Monday, January 11, 2016
Hippity Hop – Change Jobs Frequently
Career advisors used to tell their charges that changing jobs too often suggested that they were untrustworthy, disloyal, commitment phobic and not the kind of investment-hire that employers were likely to make. While the notion of a “job for life” in Japan or the “Iron rice bowl” of the People’s Republic of China were extreme versions of job permanence, the general notion for educated and skilled workers has always been working as part of a corporate family for a lifetime with a nice retirement party and a comfortable fade into the sunset thereafter. That notion is itself fading into the sunset.
The factors leading to a new view of work – that changing jobs relatively frequently is good for a growth-directed career – are many. First, the assumption that your company will always be there was severely challenged when a litany of seemingly unassailable corporations filed for protection under U.S. bankruptcy laws, some reorganizing and downsizing under Chapter 11 with others just dissolving and going out of business entirely under Chapter 7. The list included General Motors, Chrysler, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Kodak and MGM, companies that most could never picture as needing protection under bankruptcy law.
Employees “for life” lost their jobs, and many of those who stayed in reorganized companies found their collective bargaining agreements trashed, benefits decimated and their pay levels slashed. The assumption that even the biggest companies will always be there is hard to sustain in periods of rapidly-changing economic times.
The second major factor is the hyper-acceleration of technological and informational change – the essence of Singularity Theory that espouses a notion of exponential information growth – which requires that those skilled and educated workers actually need to move on to generate new skills, new information and keep from getting stale by staying in the same place. We even seem to discriminate against those who linger too long.
“[The former job-hopping] stigma is fast becoming antiquated—especially as millennials rise in the workplace with expectations to continuously learn, develop, and advance in their careers… There are a lot of arguments for jumping ship every few years. The economy isn’t what it used to be—and never will be again. Workers who stay with a company longer than two years are said to get paid 50% less, and job hoppers are believed to have a higher learning curve, be higher performers, and even to be more loyal, because they care about making a good impression in the short amount of time they know they’ll stay with each employer.
“Patti McCord, former chief talent officer for Netflix (and responsible for the company’s current innovative work culture), says job hopping is a good thing, and young people should plan to do so every three to four years… ‘I think that the most important, critical change in people’s mental outlook is to view employees as smart contributors from the beginning,’ advises McCord, who now coaches and advises companies and entrepreneurs on culture and leadership.” FastCompany.com, January 7th.
Among millennials, failing to change jobs with relative frequency may actually create its own stigma… “not good enough to recruit” or “too stale to matter.” New hires are viewed as bringing new perspectives to the job, also poised to learn faster than the existing workforce. “Why the high learning curve? Because job hoppers are constantly placed outside of their comfort zones. They join companies, know they have to learn fast, make great impressions, and improve the bottom line—all within a couple of years before moving on to their next conquest. As a result, they’re usually overachievers and learn a lot in a short span of time.
“According to Penelope Trunk, serial entrepreneur and author, life is actually ‘more stable’ with frequent job changes… ‘In terms of managing your own career, if you don’t change jobs every three years, you don’t develop the skills of getting a job quickly, so then you don’t have any career stability,’ Trunk tells Fast Company. ‘You’re just completely dependent on the place that you work as if it’s 1950, and you’re going to get a gold watch at the end of a 50-year term at your company.’… Trunk believes that the learning curve ‘pretty much flattens after three years.’ While there are few exceptions to jobs people should stay in for longer, such as academia, most people should leave if they want to stay engaged, says Trunk.” FastCompany.com.
Does this trend weigh against companies’ investing in specialized training for their workers, because this new skillset will only benefit the next employer? Do companies have to take extra measures to protect proprietary information and customer lists? With hyper-accelerated change, many of those concerns are not well-founded, because those “new” skills and “proprietary information” will themselves need upgrading to remain valuable.
Many companies are obsessed with keeping their top talent. Is this notion obsolete? “Employee retention is a big issue, and ‘it scares the hell out of’ employers, says McCord. They’ve invested a lot in hiring big talent. To that, McCord has some advice: In 15 years, when your company is growing rapidly because of all the high, job-hopping achievers that have come and gone, unless you’re an institution, don’t worry that no one has any institutional knowledge of your company.” FastCompany.com.
The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. Some workers do much better with a notion of “safe permanence,” feeling destabilized with the prospect of having to find a new job every three or four years. Keeping them up-to-speed with state of the art knowledge is essential, but making sure they are not discriminated against is also a priority. Some professions, such as marketing, are prone to constant job change and always have been.
The fact remains that there are no guarantees in this world – a company, no matter how big, can guarantee it will be around “forever” (even the government/military lays people off these days!) – and job-hopping is here to stay. The “gig” economy has also separated fringe benefits – like health insurance and retirement accounts – from the employer to the worker. With the Affordable Care Act, people staying at jobs they hate to retain health insurance has become a thing of the past. Our social structures will continue to alter to reflect our new work patterns. The life decisions for those who have desirable work skills are more complex than ever, but even with the instability inherent in the new economy, opportunities have expanded for those who know how to play the game.
I’m Peter Dekom, and for a lot of us, asking the question of what to do next is as natural as drinking our morning coffee.