What did Mieke van den Oord (65) see change most in the office? The exit from paper, she says without a doubt. Physical diaries made way for Google Calendar, cash and ledger changed into excel sheets and PDFs.
But really special for her was the first digital copier. “You used to have a large Xerox machine, for one copy you had to do two actions,” she says. “Did you want to copy a report eighty-fold? Well, then you sat behind such a device all day.” And then you also had to be careful not to burn your hands on the machine, or that papers didn’t go up in flames. “You developed dexterity in that.”
This month, Van den Oord celebrates her fiftieth anniversary at PwC – and her retirement at the same time. She started at a small accountancy firm in Vught, which merged into the international accountancy and consultancy firm through mergers and acquisitions, and worked as a secretary and receptionist, among other things. Now she is an HR employee in the Eindhoven office. “I was never bored for a day. But after fifty years it has been beautiful.”
Job hopping and flexible working
The labor market has changed in recent decades. The job for life seems to have disappeared, replaced by flexibilization and terms such as job hopping, flexible working and self-employed. According to the Verwey-Jonkers Institute, 40 percent of the Dutch working population performed in 2016 a form of flexible work – these statistics mainly concern starters and the less educated.
According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, 25 to 45-year-olds change wisselen twice as often out of work as over 45s. Is it conceivable for young people to work for the same boss for another fifty years, such as Van den Oord at PwC?
Occupational sociologist Fabian Dekker sees no major differences in the length of employment with the same employer between the young generations of the past and those of today. He is affiliated with the Erasmus University in Rotterdam and did labor mobility research of different age groups over a period of fifteen years. “On average, about 30 percent of employees change jobs every two years, we saw,” says Dekker. “That hasn’t really changed in those fifteen years.”
The economic situation in particular determines whether employees change jobs, not so much age or generation, he says. “If the economy is good, there will be more job changes. If the economy is worse, there is less change.”
Also read: With all that flexible work, the Netherlands is unique
Temporary starting positions
It is difficult to predict whether the young people of today will have long-term employment contracts less often, says Agnes Akkerman, professor of labor relations at Radboud University in Nijmegen. The labor market has changed, yes, especially for starters and the lower educated. “Starting positions are often temporary and young people are likely to change jobs more often because of their age.”
According to her, this says nothing about mobility on the labor market as those generations get older. “It may well be that people in their late twenties, thirty years from now, will also have been working for the same employer for 25 years. That cannot yet be ascertained.”
She sees more stability emerging in the current ‘older’ generation, the people in their thirties and forties. “Employees gain more work experience over time, which ultimately makes them eligible for longer-term contract types.”
According to Akkerman, many people still want a permanent job. A large part of society is geared to permanent employment. Buying a house, for example. A mortgage is still much easier to take out with a permanent contract.
In addition, a permanent job provides the security that many people are looking for, for example when starting a family, says researcher Dekker. “In addition, long-term employment also shows recognition and appreciation from the employer towards the employee,” he says. “Long-term employment is more than just security. It is also a kind of psychological contract.”
Still, wages can change employers, says Dekker. “You sometimes see that people stick around for too long with their employer and are actually already mentally retired from their boss. Then it might be wise to look around you to see if there is anything else.”
A little family
The labor market itself has changed, but shifting cultural views about work can also influence how long someone stays with the same boss, says Ton Wilthagen, professor of the labor market at Tilburg University. According to him, the current generation of young people think differently about work and staying with the same boss for a long time than young people of the past.
“Companies used to be more of a community. There were not lean, mean and agile, but a bit of family,” says Wilthagen. That tied people to the company. Philips, for example, which had its own sports club, a health service, a pensioners’ association and a student fund for employees’ children. “Now, as a large multinational, it is probably still a good employer, but employees may feel less part of a close-knit community.”
That changed in the 1970s and 1980s, says Wilthagen, when neoliberal thinking also made its way into the Netherlands. “There was a rationalization of the HR policy. The outlook on workforce management and the idea of a corporate community changed. We started recruiting more with assessments and systems to see if someone was productive. The emphasis was much more on efficiency.”
According to him, this also gave many people the idea that staying with the same company for a long time is not always positive. “I see in younger generations that they have the idea that they have to switch jobs and employers every now and then as a sign of their ambition,” says Wilthagen. He also sees a kind of discomfort around staying with the same boss for a long time. “A colleague celebrating the 40th anniversary said: ‘I’m actually a dinosaur here’. Some feel they have to apologize for working long hours somewhere.”
What have they seen change in recent decades?
Mieke van den Oord (65) 50 years of service at PwC
“The work has become more international. The working language at PwC is increasingly English. Logical of course, but that means you can no longer keep up with younger employees. That sometimes makes me insecure. And of course the internet: you used to receive handwritten applications and you could immediately see whether someone was a slob. If the stamp was upside down or the address was on the wrong side, for example. Now all letters look the same and colleagues are the first to grab an applicant’s Instagram account.
“The position of women in the labor market is of course also different now. In fact, as a girl in the 1970s, you had three choices: become a nurse, work in the store, or in the office. Now the world is open and women also have many more options. That’s good, but for myself I’m fine with the way it used to be. All those choices don’t make it any easier.”
Hans Rustwat (59) 43 years of service at Albert Heijn
“I started at the age of seventeen with a part-time job at the Albert Heijn in Zwijndrecht. I now work there again, only now as a supermarket manager. I worked in the meat department and went to the butcher’s school through my employer. That was when there were many more control departments in the supermarkets – for meat, cheese and even fruit and vegetables. In between, I also worked at various Albert Heijn offices.
“The opening hours of shops are now longer. There are also fewer people working in the store than in the past. Many operating departments have gone and self-scan checkouts have been added, for example. And when I started, after two months you got a permanent contract of 40 hours and you worked from nine to six.
“Now we have a lot of people working in short shifts, of about three or four hours a day. As a result, the distribution is now different: more part-timers, fewer people who are employed full-time. I think the proportions have loosened up a bit. A manager is much more accessible than before. The hierarchy has decreased. Young people are much more vocal, I think.”
Arie Broekhof (59) 40 years of service at KLM
“I started at the age of nineteen as a mechanic at KLM’s technical department. Now, after learning a lot at the company, I am a maintenance and safety manager. Of course, aircraft have changed technologically – they are much more modern, quieter, more economical and safer. Safety in the workplace has also improved and the company has become less hierarchical. Colleagues are now more likely to speak out to a manager if they think something is going wrong.
“In addition, many women have joined. When I became a mechanic in another part of the company after ten years, there were two female mechanics there. That was refreshing: the technology was really a man’s world. But it has improved. In my current department, about 15 percent are women.
“Of course it could be better, and it should be. But sometimes change is slow. When I had my first child in the mid-1990s, I wanted to apply for parental leave. That was just included in our collective labor agreement. But my personnel manager said: no, we don’t do that at the technical service. I thought that was weird. I started the conversation and eventually got parental leave. Since then, many colleagues have followed.”