By: Larry Fish, President
Last year I was asked to make a presentation to an industry group on the subject of employee turnover. Rather than re-sharpen the old saws about how ineffective selection methods and poor supervisory practices are usually the primary causes of turnover, I took a slightly different track. In many instances, the decision to leave a company and do something else is a simple matter of changes or stages that a person is going through in his or her life. We all go through these stages during our careers. The problem is that we don’t always recognize them in ourselves and thus, we are unable to recognize them in others.
Some of the research I have seen suggests that people go through certain stages in their life. These stages are influenced by a number of things to which we are exposed. Some of them are socio-economic levels, mental abilities, personality characteristics, and interests. All of these things give us a reality check on ourselves and determine the outcomes of the decisions we make about our careers and lives. But, let’s be more specific.
These life stages generally occur during certain ages in people’s lives. The research suggests that there are 5 stages in people’s lives. They are:
The Growth stage occurs during the ages of 10-18. There are three characteristics of this stage: capacity, interest, and fantasy. Remember when you were a child. You were beginning to test things like how fast and far you could run. You were constantly testing your capacity to try new things and stretch yourself. The interests you had were many. But, you‘ll also remember that those interests were starting to become a bit more focused as you grew older. At least, you started to recognize what didn’t interest you. And since you were still young and innocent, you still had the capacity and desire to fantasize about things you wished you could do and had not yet had enough experience with reality to realize that you couldn’t. Before you knew it, you were 19 and quietly entered another stage of life development called Exploration.
Exploration lasts from 19-25 years of age. This stage is composed of characteristics described as trial, transition, and stabilization. Your younger days set the stage for you to focus on real interests. You experimented with them and sorted them out. Gradually, you went through the sorting out process and started to stabilize your interests. Job changes were many and varied as you looked for where you really fit. Instinctively, you knew that you needed to settle down and decide on a real career path. You were getting older. You had just turned 26! Where did all that time go?
Quietly, you had just entered the Establishment phase of your life. This occurs during the ages of 26-45. This stage is characterized by advancement, frustration, and consolidation. Instinctively, you knew that you were experiencing the most productive years of your life. Advancement was very important and you were willing to pay the price for achievement of career goals and success. But, another reality was also becoming evident. You were competing against others who were just as focused on the advancement of their careers as you were on yours. You were starting to see that some of these folks were better than you were and that gave them a better shot at that promotion or opportunity you thought you had locked up. You started to get a bit frustrated about where you are going and when you were going to get there. Okay, maybe you were not as good as some others, but there were certain things no one could beat you at. Gradually, you started consolidating your activities so that these strengths became evident to all. And, by the way, while all this was going on, you just celebrated your 45th birthday.
Welcome to the Maintenance stage of your life. This stage will be with you from 45-60. You have 3 choices here: innovation, stagnation, and/or upgrading. By now you have a very clear picture of yourself, if you are honest about it. Perhaps this realization gives you some insight into how you can use these skills and experiences and apply them innovatively to your current career or an entirely new one. Maybe you fall into the trap believing that life has dealt you an unfair hand and now you are too old to start anything new. Call this approach stagnation. Perhaps you have done some real soul searching and you have reached the conclusion that the best thing you can do is upgrade your skills and take a fresh new approach to competing in the work place. As I said, you have 3 choices here. Make your decisions quickly, because before you know it, you’ll be celebrating your 60th birthday and you’ll be entering that stage known as Decline.
The Decline stage applies to folks in the ages 60-75. The options you have here are retirement, specialization, and disengagement. Some people can’t wait for retirement. Certainly this is a reasonable option after a life of work. Others are by no means ready for retirement. They have gone through their skills and experience inventories and have decided to specialize and continue working and having fun. There is another group as well. They size everything up and decide to disengage from work and other aspects of their life. Said another way, they just lose a sense of direction because age has come upon faster than they had anticipated and they are not prepared for it.
Maybe some of this now sounds familiar to you. Maybe some of this has caused you to make decisions about your career and your life. Maybe some of this applies to your people and some of them are going to make the same kinds of decisions that you did or are about to.
Hopefully, now you’ll understand that sometimes leaving one company and going somewhere else is part of growing up. But then, you knew that all along, didn’t you?
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