The Downsides Of Job Hopping, And How To Grow Where You're Planted

Job-hopping a bid to quickly climb the career ladder, gain varied experience, and bolster your paycheck is accepted practice--but is it always the smartest move?

One of our employees, let's call her Megan, was a young rising star in our communications department with big talent and unlimited potential. We recognized it during her earliest days with us. Not only was she smart and proactive, she had a strong executive presence and a hunger to learn.

Eager to retain her, we invested in Megan to ensure she was growing and feeling fulfilled in her career at Xerox. We supported her enrollment in a marketing certification program at New York University, placed her in a mentoring program with influential professionals, rotated her assignments, tapped her for special projects, and provided timely feedback about her performance and career trajectory. Heck, we even threw her a surprise shower before her wedding last summer.

So I was shocked a few months ago when Megan informed me that, after five years with Xerox, she was leaving to take a communications job at a Fortune 500 consumer goods company.

The news stung. Our investment in Megan aside, I liked and admired her personally and wanted to see her continue to shine at our company.

All managers can identify with this disappointment--you’re sure you’ve done everything possible to retain your high-potential talent, but they wind up leaving after all. Megan left telling us she was perfectly happy at Xerox, but that the next thing she wanted in her career--experience in consumer PR--was something we couldn’t give her. I certainly respect her decision.

These corporate defections are on the rise. Wanting experience that builds new skills--not to mention resumes--is a hallmark of what Fast Company has dubbed “Generation Flux,” a current trend in which workers of all ages are switching jobs and sometimes even industries every four years or so. Because of the way technology is massively disrupting business, the new career paradigm is fluidity. Indeed, the average number of years workers had been with their current employer was 4.6 in January 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Millennials like Megan are helping drive down that average, with 91 percent reporting they anticipate staying at their current job for fewer than three years, according to a Future Workplace Multiple Generations @ Work survey.

I wholeheartedly endorse growing, evolving, and recreating yourself at work. It’s what keeps us relevant in a constantly changing corporate America. But, a word to restless young professionals: you don’t need to hop from job to job to achieve that objective. It’s OK to stay put and grow roots in one organization. Maybe, in staying put, you can even help your employer grow in new ways.

I’m living proof that evolution and change are possible in a one-company career. I started at Xerox 17 years ago as communications manager for the company's manufacturing and supply chain division. I never imagined I’d become Xerox’s chief marketing officer. I didn’t always know what I wanted out of my career, but I knew I was ambitious and eager to take on new challenges. So I found ways to grow without jumping ship. I raised my hand for new opportunities and found trusted mentors to guide me along my way.

What’s more, a grass-is-always-greener mentality comes at the expense of company loyalty--an extremely undervalued trait. When you’re just out of college, it’s hard to appreciate how important loyalty is. Many of us want flexibility in our work lives, but more often than not flexibility is something you earn over time. So take a long view. Having people who know you and remember your history of commitment and achievements is money in the bank--money you might need one day. If you think you want to do things on your terms now, just wait until you have a child or need to support an elderly parent.

For all you bright young things, know this: we managers want to do what we can to keep you. And if you’re considering a job change, here are some things to do before you leap:

Don’t wait to communicate. If you work at a company that encourages open dialogue, don’t let your dissatisfaction fester. Find ways to tactfully approach your manager about the way you’re feeling. Don’t just complain for complaint’s sake. If there’s an opportunity you want, ask for it.

Ask the hard questions. If you aren’t on board with the company’s direction or strategic vision, give your manager the chance to convince you that it’s the right way to go. Be explicit with your feedback.

Don’t leave without double-checking your gut. Your company may be on the cusp of a major sea change--new management, an acquisition, a new division, etc. If you sense change in the air, ask about it.

Want to do something entrepreneurial? Maybe your big employer will back it. If you’re feeling a calling to build something on your own but work at a large company, consider asking your employer for time to work on a side project. Google and 3M famously allow employees to devote up to 20 percent of their time working on passion projects, others like Ernst & Young and Pricewaterhouse Coopers run entrepreneurship contests and innovation challenges. You can expect more large companies to follow suit as allowing employees room to create becomes increasingly important to recruitment and retention.

If you do stay to stick it out, leave doubts behind. While a small percentage of us can claim total career satisfaction every day, if you make the decision to stay, commit to it. Be there with your heart and head and take gossip and negativity with a grain of salt.

If you do decide to leave, leave with grace. Never, ever burn a bridge. It’s a small world, and you never know when you’ll cross paths with former colleagues again. Luckily, Megan did just this, and that’s why the door is always open for her at Xerox.

