Service anniversaries are normally really fun events. They give us a chance to congratulate folks for their efforts over time, reminisce a bit, and even roast colleagues for things we’ve shared over years of working together.

I attended one, recognizing a long-term employee’s service to the company. When the usual stuff was over (started on this date, had these jobs, etc.), someone asked, “What does it feel like to work for a company for so many years?”

His response was quick and simple: “It doesn’t feel like I’ve worked for this company that long, because this isn’t the same company as when I started.”

I looked up. This was not a knock on our company. Instead, he described many recent changes – new divisions, leadership, technology, business models, mergers and acquisitions, start-ups, a new employee value proposition, and changes to our mission and vision, a new strategic plan – all part of a new cultural environment. These are changes designed to keep our core mainstream business vibrant and strong and at the same time create new streams of business opportunities.

Change. Disruption. Opportunities. He acknowledged all three factors for his personal and professional growth and development, then thanked current and former bosses for opportunities to develop, learn and grow.It was a fun event, and after the comments, some congratulations and a little cake, I headed back to my office.

The first item in my inbox was from another long-term employee. This was someone I’ve known for years, and a similar service anniversary was on the horizon. But the tone of the email was different.

She explained that after basically working in the same area for an entire career, the energy and excitement of coming to work was not the same as it was years ago. Her supervisor was “ineffective and uncaring.” Over the years, more had been asked of her – more work, more technology, but with fewer people. At times, she said the resulting stress was unbearable.

“So, it’s time for me to go,” the email continued. “I wanted to stay a few more years, but this place has just changed too much.”

Change. Disruption. Opportunities lost.  

What’s so different about these two situations? Obviously these are different people, with different skills, motivations and ambitions. They come from different backgrounds and value things differently. Their supervisors likely had different skills and effectiveness (or a lack thereof).

One employee moved around the company a bit. The concept of up, down and sideways was not only embraced, but lived. There was active personal learning and reinvention. In a way, work was more than a job. It was an extension of self. Or perhaps to this employee, working was was what my friend and colleague, Bill Westrate, described in his recent guest blog here as “a place where you can bring your heart, your passions, and your personal commitments.”

For the other employee, this was a job. Yes, a good place to earn a living, but something to set aside at the end of the day. And when the job life started getting too much into the home life, this employee became out of balance and wasn’t able to get that balance back. It’s easy for this to happen.

I fully understand and recognize both types of folks are in our workforce. And, yes, both are important to a company’s success. As leaders, we must find ways to reach both.

Here’s my challenge: How do we each think through how we deal with change, disruption and opportunities in the future – for our organizations and for ourselves? And, how do we find support from within and from each other to overcome the obstacles that accompany all three?

Change. Disruptions. Opportunities. How will you respond?