News

Ask a Boomer: Job security

What it’s like to work for one company your entire life

by Kate Fane
Sep 7 2017, 12:51pm

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In my 28 years on Earth, I’ve held 22 jobs. Even when you subtract my stints tending bars or judging people’s taste in video rentals, I’ve still moved through five different “career-type” jobs that were roughly in my field.

Apparently, it’s not just me. A Workopolis study found that 51 percent of Canadian workers tend to stay in jobs for under two years, and only 30 percent stay for more than four.

Baby boomers like Bob Buckner had a radically different work experience. Bob worked at the same major Canadian bank for over 30 years, basically his entire working life. The view from his office window changed occasionally — he jumped from Victoria, BC to Campbell River and eventually landed in Vancouver — but he never had to fill out a new HR form.

We checked in with Buckner to see how his lifer approach to employment compares to our current gig economy, and whether the grass was really greener on the boomer side of the fence.

When you were young, did you always plan for a career in finance?

I wasn’t a big reader and I didn’t like writing essays. So I went into the sciences, and math seemed like the easiest route. I graduated from UVic with an Honours BSc in Economics and Math. I figured with a math degree, the financial services sector was a pretty good place to go.

How’d you get started at the company?

I graduated university in 1971. I applied to work at the bank, but because I had a BSc, they said I was overqualified [laughs]. I worked at a finance company for a year before the bank would take me on. I started their branch administration program in April, and I finished it in September. Then they made me the assistant manager of the branch that I’d trained in.

Everything you just said sounds insane to me.

It was a different time. Inflation was going up and there were tons of opportunity during that era, lots of upward mobility. I worked in the Victoria branch for seven months, then I got transferred up to Campbell River. I’d only been there a year, and my wife and I had just bought a house, but my district manager was happy with my work and I was promoted to handle internal audits in Vancouver. So we went, and we stayed.

What made you decide to stay with the company? Were you ever tempted to switch?

I can’t say I was. At 37, I was made an executive, as a head of corporate finance. This was significant, because once you become an executive your compensation goes up fairly dramatically. Not only bonuses, but stock options too. This was very attractive to me, so for the last 20 years of my career I remained an executive with the company. When my first wife was diagnosed with cancer, I retired early at 55 and we went travelling together before she passed away. Overall, it was a very good career.

Would you say that most of your friends also stuck to one company for their working lives?

Oh yes. I was born and raised in Port Alberni. A lot of the kids I grew up with stayed and worked at the pulp mill, while the brighter kids became doctors, lawyers, bankers. But people didn’t switch companies the way they do today.

Did anyone you knew deal with layoffs, or ever struggle to find full-time work?

That was never an issue. Finance was a rapid growth area while I was there. But even in those circumstances, it was never my understanding that university guaranteed you a job. All it did was tell prospective employers that you had the ability to get a degree — It doesn’t equip you with any special skill set. When I came out of high school, everyone needed Grade 12 to get a job. Then you needed a college degree, then a MBA. But none of these ever guarantee that you’re going to get a job.

Do you think millennials and boomers think about their careers differently?

Workers don’t have the same level of loyalty that they did when I was in school. There’d be a few people who’d switch organizations, but my sense today is that there’s a lot more movement. Towards the end of my career, we’d have young MBAs come in, and they’d have the expectation that they’d be made an executive in a year or two. If you have unrealistic expectations, you’re going to become frustrated if you don’t see any upward mobility. Workers need to take a step back and determine if there’s a reason that they’re not moving ahead as quickly as they’d like. You’ve got to have the right attitude, you’ve got to be a team player, to succeed in an organization.

I think a lot of young workers would show more loyalty to an organization if their employment was more secure. When you’re offered precarious work, it’s hard to be loyal.

A lot of people blame the organizations. A lot of people blame the millennials. I think it’s a 50/50 split. If you’ve picked the sector that you want to go into, research organizations and look at them closely in terms of how they treat their employees. Companies have to provide a fair degree of employee engagement to earn that loyalty.

Any other advice for the kids today who might be thinking of switching jobs?

It’s important to remember that when you go from one organization to another, every company has a different culture. With the major banks, you knew what those cultures were. Some had upward mobility, while some were closed shops where it would be hard to get on the inside track. Even back then, we could figure out what the attributes of an organization were and make our choice. I was happy to stay with my company, because I always did a good job and I always got rewarded. As a new entrant to the job market, you’ve got to target specific organizations, and get very aggressive around why you want to work for that organization, and then you have to persevere. And away you go.