[Image: Flickr user Steven Depolo]

Add New Comment

15 Comments

  • AriD2385

    I think that a key difference between Megan and Christa Carone is that Christa did not have a particular end in mind when she began her career at Xerox.  Megan, it seems, did have a clear idea of how she wanted her career to progress.  I think this can be seen as an issue of fundamentally different motivators.  Some people are happy to be employed in a relatively secure position that provides general growth opportunities regarding responsibility and salary.  And so such a person can grow roots and bloom within a company so long as things are moving forward--wherever that is.  I think that others might have much more specific ideas of where they want to end up--not simply "higher salary" or "a more senior title," but gaining a specific type of experience, being in a particular role, having a certain kind of expertise.

    When you know exactly where you want to land, you strategize deliberately and evaluate the current situation a little more critically.  Undoubtedly Megan would have progressed within Xerox, as she had the support of her superiors to that end.  But she sensed that the way she would have progressed would not have taken her where she ultimately wanted to be.

    So I agree with what companies like Google do in allowing employees to pursue passion projects.  In some ways, this enables people to feel like their work is more collaborative; that they actually have a hand in the creation and implementation of new company initiatives rather than simply being cogs in a wheel.  Society is so much more fluid now and opportunities that used to be out of reach are more easily grabbed.  So with more accessible options and possibilities, employees find that there might be quicker ways to achieve their ends than waiting to see if that opportunity they dream of will manifest itself at their current organization.  Yes, loyalty is a virtue, but the emphasis on at will employment fairly raises the question of what company loyalty really means.

    Also, I don't think we should overlook the fact that an employee might be hesitant to express a desire to grow in ways not currently on a company's agenda, as they could be seen as not being a good fit for their job or the company.  Or, they could be seen as overstepping their bounds if they have ideas that they're excited about, but it's not something that is their responsibility.

    I think asking potential recruits explicitly how they hope to grow and develop and where they see themselves down the line is helpful.  Having a conversation at the beginning about how a person in a certain position can expect to grow if they do well is helpful so that both the individual and company can reflect on whether they think it will be a good match in the long run.

  • Christa_Carone

    Good discussion playing out here.  As someone who has had several jobs and career transitions in one large company and was able to navigate what I consider to be a rewarding career path without compromising on my values, I hope others appreciate the benefit of doing the same.  Yesterday, I was chatting with a woman who has been with P&G for 20 years and has held 9 different jobs during her tenure in four different cities.  I was inspired by and impressed with the meticulous and effective way she's managed her career, while staying.  We're all talking in generalizations here but, ultimately, careers develop based on performance, goals, ambitions, and values of the individual and the organizations they're a part of.  The point of my post was to tee up questions/topics that should be a part of this journey.  And, I appreciate the valid views of others.

  • Lydia

    Ms. Carone,

    While I can only imagine what it feels like to lose a rising
    star, it seems as though the frustration of battling retention has gotten lost
    in the mix of how much Xerox has invested in a worker.  Change is good and in the case of Megan I believe
    she made the right decision.  For Megan
    to have been such a rising star, I have to wonder if there was something
    missing, that perhaps Xerox overlooked in between the surprise shower planning
    and  rotation of assignments.  Like others have mentioned, it is unrealistic to expect a worker to stick it out in a company according to a manager's time table .  This is especially unrealistic for millenials who are uncomfortable with remaining stagnant.    

  • Theuncouthtruth

    As a millenial, I have done what you describe and it has had the reverse effect. I have been at a small company for almost 9 years now; I’ve been the “loyal employee” while many younger people have come and go over the years. After all this time, I look around and realize that I have stagnated. I did plant myself and didn’t take a chance on myself to see what I was capable of, and explore my full potential. I know I never reached my full potential and my former classmates have moved around to different jobs and have progressed, while I could never have achieved that at my one company.

  • Patrick Vowell

    Definitely time to move on, and it's never too late to make the kind of career progression that you are looking for.  Make a plan for where you want to be and how you want to get there, and then act.  Don't wait for your employer to come around.  Your development depends entirely upon you.

  • Josh

    Agreed, I have been at my company as a millennial for almost 8+ years, and I have a development plan and focus on a 5 and 10 year plan, but the company is not invested in what I "really" want to do and that is evident in the conversations that I have in one on ones...again, I think that it's important to have these conversations and to be HONEST with yourself...if it's not a good fit for you (be it culture, management (as you can see what they think of you from this post), or just your natural progression in life), then you have all right to leave. How dare someone call you out when they haven't been in the job market for over a decade plus.  Do what is best for you and your happiness, not what is best for your employer's pocket because you're just a number even if you are on a trajectory path to success....you are "AT WILL".....

