Having recently left a position which I enjoyed, with great colleagues and a management style which suited my need for autonomy, for a new role with West Midlands Employers I have had to answer the question “why are you leaving?” a lot to colleagues, friends and family.
Whilst the stock responses “great opportunity, better salary, new challenge etc” may all to a greater or lesser extent be true, it has made me reflect on why we actually might choose to leave a job we love, in times of uncertainty and austerity, to leap into the unknown.
Moving jobs risks the security of the known, being viewed as the “go to” person in your organisation and the comfort of already having earned the trust and respect of peers and superiors. Loosing that feeling of knowing your place in the world of work is frightening. No-one likes being the newbie – the person with all the questions who doesn’t know anything – it has taken me three weeks to find out there is a water fountain right outside our office!
There may also be an ingrained stigma attached to “job hopping” which puts us off having “too many” jobs on a CV – no one wants to look like they bail when the going gets tough, or that they can’t stick at a job – we worry that hiring managers will read into job moves that candidates are unable to adapt to new environments or ways of working, and that they are somehow less valuable as prospective employees.
So is there an optimum amount of time to stay in a job? Not really says Claire McCartney of the CIPD. “It’s very specific to the person. It depends on their career plans, assuming they have any career plans and whether they feel they get the right amount of challenge and flexibility,” The balance between too short a tenure (not a sticker) and too long (not open to challenge) is one which needs careful, and personal, consideration.
As a general rule small organisations struggle to keep employees who want to keep that challenge in their work life – there is less opportunity to move sideways or up, or even take on new areas of work. We probably all know people who have joined a larger organisation and have now moved into a significantly different area of work from the one they started in – by having the opportunity to work on projects or become involved in other areas where they have an interest or an aptitude. But is job hopping with the same employer the same as moving into a new organisation? How do we make sure, if we stay in the same place, we are keeping open to new ideas, new ways of working, meeting new people and networks? And importantly how do we provide that for our teams? All of that takes effort and sometimes the day job is all we have time to do.
The trend in shorter job tenure is often focused on younger workers. Evidence collected by the CIPD Outlook survey in 2017 suggested that 1 in 4 young people is actively looking for new work opportunities, and that on average graduates stay with their first “serious” job for less than 2 years, whereas older workers are more likely to have 10 or more years’ service with one employer. Obviously with age comes responsibility, often a mortgage, children or other commitments, so the ability to up and leave a job for something new carries additional pressures which are very real at a personal level.
So how do you decide when is the right time to move? Self-reflection and being honest about your motives is key;
- How challenged, rewarded or invigorated do you feel at the end of the day? Or are you just worn out?
- Are you still adding value to your employer, by developing yourself, your networks, your knowledge base or are you just “phoning it in”?
- Is your fear of the unknown greater than your fear of stagnation?
- Is it simply the process of searching, applying, interviewing for a new role which is too much to deal with?
Looking for a new job opportunity when we have no choice, after redundancy for example, puts a whole different set of pressures and challenges on us. People sometimes use this as an opportunity to reflect on what they want from the rest of their working life. The financial cushion of a redundancy payment often provides the chance to re-train, do something different or become self-employed, knowing that the bills will be paid for a few months. But these are often people who have had other careers, been exposed to new work environments and are not afraid of change. For people who have not moved roles, who have been with one employer for a long time, the shock of losing that security can have a significant, detrimental impact and may greatly inhibit their ability to process the loss of a job and move on- akin to a grieving process.
Moving jobs therefore may not always be just about the here and now – that one job or role which looks attractive. It may more fundamentally be about building resilience, increasing exposure to change and giving yourself new challenges – so you are better prepared for whatever comes at you in an uncertain future.