Tenure Policies: The Debate that Goes Round and Round

This is the third post in our Tenure Policy series. Read the second and third posts here.

Groundhog Day, the 1993 movie starring Bill Murray is always on a perpetual loop on cable over the holidays. I know this, because we watched it two-and-a-half times. We laughed at the “meta-ness” of the situation, watching a movie about a man living Groundhog Day on repeat, on repeat.

A topic constantly “on repeat” back in my program management days was our newly instituted tenure policy. Managers didn’t agree, the legal team wanted the policy even tighter and all the while, the PMO was trying to find the hidden violators of the policy (whether or not the hiding was intentional was up for debate). 

If tenure policies are causing all of this angst, why do we have them?  Here are a few common scenarios we hear from customers:

1. Co-employment concerns:  Customers still live in fear of the Vizcaino V. Microsoft case, which centered on temporary and freelance employees’ eligibility to participate in the employee stock purchase plan. Because Microsoft did not exclude external labor in the creation of the ESPP, the courts examined the definition of “common law employee” with tenure being one determining factor. To avoid this costly misstep, create language in your benefits policies that exclude temporary and/or freelance workers from these benefits.  

2. Tradition: Many customers created their tenure policies years ago and are committed to them. I understand the angst around changing the way a program works. You finally have processes documented, buy-in from all levels of the organization and things are running smoothly. Why change them now? I am a big advocate of reviewing all of the program policies on a regular basis -- maybe not annually, but every two or three years. If you use an external MSP or VMS, why not incorporate policy reviews around contract renewal time? Take time to review the policy, onboarding processes, standard reporting package: are they still adding value? Are they still relevant? If not, make the commitment to change them.

3. Driving Total Workforce Management Strategy: It’s music to my ears when program offices come to me and say, “We have a tenure policy because we want to encourage our managers to think about why they are keeping a worker.” It’s clear the policy was created with a clear purpose. These program offices are asking themselves important questions. Is the worker continuing to perform in an acceptable manner? Is there a continued need for that role?  And, if the role continuation is imminent, do we continue to fill this role on a temporary basis? It also gives managers a way out when resources have failed to perform their activities acceptably.

In the coming weeks, we will look deeper at these three scenarios, at tenure and tenure policies: what makes them work, what makes them fail and when does it make sense to say good bye to yours.