March 9, 2018
Is Job Hopping Such a Bad Thing?
Millennials have been charged with the crime of serial job hopping, never staying anywhere more than a few years. I counter that it’s not necessarily a bad thing. As employers, we’d love people to be happy doing the work they do today for the next decade, but most humans need challenges and ways to learn new skills to maintain their enthusiasm for their role. Most jobs change anyway with advances in technology and new channels to do business, which require training and new skills development. The company may not have growth opportunities. Some companies don’t need a 25-person marketing team. The top job may only be Marketing Coordinator or part of the receptionist’s duties. Turning that into a full-time job may be a huge risk for the organization. Employees want to feel part of something and work for people who share common values.
When a new employee is on-boarded, they’ll know quickly if the work environment and the interactions with fellow employees are conducive for them to accomplish their goals. When I joined a large online search engine, I knew that first week that this company was completely wrong for me. I accomplished my professional goals, but it was fraught with insider cliques which got preferential treatment. I constantly brought up revenue, which was not a priority for anyone else. I was essentially ostracized and left nine months later. Was this bad? No. It was the right decision for me and the company. There was a misalignment in our core values; there was a lack of respect for my experience (I was once told, “Great that you have 15 years of experience, but we consider every year of online marketing equal to five years of brick and mortar marketing. No disrespect.” Yeah. None taken. Have you ever even seen a P&L statement?).
I don’t think job hopping is necessarily a bad thing. I think hiring managers don’t like it because it means the person has no loyalty. I see it very differently. I think hiring manager subconsciously know that people who job hop demand more accountability from their managers. They have higher standards, better skills, which make it easier for them to say, “I don’t need this. I’m outta here.” And they are very qualified and typically find work quickly. As many management books say, “Hire slowly, fire fast.” In this case, it’s the employee doing this and that can be viewed very negatively by the company as the employee has, essentially, fired them. Most companies don’t handle that well.
Job hopping CAN be a red flag, so it is important to follow up with your background check. They may be arrogant individual contributors that don’t play well with teams. They may have erratic personalities, substance abuse issues, or other negative character traits that cause them to frequently change jobs. It may also be because of lifestyle choices, such as starting a family, being a caregiver for an elderly parent, writing a book, or other personal choices, so give them a chance to discuss their reasons.
I’ve worked in 13 companies since 1993. Only three lasted longer than three years. Part of that has to do with the nature of what I do — taking companies to the next level. Usually that means working towards a founder’s exit strategy, typically buyout, merger or IPO. When these activities occur, two people are usually the first to be let go — the person in charge of finance and the person in charge of marketing (for some reason, incoming investors seem to think they can always cut the budget, change strategy, and create new programs better than someone that has been immersed in it for the past few years). Years ago, I was shocked to be let go the day that it was announced that the company was purchased by Nokia. At the time I did not understand. I knew I launched our products flawlessly and engaged an entirely new sales channel. I grew that business and earned it. What I learned later was that Nokia was more interested in hiring our R&D department and our development staff and were planning to put our entire project in a closet, never to be seen again. It clearly threatened software products they were going to be introducing the following year.
So lots of people look at my profile and see short stints at one or two companies, followed by longer stints at others. I view my entire career differently. I work WITH companies. I have never felt like an employee and perhaps that shows in the way I follow through with other departments as if they were my clients. I work under the radar a lot, with the smallest teams possible, to get stuff done. I cannot stand office politics and dealing with “seeking buy-in from stakeholders”. The best advice I ever got was from the superintendent of a large school district who told me, “What you are planning to do is going to be very, very hard to do. I recommend that you seek forgiveness rather than permission.” When I succeeded, not only was the district delighted, I won a Webby Award for it.
So what’s a company to do? Understand that job hoppers can be great people with incredible skills that only need a few years to dramatically change your business. After that, they’re on to new challenges. Think of them as more economical consultants. In fact, treat all your employees as if they were full-time in-house consultants. You have a employment agreement with them. As they join, learn about their past experience and how they could put it to use in your firm. Learn about the processes other companies in their backgrounds have used to streamline their businesses. Ask about their past incentive plans and benefits to compare to what you offer. Their experience in a number of companies can be valuable information to a first-time entrepreneur who keeps trying to reinvent the wheel again and again with each new product, venture, business line, sales channel, etc.
And leaders need to understand that job hoppers need to be heard. The primary reason people leave companies in the first year is due to poor communication with management. When people are engaged, feel supported, recognized for their work, they will stay longer, even when the systemic problems cannot be solved. Give the space to expand outside of their current roles. Give them stretch tasks or projects to allow them to experiment. I highly recommend conducting regular Stay Interviews. We have implemented them in our current workplace and our attrition rate, once 6% a month is now down to less than 1% (granted, we are a 24-hour workforce and most people leave due to reluctance to work night shifts). It’s still dramatic.
Give a job hopper a chance. You may be one of those companies they stay a few years at because you made it worthwhile for them. The employer-employee contract is not what it used to be. Employers don’t take care of you after 30 years of working at their firm any more. No more gold watches, no pensions, nothing. White collar employees have never even had the support enjoyed by blue collar union employees. (I remember a company where as the Marketing Manager, I was making less than the janitor who was in a union.) The only way employers can generate that undying loyalty is through alignment of values, goals and mission. People want to be part of something special and employers need to communicate effectively about what makes you special. Be that. Be special. Make your people feel special. You may find a lot of talented job hoppers lining up to work for you.