  • Emily B

    Pray tell, how is one supposed to get by in life without changning jobs? Certainly some fields are much more proned to enforce job hopping. Also, given the chance some people may not be happy in a position. Thus, they have every right to find the right fit. This is nonsense to expect the young people of America to "stick it out" for how long ten years? Then when they apply for a new job there will be a new reason for them not to get hired if it isn't job hopping.

  • Natarajan Venkateswaran

     Interesting article indeed. Interesting too are Patrick's comments. I would suppose his comments are for the larger group of employees who 'meets expectation and get rated 3 on the bell curve'. Patrick, I neither represent senior management nor junior and having perched myself here inbetween anm able to see clearly what it is like to be the connect between the two. What I see here and suppose all organisations small and big will need to make is have more and more Megans to ensure the continuity of the business. Job cuts and cycles are now a matter of fact and are that much more applicable on the top as well
     
    Ms Carone, Its brave of you to admit something is not right.
     
    Having worked with Xerox in India for 9 years it was difficult for me to decide to leave. But I did, (and like Megan), felt better having left as sometines organisations are unable to provide the opportunities young and energetic, passionate and even to some extent maverick employees want. They are the ones with innovations in their minds and if the organisation or the next level is unable to understand it - thats where the relationship comes to an end. Hopefully you met with the right leaders and people above you who were able to identify what was right for you to do next
     
    (Patrick - Xerox was shedding then and it was just right on either of us to see the writing on the wall. Its foolish to pretend being an Ostrich)
     
    A good HR mechanism is critical and having done sales, marketing, project management, and now into HR - I have traversed the entire horizon and can well understand the feelings of 'if only'. Its a concerted effort - building blocks on Talent Management and retention by the Hr team, execution and strategic vision / support by the Senior Management team and a sense of belongingness - identified with a series of assessment centres which increasingly works on the employee who now identifies and associates herself with what the organisation plans to work on. If after all this an employee leaves, it would only mean that we tried our best - they wish to do theirs now. Lets part amicably and hope we cross again sometime in the future.
     
    Qs a management team should ask - have I spent enough time with my Talent? How often does Senior management talk and get the Talent team together? Do we treat tehm differently? eg do they know information before the grapevine hits them? Can they feel trusted about what is happening? Do they see themselves getting on the stairs which takes them to the Oval room?
     
    I however get the feeling that many companies do not value their older employees (thereby losing critical KM process benefits) and do not have a meaningful structure of Talent Management - although most top companies talk about them. More than money - it costs time. Time to spend with your people. Just like it is important to spend time with the family - how much do we really spend?

  • Josh

    Excellent response, Natarajan!
    This is a key post for an employer to read as it sheds light on the fact that the initial posting of this blog was very premature and one-sided.  I think that it was good to read the insight on what an employer really thinks about their employees, but also realize that there is not much weight behind "Retention Tools 101" in either this article or it's writer's rebuttal.  

    It's interesting because this does not paint a great picture for Xerox because it shows a bigger issue of the perception and mishandling of their talent (old and/or young).  Again, more talent development and questions should be asked by Management when they see potential in any employee, and less focus on waiting for the employee to come to you because you haven't had the proper conversation with them. Managers are paid to "manage", right?

    Questions to focus on also for this company:
    Do you have individual meetings with their employees when they are currently employed and/or switch roles internally?  

    Do they collect the pros and cons from each employee, pareto the data to look for key bucketed responses to develop structured "individual development plans" for each employee that is funneled through HR and documented for yearly review and execution?

    Again, this is more about what kinds of "structured, robust and documented" development and succession plans does a company have before they air out their laundry for the world to see.

  • Patrick Vowell

    Ms. Carone,

     

    Your article, while well written, is illustrative of the complete
    disconnect from reality you share with other executive managers at large
    companies, and frankly, I’m afraid it’s completely insincere.  Employees job hop because it is frequently and
    most commonly the quickest, if not only way to advance your career.  Companies like Xerox make a great fuss over
    how much they value, trust, and appreciate their employees. That is, until the
    stock drops 5%, and then it’s every man and woman for themselves as the pink
    slips fly.  Why would employees feel any
    loyalty to a company that in reality has absolutely no loyalty to them, but
    instead exhibits at every turn an “Are you making me money today” mentality? 

     

    You invested in Megan because you expected a significant
    return on your investment, and no other reason. 
    Megan worked for you because she expected the same – a significant
    return on her investment of her time and skills.  If for one moment you felt you would not be
    getting your money’s worth out of Megan, you would have fired her
    instantly.  So for you to feel stung by Megan’s
    decision that she would get a better return taking her skills elsewhere is
    ridiculous.  That’s business and that’s
    life.

