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]

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