Karen Lomas
October 25, 2013

Brass bands, Bowler Hats, Guvnor’s wife in her Sunday Best

I have a silver fob watch in my jewelery box that belonged to my Grandpa. Proper silver, with a Hallmark. Engraved behind the outer casing, that opens and closes with a pleasing little ‘pop’ and ‘snap’, are the words;



I do the inscription no justice, as this lacks the embellishment, little flourishes with the engraver’s tool, and the elegance in the way the letters follow the shape of the timepiece. Regardless, I cannot help but be amazed by the gift, and find myself wondering about the occasion upon which the watch was presented. I’m imagining the quaint Edwardian ceremony, honouring perhaps a number of employees at significant anniversaries; 5 years, 10 years, and finally the big Gold Watch handshake to the retirees. Bolwer hats, brass band, Guvner’s wife in her Sunday best. Smashing!

Fast forward to 2013 and what do you get for Five Years Perfect Attendance? Well if you’re lucky your mates might recognise the occasion and buy you a few pints, but more likely than not you moved on after 2 years and have only got a 1 year contract with the current lot. It’s not that there are no Welcome Drinks and Retirement Parties, but they have a lesser significance than when it was Jobs for Life.

In an article published in Career Development International, in 2006, Wolfgang Mayrhofer and Alexandre Iellatchitch (!) argue that career Rites of Passage are losing significance because we make so many mini-transitions in our “boundaryless new careers”.  And I would suggest therefore that the rites of passage that seem to take precedence are of a self-constructed nature-the DIY type. Indeed, we seem to be quite creative and proactive in conjuring up new, or bigger and better ways to celebrate transitions.

Take for example leaving school. At the end of year 12 (Upper 6th), not content with the leaving assembly, church service or, at the posh schools, the Valedictory Dinner, students’ own rites of passage are notorious for their inventiveness and mayhem. The Muck-UP Day (or even Muck-Up Week) involves dressing as what-you’ll-become-if you-flunk-your-exams, swapping your school dress for the boys’ uniform, and vice versa, and covering trees in toilet roll-amongst other things. Then there’s Schoolies, a week of, politely put, high jinks at a beach resort with all of your mates. We all know to avoid Byron Bay at the end of November every year!

These celebrations/ceremonials have existed in many contexts for decades, but they seem to have taken on an increasing significance, perhaps because we are striving to make much of what we know to be lasting. But they do have a function that might not be foremost in the mind of an 18 year old.

Rites of passage in the context of work have not come to an end. However, as Mayerhofer and Ialltchitch suggest, the concept has moved beyond the organisational perspective. Other “Career Communities”, industrial, occupational and alumni, may play an increasingly important role in making up for the lack of an organisational career. So the message here is, keep those alumni contacts live, from both school and university/college, join industry associations and subscribe to their Quarterlies.

As excruciating as it may sound, your 10-year school reunion (less toilet paper and cross-dressing; more canapes and swapping business cards) may mean you’ll cross paths with your new Guvnor, and her partner in his Sunday Best. Smashing!

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