“Do you mean ‘gone’ as in ‘dead from this earth’ or ‘gone from here’?” I heard a colleague recently ask another, who had just finished outlining some organizational changes he would like to see adopted by the time he was “gone.” She could have been joking, suggesting it was unlikely there would ever be any change readily embraced. But she sounded serious, as if it was perfectly reasonable to assume he would be employed at the same place for the rest of his working days.

As of January 2012, U.S. workers have been in their jobs for a median of 4.6 years.  Workers over 65 are at 10.3 years and workers between 25 and 34 at 3.2 years. So it was no surprise it was the older colleague that asked the younger colleague what he meant by “gone.”

Almost every article you read on average job tenure will discuss the younger generation’s desire to find “fulfillment” in their work, and given that younger generations are well aware they can no longer count on lifetime employment as many of their grandparents did, they are, therefore, willing to expose themselves to more risks to find it. Why be loyal if nothing is promised in return?

We are led to assume that older workers had no expectation of fulfillment – just a steady paycheck so that they could fulfill their responsibilities at home, hopefully take a vacation every now and then, and retire in comfort. If we believe this assumption we may make a judgment that older workers failed to self-reflect and employ the resiliency required to try out different jobs until they found their fit. This is sometimes true, as it will be of workers from every generation. But this judgment would not account for all of the fortitude needed to endure in a job that was no more than a job.  Sometimes, fulfillment can only be found when we are determined to find it where we are already at.