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Got retention issues? Try this refreshingly modern (and honest) job contract.

You know it. Your employees know it. They’re likely to stay with your company only for just a short while. Two years, four years, seven years max. Yet you both feel compelled to pretend otherwise, as if you’re committed to each other for life. It’s a relationship with a little secret, and it serves neither of you well. Kelly Palmer of Degreed, and formerly of LinkedIn, suggests there’s a better way. By mutually and openly recognizing the finite future together that lies ahead, employer and employee can enjoy an honest, win-win relationship. Palmer explains how this can work in her Big Think+ video, “Get 100 Percent from Your Talent — Amend the Employer-Employee Compact.”

Tour of duty

Palmer suggests viewing a new employee’s time ahead as a “tour of duty” with the company. Endowing that time with the shape of a single mission, or project, allows the company to give the employee’s work a shape, with its own metrics, goals, and end game, rather than defining it simply as a period during which the employee is expected to always give 100% to do, well, whatever the company wants. Expecting that level of commitment for everything forever is a tough ask — and silly since you both know the employee won’t be there forever anyway — but requesting it for a finite period and with a specific goal is far more likely to work out for both of you.
The other side of the bargain, says Palmer, is that the company commits to supporting the employee’s future success, wherever that may be, saying to the employee, “We as a company, in return, will totally invest in you. We’ll make sure you get the learning that you need, that you get to build new skills, gain new expertise, and have a great experience while you’re here.”
It could well be that at the end of an employee’s tour of duty, you’ll both want to embark on another together. Or it may be that employee’s next best step is moving on to a new organization. If so, that’s fine: Your arrangement’s been structured in anticipation of this outcome from the start, and, in any event, having had the full commitment of the employee throughout the just-completed tour of duty has been a win no matter how you slice it.

Scary but savvy

Palmer recognizes that the idea of viewing employees as temporary partners is unsettling. “But the reality is,” she says, in today’s business climate, “people just start looking for new jobs on their own.” They typically don’t announce what they’re up to until they’re already one foot out the door, and it’s too late to stop them.
Recognizing the curve of today’s typical career arc from the outset leaves you in a much better position because at the end of a tour of duty, instead of a suddenly vacant desk, the conversation and relationship continues.

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