Re-Thinking the Employee-Employer Contract

Re-Thinking the Employee-Employer Contract

contractThere’s another stellar article in the June HBR (posts here and here are about the other good one). This one is about the new employer-employee contract (check out this site).

I hear a fair amount of complaints about the decline in employee loyalty. Nobody stays at a job any more. They jump from place to place. All this turnover is hard to manage unless you outsource HR issues (learn more about possible benefits). As a stereotypical Gen-Xer, I have to laugh. We were kids when the myth of stable, lifetime employment was dashed to smithereens, and we’ve been cynical ever since. For my generation, which probably OVER-emphasizes independence, it became every person for themselves, both on the employer side and employee side. I’ll work here up until the minute I want to go somewhere else, and you’ll pay me up until the minute you don’t want to, and we really don’t owe each other any more than that.

The authors of the article argue we can do better than that, and I agree. We’re not going back to lifetime employment, mind you. That ship has sailed. But why can’t we build more trust in that relationship, and why can’t we make it more intentionally about mutual support and development, rather than every person for themselves? The ideas they present for doing this are intriguing.

The first is the notion of an employee “tour of duty.” Typically, when you’re hired, there is no end date. I don’t think people actually expect you to work there forever, but there does seem to be a hope/expectation that it will be for as long as possible. But in the “tour of duty” model, you actually hire people for a four-year tour of duty (with a discussion after two years), and in doing so, it’s easier to focus on how each party will help the other. How am I going to deliver value to this organization in four years? And if I do deliver value, how will you help me with my career both during and at the end of the tour? That could mean another tour, or it could mean support in going somewhere else. The article suggests that you develop personal, mutually beneficial tours. Ask yourself, “In this alliance, how will both parties benefit and progress?

I love this idea. But there’s an interesting wrinkle they throw in at the end of the section about tours of duty: they can’t be managed by central HR:

You’re making a compact, nto drawing up a contract. We’re not suggesting that you negotiate a guaranteed arrangement that spells out all the specifics–a rigid approach is the opposite of an entrepreneurial mind-set. Your building a trust relationship that’s based on the employee’s actual job, so the conversations must be handled by direct managers.

I’ve been thinking a lot about HR lately, particularly in terms of the trends I’m seeing in leadership and management. Humanize is basically our guided tour of what we see as a new era in leadership and management that is emerging. This article in HBR is more evidence of this new era gaining traction. And I’m noticing that HR seems to be on the wrong side of the fence.

I’m working on a post for next week that talks about that. I am afraid the post will get up in HR’s face a bit, and that might make some of my friends mad (not a place that a conflict resolution guy like myself wants to be in). But I think it’s time for the conversation.

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