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The Virginia Engineer's Guest Articles

"I Didn't Marry This Job, I'm Just Dating It"

May, 2008

“I Didn’t Marry This Job, I’m Just Dating It”
… The Value of Discretionary Effort
By Bill Catlette and Richard Hadden

My 33-year-old son recently remarked, “People no longer marry their jobs – they just date them.” Having worked for virtually very casual-themed restaurant chain in America, he speaks from experience. When his comment finished sinking in, I realized two things; 1) He’s right, and 2) That statement is pretty profound.

Not long ago, Economist.com ran a piece summarizing a European Union survey of the average job tenure of workers in each of 17 countries throughout Europe and North America. The average job span ranged from four years in the U.S. to 13 years in Greece. Even with the less-than-stellar odds that come with wedding vows, four years is still probably closer to dating territory than marriage, right? Score one for the kid.

When one considers the amount of fooling around that occurs early in a relationship (work or personal), and the absolute dysfunction that exists in the breakup stage, there isn’t a lot of productive time in the middle. So, in the workplace, managers are faced with about a three-year window that is largely devoid of loyalty, commitment and – but for occasional outbreaks – passion. We’re just dating!

It should be no surprise, then, that in one “engagement” study after another (e.g., Towers Perrin, Gallup), people are shown to be operating with the ‘ole effort meter at something