Are long-term employees institutionalised?

Can staying a long time with one organisation adversely affect an individual’s chances of securing new employment? Whilst tenure demonstrates loyalty and consistent work performance, employers sometimes view candidates who have been with one employer for more than ten years as being ‘institutionalised’. 

In our time of rapid technological advancements and fluctuating economies, organisations are seeking to hire employees that can thrive in quickly changing environments. Some employers believe they are mitigating hiring risks, by identifying potential candidates who have regularly worked in different situations. This can lead to unconscious bias around those that have remained loyal to one employer over many years.

Fiona McDonald, business operations manager for Walmsley Wilkinson Executive Recruitment, says: "Employers are seeking to achieve an agile and flexible workforce with people who already have a track record of achieving success in varied environments. Whilst they do not want to employ habitual job-hoppers, many organisations are also reluctant to hire those who have been with their current employer for a long time.

"Businesses who approach hiring with negative perceptions of candidates who have stayed with one organisation for ten or twenty years, can miss out on some exceptional talent. In a long successful career with one employer, an individual can achieve promotions, role content changes, experience a variety of leadership teams, business growth, acquisitions, integrations, transformations, new products, services and technology. That hardly reflects being ‘institutionalised’.”

According to the market research provider, Censuswide, for people in the UK, the average longest employment tenure is over a decade and just seven years in London. On the flip side, more than 1 in 10 people in the UK have never stayed with the same employer for more than a year. 

Not surprisingly, age plays a role in length of service and younger people change roles more frequently than their counterparts in previous generations. Tech companies have the shortest average tenure, while the public sector has the highest. The days of ‘hire to retire’ are something of the past. There is little evidence of ‘psychological contracts’ as in previous years when an employee devoted their life to their employer.  

Fiona continues: “Assuming that someone lacks drive, prefers to stay within their comfort zone and is unable to adapt to change, just because they have stayed long term with one organisation, is a flawed judgement. A candidate’s suitability and motivations should be explored through structured interviewing and not through preconceptions. Businesses that are successful in hiring the best talent, embrace diversity, have an open attitude and are keen to understand the reasons behind a candidate’s past tenure.” 

If an employee has been with an organisation for a long time, they must be prepared to positively demonstrate what the tangible benefits of this are to a future employer – in terms of enhanced skills, experience, training, technologies, responsibilities, promotions, change of company ownership etc. To prove their adaptability and versatility, they may need to show that, regardless of how long they have worked for a business, they have continued to amass knowledge, they can offer a fresh perspective and approach, they can adapt to (and introduce) new technologies and can bring creativity, resilience, new ideas and energy to their next employer. 

So, the next time you are about to dismiss someone from the interview schedule due to their solid career within one business, you may wish to think again – a second review of their details may result in your business hiring a gem! 

Walmsley Wilkinson, based in Lancashire and owned by two partners, Linda Walmsley and Taryn Wilkinson, offers professional solutions for executive and management recruitment needs. They support a variety of organisations, including large corporations, family-owned entities, private equity and the third sector to identify and secure the best leadership talent, across the UK and internationally.

Enjoyed this? Read more from Walmsley Wilkinson Executive Recruitment

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