When Rhonda Barrett went to work in 1976 for Willingway Hospital, she was hired to help prepare for a Joint Commission Accreditation Survey. Working with the late John Mooney, Jr., M.D. and his wife, the late Dot Mooney, she worked wherever she was needed.
Her first job was helping the front-office staff, and she became the first employee to file insurance claims on a full-time basis. She served as receptionist-secretary to Dot Mooney and also worked in medical records. She became personnel director in 1985 and remains in the position today.
Barrett is now the poster child for the American Baby Boomer labor force-characterized by extensive job knowledge, proficient work skills, and a mature mindset. But Barrett is not unique at Willingway Hospital, a nationally recognized alcohol- and drug-addiction treatment center. She, along with 10 other employees, were recognized at Willingway's recent semi-annual staff meeting for serving the hospital 20 years or longer.
According to Jimmy Mooney, CEO of Willingway Hospital, 34 percent of the hospital's 75 full-time employees have worked at the facility for more than 11 years.
The majority of the staff attribute their longevity to the work environment-one that Mooney said is built within a caring, family atmosphere.
For Barrett, she said she is committed to the hospital's desire to help people with the disease of addiction.
"I believe in what we do here," she said.
While Americans may perceive the workforce as one characterized by constant job switching, the opposite is actually true.
Chris Cunningham, a statistician with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in Atlanta, said employee tenure has actually risen steadily during the last decade. The median number of years that wage and salary workers had been with their current employers was 4.4 in January 2010, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in September.
This measure, referred to as employee tenure, has increased in the last decade from a median of 3.5 years to 4.4 years. Cunningham believes the aging of Baby Boomers is a major contributing factor to the increase.
"From 2000 to 2010, the labor force of workers 55 and older has increased by about 60 percent," Cunningham said. "The median tenure of wage and salary workers 55 years and older is about 10 years."
He also said that the increase from 4.1 years in 2008 to 4.4 years in 2010 was partially due to the recent recession where there were relatively large job losses among less-senior workers.
Another locally owned company, Braswell Foods, a specialty food manufacturer that employs 98 people, has six employees who have been on the payroll for more than 20 years.
"Dave Holly in our shipping and receiving department has the longest tenure with 47 years," said Andy Oliver, president of Braswell Foods. "He has been important to us because he knows the ins and outs of inventory control within our warehouse."
Oliver says that Holly is a hard worker who comes in early, stays late and does his job well.
"Dave actually tried to go into retirement for a year and came back to work for us because he's one of those people who loves to work," he said.
Patsy Lariscey, who has been employed by Braswell Foods for 28 years in the shipping and billing department, said she has stayed at the food manufacturer because of the quality of people.
"It's a family here and there's great unity," Lariscey said. "Working with people you like and experiencing new challenges every day has kept me very content in my position as logistics manager."
Mooney believes that his family's 40-bed hospital has benefitted greatly from employee loyalty.
"The veteran employees know our company and bring experience and stability to our hospital," he said. "We have very good benefits and pay competitively, but I don't believe these are the reasons why employees choose to stay so long. The most important factor in retaining employees is the work environment."
Mooney continued, "From the very beginning, my mother and father treated employees like family and practically adopted them as their own. A sense of family continues to be instilled in our company today. Because of our relationship-based philosophy, Willingway employees come to work with positive attitudes and continue to believe they can make a difference in other people's lives."