Why Don’t the Young People Want to Work Here?

Nov 19, 2007

Lawrence Tunican was really starting to wonder what was wrong. Was the company he started nearly 30 years ago— Tunican Engineering— that uncool of a place to work? He could not hire young people any more. And when he was actually successful in hiring someone under 30, they didn’t stay very long on the job. Tunican Engineering was a good engineering company. It did quality work and had a great client list. Larry Tunican was a fixture in the engineering community there in Cleveland. He never missed an ASCE or ACEC meeting and was known and loved by many. To solve his problem, Larry took a multi-pronged approach. He got his son, a marketing major in his junior year at Ohio State, to do a little study. He interviewed all of his employees, and did post-mortems on all those under 30 who quit during the last two years. He simultaneously put some employee discussion groups together, each headed by one of the firm’s associates, the purpose of the meetings was to talk about how to make Tunican Engineering a better place for younger people to work. Here are some of the findings from both of these efforts: There was no known ownership transition plan. Younger people in our business often aspire to ownership, even if they don’t really understand all that it entails. They need to know that door is not closed or they might feel the need to work elsewhere. There was no known leadership transition plan. Larry Tunican told no one when he was going to retire. There was no plan whatsoever. That, again, can be distressing to younger people who want to know who is going to be running the place where they work. The place looked stodgy. From the 1967 walnut reception desk to the conference room chairs that looked like GSA refugees to the decades-old sign out front, the atmosphere of Tunican Engineering screamed “old man.” It just wasn’t a place that young people were going to feel comfortable unless their idea of “comfort” in the workplace was their 88-year-old grandpa’s house. There weren’t any social activities for younger people. Other competing firms in the area had softball teams, Friday afternoon beer blasts, brown-bag lunches, and a whole lot more activities that brought their younger people together at the firm. The firm’s technology infrastructure was way behind. Larry didn’t like BlackBerries, fought buying laptops (people still had to check out a computer if they wanted to work at home), and saw no need to look at some new software that could radically improve the quality of the work they do. Younger people expect decent information technology. They have it at school and expect it at work! The firm’s policies were out-of-date. There was no third week of vacation until you worked at least 10 years at Tunican Engineering. They didn’t have paternity leave. Everyone had to be there between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., and there was zero flexibility, even for those who were parents of small children. These policies really turned off younger staff. When all was said and done, Larry Tunican implemented about half of the changes that his experts identified as necessary. Tunican Engineering fared a little better but not well enough to keep going on its own. Larry Tunican finally succumbed to an acquisition inquiry from Mega Firm, cashed out, and rode off into the sunset in his dark green Chevy Tahoe. Originally published 11/19/2007

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