October 14

Jobs For Life…Insane or Brilliant?

Jobs for life...be careful what you ask forEvery once in a while I see an article that sounds so crazy I have to read it immediately.  The recent article by Steve Tobak from BNETJobs for Life: If It Works in Germany, Why Not America? The article is about how the German company Siemens gave 128,000 of their German workers jobs for life.

In the article Tobak wondered if this was  insane on the surface.  I am wondering the same thing.  I can't tell if this is a brilliant move or disastrous.  Essentially, it comes down to two competing theories with regards to offering ultimate job security.

The people for a move like this would argue that rewarding with loyalty would pay off in the end and that workers who don't have to look over their shoulder all the time and worry about their jobs may work better.  Some may indeed work better because of this move.

The other side says that giving workers too much comfort is like giving them a permission slip for mediocrity.  Everyone would agree that all workers are not the same.  Some are better and other are destructive.  One area that is near and dear to my heart where you can see job security= mediocrity is with the Major League Baseball umpires.  They have a strong union and are able to be tenured just like college professors which essentially guarantees their jobs regardless of how their performance is on the field.  I have heard several opinions around the sports world that this is why the officiating in the baseball play offs is so poor.   There have been similar criticisms made of other union employees as well.

So is the concept of jobs for life brilliant or crazy?

Think about any work environment that you have ever been in.  You have no doubt worked with some people who were supremely talented and also some people that were so bad that, if it wasn't against the law, you would have killed.  Work today is so much about autonomy and creativity that it seems as if we are taking away some incentive to push the boundaries of what's possible in our worlds of work when we give a certain level of comfort.

My questions to you are:  Can you see this working in America?  In what industries do you think this could work?  How would you structure something like this?  Would love to hear your thoughts on the topic.

PS… You can also listen to the podcast below.

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About the Author

Brandon is the Founder & CEO of New Work Revolution, a noted speaker and strategic thinker. After working in corporate America for 10 years and experiencing the good, bad, and ugly of it, New Work Revolution was created to assist business owners in stepping into their power as a leader so they can build teams and grow their business the RIGHT way.

Brandon Allen

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  1. Although this sounds great (on the surface) for the employees, I think this is corporate suicide.

    Outside of the initial excitement of having a job guaranteed forever, I can’t see how it would improve the overall performance of employees. Imagine if you could miss work whenever you wanted, there were no reviews on your performance, and if you (or the people you worked with) could be as combative or non compliant as you wanted with no risk of losing your job?

    Beyond the mediocrity that comes from having no accountability or minimum standards to meet, the sheer ability of any employee to take advantage of the company seems like a death wish.

    I’m sure there must be some ‘strings attached’ to the guaranteed employment because companies like Siemens aren’t stupid, but if there aren’t, at least it will be interesting to watch the fallout.

  2. At what price security? I wouldn’t do it… Forget the employer, this is bad for workers! If you were given a job for life you’d be stuck in their pay structure, probably only get cost of living increases and tiny yearly raises if you’re lucky. They have you under contract, why would they work hard to keep you?

  3. I guess I’m curious what the downside is for the employee. If there’s an equal risk for both parties, it could work. I also wonder what the jobs are that are guaranteed for life. I look at someone like my dad (he’s an interior designer) whose job is all about being creative in the generally understood definition of the word. The tasks themselves tend to be intrinsically rewarding because of the creativity involved. But an entry-level “grunt” sort of job isn’t always filled with that sort of incentive.
    Also, it wouldn’t make sense for the company to offer the deal to any and all of its employees. A good supervisor knows which employees need a cattle prod to get a project done and which ones are motivated on their own. If a company has an effective tool to determine which employees are highly motivated, then it would be genius to figure out how to keep those employees around.

  4. So it’s official. no one here in the states seems to think this is a stellar idea. I would like to see more if the details on what the commitment level for the worker is but overall seems like a bad deal on both sides. Thanks for weighing in.

  5. In my experience, the top performers aren’t the ones ‘looking over their shoulders’ and worrying about job security so this doesn’t even seem like much of a benefit to anyone except those that are probably more inclined for mediocrity. I doubt many companies are staying up at night thinking of ways to keep their mediocre employees. The important thing is to keep your top performers and that is generally done by providing a rewarding job, not just a guaranteed job.

    1. Josh,

      You’re right, in many cases top performers don’t have to worry but I have seen some specific instances recently where the people who are getting paid the most ( a lot of times top performers) were the first to go because of cost. In any event, the concept of jobs for life does not seem to be a great incentive for either side. I guess we will see how it plays out. Thanks for visiting.

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