Promiscuous managers: A new kind of manager has arisen from the ashes of jobs-for-life. According to a survey carried out by Robert Half International on behalf of MT, these individuals brazenly shift allegiance from one full-time employer to the next or

Promiscuous managers: A new kind of manager has arisen from the ashes of jobs-for-life. According to a survey carried out by Robert Half International on behalf of MT, these individuals brazenly shift allegiance from one full-time employer to the next or

by RHYMER RIGBY
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

If you're hoping for an article suffused with stationery cupboard fumblings and riven with indiscretions at the Christmas party, prepare to be disappointed. In today's business world, the promiscuous manager is not a boss who sleeps around. Rather, he or she is a boss who works around, dumping their current company every few years for a sexier, more attractive one.

And Britain's managers, especially (surprise) the younger ones, are very promiscuous indeed, according to a study carried out for Management Today by Robert Half International Management Resources (RHI). Overall, some 67% of respondents dismissed the job-for-life, ranking it bottom of a list of key demands for their working lives. In the younger group (under 35), this figure was even more stark at 77%. The survey's other key finding was that the under-35s are far less loyal to their employers than their silver-haired counterparts. Although 72% of those aged 55-plus wanted to stay with their current employers, an almost equal percentage (73%) of the under-35 age group said they wanted to move on. These younger managers clearly walk the talk: more than half had worked at four or more companies.

'What this shows,' explains Richard Carter, RHI's European executive director, 'is that people are no longer relying on their companies to provide career development or even satisfaction - they want a more maverick lifestyle.' This view is echoed by survey participant Kenny Miller, the general manager of John McKinnel & Co. 'Nowadays people don't expect to be in one company for their whole lives,' he says. 'If they don't feel sufficiently rewarded then they simply look elsewhere.'

In many ways, though, it is to be expected that today's youthful managers are promiscuous. Over the past 20 years, the world of work has changed beyond all recognition. In the early 1980s, corporate man woke up to discover that graduation-to-grave employment no longer existed. A few years later, there was the predictable employee backlash of 'Me plc'. Those in demand discovered they could move where they wanted and name their price. Today's 35-year-olds would have joined the workforce back in the late 1980s. They would never have known the secure if humdrum world of work that went before. Small wonder they are promiscuous - they don't know any better.

But this doesn't mean that the promiscuous manager is some new Machiavellian breed. Rather, they represent the latest twist in the Protean employer-employee relationship: 'It's not about jettisoning loyalty. It's people staying with people as long as they get the deal they want,' says Miller.

Employers can continue to expect some sort of loyalty 'if they motivate and challenge people and pay them as well as they can. But if they pay them the minimum they can and the people are good, someone'll pay them more.'

At the age of 34, Miller has worked for five organisations, moving each time to further his career. 'I was offered a better package and prospects each time.' He hopes his current business will grow with him, 'but I don't envisage being here for more than two or three years.' It is perhaps axiomatic then, that 91% of younger managers said that career development was the responsibility of the individual. And the young do not want to work until they become old: 55% said they wanted to retire at 55 or younger.

So is all this about money? It is often said that the only way to get the pay rise you want is to find a new job. But - perhaps surprisingly - today's footloose younger managers are motivated by the desire to gain more responsibility. Thirty-two per cent said this would have the greatest influence on their decision to change jobs; while another 18% cited a greater challenge; and a mere 14% said pay alone would be the biggest reason. Across all age groups, respondents said job satisfaction was key to their working lives.

A further trend was that the young want flexibility. An astounding 100% of all the younger group interviewed said they were attracted by the idea of working from home; this contrasts with only half of older managers.

But promiscuity is not necessarily limited to the young. Some people in their late thirties and older - who already have a fair stash of managerial experience under their belt - have taken a different tack. They become interim managers, meaning that they work on short-term projects for a company and then move on. The obvious advantage is that this allows far greater room for man-oeuvre than more conventional jobs might offer. 'I took 12 weeks off last year,' says Bettina Harvey, a project manager at Sun Life. 'It was for a charity bike ride from Canada to Mexico. There are not many companies that will let you do that.' She also sails extensively, and later this year will be taking her mountain bike to Peru.

'It's a quality of life issue,' says Harvey. 'Some people get their enjoyment out of work - I get more enjoyment out of the other thing.' Moreover, she explains, there has been no financial sacrifice. 'Contract work pays well, so you tend to get a little more for less. Even with so much time off, I'm still on a good salary.'

There is, of course, a downside to all this fun and flexibility. Interim managers, unless they are prepared to make a concerted effort, take themselves off the normal career ladder. 'It tends to be people in their late thirties and early forties,' says Carter. 'They've reached a level where they know they can do a job and career progression is not the priority it once was, but they want to stay interested with a variety of challenges.'

Harvey agrees: 'There's not much of a logical progression. It's all project-type work and - unless you're very committed - it's not an obvious way to become finance director.'

So is all this bad news for companies? Not at all. In principle, there's no reason why both sides shouldn't win. Businesses often prefer their workforce flexible: you only have to look at industries such as television - where practically everyone is on a contract - to see that this type of arrangement can work for everyone. In a world where companies re-invent themselves every five years, individuals should be doing at least the same. So if your company isn't looking as attractive as it did when you joined it four or five years back, get out there with your best CV and put yourself about a bit. Get promiscuous.

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