Just a few weeks ago, I packed my belongings and turned in my Boeing badge. While my reasons for leaving are an important topic, I first want to focus on why I stayed so long.
Recent research from CareerBuilder.com suggests that nearly 50% of college graduates stay with their first employer for less than two years, yet I stayed with mine for almost thirteen. Why did I stay?
It wasn’t the products or industry. One would not have described me as an aerospace fanatic when I joined the company in 2005. And while I think Boeing’s products are incredible, they still aren’t my preferred dinner conversation topic today.
It wasn’t the culture either. While elements of the culture suited me well, many did not. Boeing is a huge, complex enterprise, heavily influenced by government contracts, FAA regulations, manufacturing safety precautions, and more. As a result, the policies, procedures, and organizational structures in place make it challenging to drive progressive, exciting changes quickly. As someone who lives for producing quick results, this was tough.
So, what exactly did keep me? Three things.
1. Great managers. The most influential factor in employee performance and satisfaction is the employee–supervisor relationship (source: Gallup). This rang loud and true for me.
- First, I felt valued by my leaders. They recognized and affirmed my strengths and gave me opportunities to contribute in meaningful ways. But beyond valuing my contributions, they valued my perspective and made it clear that my opinion mattered. They valued me, not just my output.
- Second, they encouraged my growth, pushed me beyond my comfort zone, and coached me as I took on new challenges. They invested in my development. Feeling worthy of someone's investment (both time and money) is one of the most inspiring, humbling, and trust–building things I've encountered.
- Third, and probably most importantly, they cared about me as a whole person, not just an employee. When my husband and I needed to move out of state, I assumed it meant my time was done, but instead my manager proposed a trial virtual work arrangement. That trial turned into years of virtual work with frequent site visits. While this may not sound all that extraordinary in today’s expanding world of telecommuting, it was extraordinary at Boeing and reached far beyond company norms. The ‘caring about me as a whole person’ continued... My world turned upside–down when I became a mother. For years, I had been able to pour my ambitious self into striving for excellence at work, but suddenly as a working mom, continuing on that path wasn't feasible. It felt impossible to meet my standards in both worlds (career and personal) and I lived the first year of working–mom life self–sacrificing to extremes in order to maintain high performance across the board. This resulted in relentless stress, little sleep, and mild depression. Simply put, I was a mess. Thankfully, I had a manager who cared. We decided to test a four–day workweek schedule. This small shift had a significant impact. It saved me. It lifted the fog in which I had been wandering for the prior twelve months. My leaders risked their own reputations to fight against cultural norms on my behalf, so you better believe I whole–heartedly gave my best blood, sweat, and tears in return.
Managers who lead like this build trust and loyalty. You’ve heard the statement, “People don’t leave companies, they leave managers.” This is true, but what's even more powerful is when people stay because of managers. I stayed because of mine. (shout out to James, Raegan, and Faith!)
2. Work that mattered to me. I cared about the work I was doing. Throughout most of my career at Boeing, I was able to focus on people development across many stages of the talent pipeline. Some of the work that mattered most to me included helping first–generation college students find confidence and prepare for success; coaching passionate new hires as they navigated the first years of their careers; developing thoughtful, humble leaders who could serve their employees well; and designing talent development programs that shifted cultural norms.
Work doesn’t feel like work when it aligns with your passions. Finding this alignment is a journey for many. Some don’t even think it’s possible. But I assure you, it is. And if you aren’t doing work that matters to you, don’t settle. We spend one–third of our lives working—make it meaningful. Doing work I cared about at Boeing was instrumental in keeping me motivated and engaged.
3. Colleagues who became friends. Again, we spend one–third of our lives working, which means we spend a lot of time with our coworkers. My team at Boeing was remarkable. Many of those colleagues have become some of my closest friends. Allowing colleagues to be more than just coworkers creates community and brings life and joy to work.
I am incredibly grateful for my almost thirteen years at The Boeing Company—for the opportunities I was given, but more importantly, for the people who valued, challenged, and cared for me. They are the reason I stayed.
And now, in this new phase of my career, I hope to influence based on the ways in which I have been influenced. To help managers become great, trusted leaders who inspire their employees. To help individuals find meaning in their work. And to help organizations create teams and cultures where people feel a sense of pride and belonging; where people want to stay.
Abbey uses over a decade of talent management experience to help organizations drive business results through enhanced employee engagement. She is passionate about empowering individuals and teams to be their best. She's also a mom to two sweet girls, a wife to one good man, and a fan of running and hosting dinner parties.