     

    I believe that changing jobs every 4 to 6 years is an
    excellent way to keep your career advancing, your pay check increasing, and
    your work life, as well as your skills, from getting stale.  The time to start looking for your next job
    is the first day of your current one. 
    These are attitudes shared by many in today’s marketplace, and those
    attitudes are the direct result of a total lack of loyalty on the part of large
    companies such as Xerox for their employees. 
    When companies stop treating people like a commodity or a consumable,
    then maybe those attitudes will change.

    Patrick Vowell

  • Christa_Carone

    Patrick -- You make some points that I don't take lightly. I believe I’m pretty plugged into what our employees are thinking in my group – but I would never assume that my insights apply to every organization and to every person. My role as a manager, one that I take seriously, is to have a finger on the pulse of their satisfaction or lack thereof and work towards keeping our talented people engaged – in both tangible and intangible ways. If we play out the Megan scenario, you’d find that compensation and career path were not factors; she was valued fairly in both areas. My contention is that in good companies, you can find new, career-satisfying experiences for yourself without facing that 4-year itch to seek employment elsewhere. My commentary comes from the perspective of
    managing a large group of employees.  And, I for one would never hire an
    individual who, on his first day of a new job, is starting to look for his next
    one.

  • Patrick Vowell

    Ms. Carone,

     

    My first question to you would be how do you go about
    keeping your finger on your employee’s satisfaction pulse?  Because if you’re just going by what they
    tell you, you’re deluding yourself.  As
    much as you may want to believe it, and as much as they may tell you it’s true,
    they don’t tell you everything their thinking or feeling, and you shouldn't expect them to.  You’re a Vice President;
    you hold these people’s futures in the palm of your hand, and far and away most
    frequently they are going to tell you what they have learned you want to hear
    for the sake of their own survival.  You
    have hired many people whose attitude is to start looking for their next
    opportunity on day one of their current job. 
    Those people just didn't tell you that. 
    And from your statement I take it you didn't hire Megan, because she was
    absolutely one of those people (and good for her).

     

    And whose pulse are you keeping track of?  Is it just your handful of direct
    reports?  If it is, you need to get a
    bigger net and take in not only your direct reports, but their direct reports,
    and so on all the way down to your front line employees.  I would challenge you to do an anonymous
    survey of everyone in your department, bottom to top.  Use a set of good questions that have been
    used in multiple other studies such as those from The Five Dysfunctions of a
    Team by Patrick M. Lencioni; or those from First, Break All the Rules:
    What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently by Marcus Buckingham and
    Curt Coffman.  That way you have some
    guidance on how to interpret the results. 
    If you have the courage to do that, I think that those results will
    greatly surprise you, and you’ll have what you need to open your eyes to the
    reality of the situation and deal with it appropriately.

    Patrick Vowell

  • Josh

    Patrick,

    I could not agree with you more in relation to
    your earlier comment and this rebuttal.  You are a very wise man,
    Patrick...This leadership post should be more specific to better ways to
    understand your millennial employees, because they are only an addition to the
    existing workforce leaving positions in under 3 years of employment.  If
    the expectation of education and other details equal retention, then WOW, the
    mark has been completely missed.

     

    Milennials, today, are not always focused on
    the paycheck and the corner office, but also the element of excitement (having
    the keys to their career, not being moved around to fill quick needs/gaps).
     It's about having the much-desired culture.
     This is why so many companies focus on employee engagement, flextime and
    survey the masses to get honest feedback on annual or bi-annual basis.
     Since many companies and corporations do not even offer pensions and
    other life long means for employees to stay, one would assume that employers
    should listen to these individual employees while they are there versus
    painting such a negative picture of them once they leave to pursue their
    ambitions.

     

    There is an air of "you owe me" that
    is being depicted here and it doesn't seem quite right and very one sided.

     

    I think once there is a robust employee
    engagement program that has standard procedures and policies to focus on
    gathering unbiased feedback, then a clean picture can be presented and it can
    help minimize this subjective reasoning.

  • Superman

    Excellent points Patrick.  In this case, Xerox is an absolutely classic case of executive disconnect.  The management treats people as commodities and most employees there haven't had raises in five years.  Talented people are overlooked for promotional opportunities in favor of diverse newcomers who are spoon fed into positions of power to meet statistical goals.  Xerox is a horrible place for the career minded and ambitious.  Megan made a great decision to get out.