Career surfers

Surfer crossingDanish newspaper Jyllandsposten had an article last week about career surfers. In it they describe how employees today often decline job offers or promotions that a company offers them.

Professor Henrik Holt Larsen of the Copenhagen Business School says:

It’s harder than ever for businesses to attract and retain employees who not only possess the required skills but who can also be emotionally bound to the company. People tend to focus more on their own desires and needs and therefore to surf between multiple career paths.

We don’t know enough yet about this narcissistic personality.

You know, Henrik, you say that like it’s a bad thing :o)

I have two comments on this. First, I find it incredible that someone would cast this tendency for people to choose career paths for themselves in a bad light. This is not narcissistic, it’s common sense. I choose my career path based on what’s good for me, not on what’s good for the company.

Secondly, if companies want to “bind their employees to them emotionally”, as Larsen puts it, this bond needs to go both ways. In short, the company must be prepared to offer it’s employees more than just a paycheck. If a company wants it’s employees to feel something about the company, the company must be prepared to feel back. To value it’s employees as people, not just as resources.

And this means yout won’t fire people, just to get a 5% increase in stock price. This means that you won’t carelessley reassign people to a department they don’t want to work for. This means leaders will do everything in their power to make their people happy at work.

The equation is simple:

Want your employees to care about the company?

Start by having the company care about them. Not as employees but as human beings.

5 thoughts on “Career surfers”

  1. I suspect professor Larsen is trying to phrase it nicely and use the word narcissistic when he in fact means egoistic. But the surprising thing is that both words have a negative ring to them.

    Companies maximise profits by managing a range of parameters, one of them being employee retention through salaries and non-monetary benefits like company culture (and a lot more). Employees maximise their utility from the employment relationship taking into account salary, learning potential, colleague relationships, client relationships, interestingness and fun (and a lot more). The beauty of it is that both parties can act in their own self-interest yet engage in a mutually beneficial relationship.

    For some time.

    And when it is time to move on, we should treat it like a sports match: Great game, on to the next one. No hard feelings. Calling a leaving employee a narcissist is a poor excuse for not looking at what the company can do to make itself more attractive.

    In a world where employees have lots of choices, including setting up their own business and going solo, clever companies will increase their retention and success by offering more than a good salary and do what they can to ensure that people are happy at work. It is a competitive factor that has been around for ever. And it co-exists nicely with, and maybe because of, both parties acting in their own self-interest.

  2. danb: Exactly! Corporations are narcissistic, so employees are too.

    Lars: Good point. And it’s funny how companies focus on the employees they lose in this way – not the ones they can gain.

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