Bob Drayer has no plans to quit delivering the mail as hes happily done for the U.S. Postal Service since 1958.
By DIANE STAFFORD
The Kansas City Star
Banking center manager Michael Robie unabashedly says he lives and breathes Commerce green, and has since he started as a teller in 1974.
Peggy Dawson believes shes following her calling at Liberty Hospital, where shes been in a demanding nursing job for 38 years.
On this Labor Day, when some surveys calculate employee loyalty at an all-time low, Kansas City area workplaces still abound with long-standing workers who have stayed with one employer through ups and downs.
Many of them escaped layoffs. Many also ignored opportunities to go elsewhere. They found a work/life fit, a job that fulfills their professional and psychological needs.
They can be something of a curiosity. Statistics put the median private-sector job tenure at four years and the public-sector median at seven years. But there are many lifers with single employers.
The Employee Benefit Research Institute says about 17 percent of wage and salary workers age 55-59 have at least 25 years of on-the-job tenure, as have about 19 percent of employees in the 60-64 age group.
Ive had opportunities to go someplace else, but I liked it here, ever since the owner took me under his wing, said Donald Phillips, a lifer who was hired at Klemp Electric Motor to clean up after a fire in 1977.
Phillips stayed on, learned the electric motor and pump business, and now is buying the Kansas City, Kan., company from the Klemp family.
Ive seen a lot of people come and go, said Herb Klemp, son of the Klemp Electric founder. Don came and stayed and became second to none in our business. Hes basically been running the business for the last eight years.
At VF Jeanswear in Merriam, formerly Lee Jeans, Mary Baska has been employed for 44 years, ever since she was fresh out of high school.
Some people call me the Lee welcome wagon, said Baska, whos in charge of the phone system and shares receptionist work. I talk to everybody Ive probably survived eight or 10 rounds of layoffs here, horrible times when very good friends were laid off. But this has been a nice place to work, and Id say the same even if they laid me off.
Leigh Branham, the Overland Park-based author of The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave and other employee retention books, said years of combing through workplace exit surveys reveal that most employees are pushed out the door by work conditions or management rather than pulled away by personal reasons, such as choosing to change careers, return to school or relocate.
About one-fourth of the total workforce turns over every year, Branham said. The most frequent push for leaving? Lack of trust or confidence in senior leaders, according to his exit interview research.
The Great Recession, which caused job cuts, reduced employee benefits, and pay and hiring freezes, changed the perception of job security. At the same time, young people entered the workforce with no expectation of lifetime employment.
Peter Cappelli, director of the Wharton Center for Human Resources, has written extensively about how employers see employees as short-term resources and workers increasingly see themselves as talent ready to sell themselves to the highest bidder.
Indeed, a recent CareerBuilder survey found that three-fourths of full-time workers said they may not be actively looking for a new job, but theyd leave their current workplace if the right job came along.
And a MetLife report on employee trends, issued this spring, said one in three employees hopes to be working for a different employer in 2012.
Joy in the job
Yet there are people like Drayer, the postal worker, who sounds truly befuddled when asked whether hed ever wanted to do anything else.
Ive always liked the Postal Service, he said, noting that the National Association of Letter Carriers has helped improve working conditions over the years. After 50 years on the job, he no longer has to pay union dues and considers that a nice bonus for his tenure.
Drayer credits good genes for his ability to keep a mail route going at age 77. But mostly I just like delivering the mail. It feels like you really accomplish something at the end of the day. And I really enjoy meeting people and making friends. Its joyful for me.
That kind of joy is foreign to many workers who simply go through the motions on the job. But it has sustained workers like Robie, the branch manager for Commerce Bank at 89th and State Line.
Im so happy with the relationships Ive made with our customers, Robie said. Im seeing third and fourth generations. Theyre close to me, and Im close to them. I know about their weddings, their births, their deaths. I have no desire to go anywhere else.
And there are workers like Frank Dodd, who after 43 years of selling mattresses is still enthused about what he sells.
I dont know if people realize the opportunities with mattresses, said Dodd, who represents Sealy in the Kansas City area and all of Kansas. The more you do it, the more you learn about it. You just get excited about it. With all these new foam products and new air beds its real interesting to stay on top of it. There are new and exciting products.
Dodd said some people might think he just got stuck, but the job produced a good living.
I sent four kids to college. Ive been able to earn as much as my friends who are professionals, like attorneys, because I knew the field. I knew how to compete, he said.
For Dawson, the registered nurse at Liberty Hospital, the passion isnt for a product but for being part of a few minutes that can save peoples lives.
In the GI (gastrointestinal) lab where Ive worked for the last 19 years, we do invasive procedures, Dawson said. Were always on the lookout for cancer. And when we catch colon cancer early, we make a difference. We may just spend a little time with each patient, but we can have such an impact on their future.
Thats the rewarding part of nursing for me. Its a demanding job, but the rewards overshadow the demands.
Longevity on a job doesnt always include a burning passion, though. Sometimes, its simply comfortable.
Susan Miller is in her 40th year working for the Family Support Division in Missouris Department of Social Services. She began as a caseworker and now manages the Independence branch office, overseeing food stamp and Medicaid eligibility.
Ive thought about why I stayed, Miller said. Partly I think its because my parents instilled a work ethic in me, a never-quit attitude. Im also someone who doesnt take a lot of risks. Im very comfortable in my position.
With staff cutbacks and a three-year hiring freeze, the workload grew heavier along with the client base.
Theres stress, and sometimes it wears me out, Miller said. But Im grateful for my job. Id recommend it to people who are looking for work.
For Hank DeLong, his comfortable work site since 1975 has been a truck. For at least the last decade, hes been transporting plumbing supplies from a warehouse for Mo-Kan Distribution Service.
DeLong, 59, said hes weathered a knee replacement and shoulder surgery plus a prostate cancer diagnosis, so hes grateful for the health-care coverage he gets through his employer.
I could have made more money somewhere else probably, DeLong said. But Ive felt dedicated to the owner here. And Id like to stay on. Sometimes I think I wouldnt mind doing something different. Id like to have a woodworking shop. But the truck is where I need to be now.
The economy and rounds of layoffs, mergers and corporation relocations took choices away from many workers who would have like to stay. Those who have survived in their jobs sometimes wonder at their good luck and sometimes look back on purposeful moves.
Kevin McGrath started working at Baptist Memorial Hospital in 1972. After a merger it became Baptist Lutheran Medical Center. Then it became the Research Medical Center Brookside Campus. Along the way, McGrath had at least a half-dozen job changes or promotions.
My philosophy was to keep my head down, do my job and see whatever else needed to be done and always volunteer for extra duty, McGrath said. As other people got laid off, I assumed their duties and tried to keep a good attitude about it.
At one point, McGrath said, he figured he was unlikely to keep the vice president job that he held at that time.
So I recommended to my president that he demote me. I offered to do that and take a cut in pay, he said. It worked out good for me and for the organization. I knew what I was good at and I knew what I didnt like.
With his long history, McGrath knew a lot of physicians and understood hospital operations. He knew where hed fit as the liaison, or troubleshooter, between physicians and the hospital.
On Friday, his tenure finally ended. He retired at age 65.
To reach Diane Stafford, call 816-234-4359 or send email to email@example.com.