee and retiree health insurance premiums, combined with the beginnings of a shift away from traditional pensions to "defined-contribution" plans highly favorable to employers such as 401k and 403b plans.

Anyway, I just hope that, in a couple years when I'm on the academic job market, I can find a reasonably well-paid tenure-track faculty position somewhere! Of course, I'll ask about health plans, pensions, and other benefits, but who knows what will happen 20, 30, 40 years down the line.

Obviously, once you get tenured, you have a lot more flexibility... assuming tenure in its traditional form persists, which may not necessarily be the case even twenty years from now. More and more academic appointments are proportionally into non-tenure track full-time positions like "Visiting Assistant Professor" or "Affiliate Assistant Professor." Naturally, if that's the job you can get, you'll take it. But for the institution as a whole, it can mean that long-term stability is far from assured.


Anonymous said...

My dad had 40+ years at his university when he died. I don't know that I'll even live in the same state for that long in my life.


Anonymous said...

According to one of those headhunting websites, "studies show" that the average working American will have three to five careers and between 10 to 12 jobs during his or her lifetime.

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