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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Working in America

One of the more interesting things I’ve noticed, as a career consultant, is that most of my clients have multiple and diverse work backgrounds. Most of them do not seem to stay very long in a particular job, company or city. My observation is that most Americans would have had between four to six jobs and would have lived in three to five different cities by the time they reach 30.

Take one of my current clients, while he was born and raised in St. Louis (Missouri) and his family resides in that area, he started his career working as a marketing assistant in Portland (Oregon) while in college, moved on to becoming a marketing and events rep for a different company (still in Portland) for another year, moved to Seattle (Washington) and worked as a Events Organizer for two and a half years, moved to Lincoln (Nebraska) and worked as a Public Relations Associate for a year and a half, transferred to San Jose (California) to take a job as a Marketing Manager for a little over two years, and is finally in Los Angeles (California) and has been a Manager for Events Marketing since January 2006. That’s 6 different jobs in 5 different cities and he just turned 29.

I think what amazes me, aside from the fact that this is a country that possess an incredibly transient workforce, is the fact that it is very different from the work style / behavior of folks back where I come from. In Manila, most people stay in the same job for many, many, many years. In fact, I worked for only one company in Manila for over 4 years and would probably have stayed on had I not decided to go back to school. My dad has been with same company for over 35 years (ok, granted that it’s his company so it’s a little different). But most of my dad’s employees have been with the company for 10, 15, 20, 25 years. Also, Jojo’s dad worked for the same company throughout his professional career, slowly rising through the ranks. So the trend is pretty similar. And even with the remote possibility that an employee may for whatever reason leave a job, you can bet that the chances he will still live in the same place and find another job that is close to where he lives or where he used to work is almost certain.

In the States, it is the other way around, people tend to live where they work. No qualms about picking up and moving half-way across the country to take another job and find another place to live. People generally seem to relocate without as much hesitation or with less sense of indecisiveness. They will most of the time leave a company because a better opportunity presents itself. And many times have no reservations about resigning if they are unhappy and dissatisfied with their current employer.

I came up with several rationalizations (from the Pinoy perspective) to explain the differences:
- First, there are the obvious reasons, the Philippine economy is certainly not as robust as the U.S. economy, so good jobs are harder to find and good companies to work for are much more rare. Then there is the geographic limitations, the Philippines is a smaller country with fewer “business centers” so the prospect of moving to a better job (in another city) is therefore more limited as well.
- But more than that, I think it is the mentality too. Filipinos have a very strong sense of family (and community). This is manifested in two ways. First, they view their workplace as family, which explains why they stay in each company for a longer period of time. Second, because of that sense of family, most Filipinos live with or close to their families and moving away (even for a better job) is rarely done.
- More so, most Filipinos like to “settle down”, when they find a good home, a good job, and are comfortable where they are, it is quite rare for them to “look elsewhere” for greener pastures.
- The Filipino nature has often been described as (for lack of a better word) “forgiving”, where they often take the good with the bad. In the workplace, Filipinos are very forgiving of their employers and often overlook grievances. It would probably take a very HUGE offense on the part of the employer for an employee to quit his job. It goes both ways. Most companies/employers are very magnanimous towards their employees and are very respectful towards and strongly reward seniority, loyalty, and trustworthiness.

I am definitely not saying one way of doing things is better than the other. As it usually is when comparing two cultures, one is not better or worse than the other, just different. These rationalizations can work either for the good of or are detrimental towards the employee and the employer. I can actually argue it both ways. But the point I am trying to make here is this is one of the things I find thorny in adjusting to life here (as an individual born and raised as a Filipino – and used to that work mentality – to try to adjust and establish a career here in the States).

For example, a few weeks ago, I was offered an opportunity to interview with a company in Cupertino. The company was willing to send me a plane ticket and make arrangements to fly me up there for an interview. Before I even got the job (and before I even considered going for the interview), I had already shut down the possibility of relocating. In my mind, I argued, I would never consider asking my husband to leave his job for mine, I couldn’t imagine selling our home (which I absolutely love), and I didn’t want to think about living away from the family I have here. I am too comfortable with my life here that imagining a different and uncertain one was too big a leap for me.

I know that contradicts the fact that I did make a big leap by leaving home and coming here for an education. See, I used to think I was the exception rather than the rule. But now that I’m at this stage (now that I’m 31!), maybe I’m falling into that pattern of “settling” and “getting too comfortable”. Maybe I'm limiting myself too much and passing up on more "what-could-be's". Or maybe I'm just being true to who I am and what feels right. I 'm not sure. It’s something that I have been thinking about a lot lately.

P.S. The sweeping generalizations I have made with this post are just that, generalizations. And although there are obviously people (both Filipinos and Americans) who differ from the norm, for the purpose of my post, I’ve decided to go ahead and, well, generalize.


jml said...

You certainly have given me food for thought with this blog entry. I guess more than nationality it is one's personal goal that determines the choices made in life. So depending on your goal in life one can be happy settled in one place or scurrying about in search of better and grander opportunities.

jol said...

I will hasten to add ambition and personal upbringing as additional factors that could make a person leave home and go elsewhere for a job. It is also this feeling of contentment and inability to cope up with change that leads us to do nothing for our personal and family upliftment. But it has worked wonders to those who venture into uncharted territories.

Joanne said...

I absolutely agree that ultimately it is a person's character (shaped by nature and nurture) that determines his decisions in life (including settling / relocating). However, I think my post was more about current and evident trends that I have noticed both here and back home. And yes, there are definitely exceptions (such as many of the people we know who went abroad for higher education and ended up working here or the so-called unsung heroes, ("OCWs") Overseas Contract Workers).