“We’ve come a long, long way together, through the hard times and the good, I have to celebrate you baby, I have to praise you like I should.” FatBoy Slim ‘Praise You’
I didn’t intend to write this post just yet but then I realised last night that 18 years ago today I stepped through the doors of my current organisation with no idea that I’d still be here so many years down the road. I joined a month before the Blair government took power in 1997 and here we are just before another election day, just 18 years later. 18 years, I have decided is a mighty long time.
This also means I have been in this job for exactly the same amount of time I knew my Dad before he passed away. Which is a weird coincidence. Or to think of it another way, I’ve worked in one place for the same amount of time it took me to grow from a baby to a young woman. And although I’d worked in other places before I joined my current organisation, I really learnt my craft here and so much more. The last eighteen years has been like growing up too, whether in terms of confidence, skills or just learning how to be alongside people at work, it’s been one long learning curve.
We talk a lot about our volatile and uncertain world which is often depicted by a constant flow of workers and organisational change, structure after restructure. And true I’ve experienced some of this. Along the way some people stay, others move upstream, downstream or along the bank. No decision is less valid, we all have our paths to take. But to my grandparent’s generation this state of flux would be strange. Then it was normal to stay in a single organisation for most of your working life and to move around rarely.
Times have changed. Long service awards have fallen by the wayside, yet I still remember my grandad receiving his long service carriage clock with such pride from the haulage company he’d worked with for many years. If we take media reports at face value, we’re all now working portfolio careers, or happily being self-employed flitting from one coffee house wi-fi spot to another. Somehow it’s become uncool to be a long serving employee. On occasion, I’ve caught myself colluding in this negativity, wrinkling my nose and shying away from putting a number on the years I have worked for my organisation.
Nowadays it can feel like long service is something to be frowned at, not celebrated. I’m not arguing that we should simply celebrate the number of years passed, but instead that we recognise the vast investment of time, emotion, skills and labour that that length of service represents both from the employee and their organisation. And also the knowledge that comes with that, not facts and figures but an understanding of the organisational currents, ebbs and flows.
A colleague joked last week that 18 years means I’ve served more time than most whole life tariff prisoners do but I don’t see it like that. For me, it’s been a place of adventure and exploration not a space of constriction. Just like a gnarly bit of root that juts out into the river as the flow gushes over and around it, my eighteen years in this particular flow have helped shape who I am, both at work and out of it. And I hope my presence has gently altered that flow over time too. I’ve changed and so has the organisation, we’ve moulded each other.
I’ve laughed and cried with colleagues and learnt huge amounts from the opportunities I’ve had to stretch my wings and experience new challenges and adventures. What I’ve learnt most of all is that being in one place doesn’t necessarily mean stagnation but that the longer you stay the more you have to challenge yourself not to slip into tired routines, old dialogues or set piece reactions. I’ve probably learnt more about myself in the last five years than I did in the preceding decade by pushing myself out of my comfort zone and into new places.
And now this particular learning curve is drawing to a close for me, I’ll be leaving my current job in the summer to start on a new journey, I hope I’ll carry all those lessons & experiences with me as I move into a new chapter. It’s an adventure which would never have been possible without the preceding years.
So I think it’s time for a little praise for the long serving employee and the companies & organisations that provide opportunities for those people to grow and develop. Every person I have worked alongside over the last eighteen years has prepared me for this next step and for that, in the words of Fatboy Slim, I have to praise you like I should.
Postscript: my brother read this blog and Facebooked me from the prow of the RFA ship he is currently serving on. He reminded me that Grandad’s carriage clock now sits on his mantelpiece and that after 34 years with the RFA he still keeps fresh because of all the change and innovation that goes on around him. Big brothers they always have to go one better!!