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Is Job Hopping Inevitable?

by David Brock on December 7th, 2016

As long time readers know, I tend to be pretty opinionated.  Recently, I’ve gotten sucked into a conversation thread on LinkedIn about job hopping.  It’s semi interesting–much of it is people rationalizing why they move from job to job to job.

Much of the job hopping phenomenon has been attributed, incorrectly I think, to millennial.  “That’s the way they are, we just have to accept it.”

First, I job hopping isn’t primarily limited to millennial, I see people in every age group doing it.

Second, I think it’s unacceptable to resign ourselves to thinking of this as the future of the workplace.  Leaders that do are probably not doing their jobs.

Let’s look at the business impact of job hopping.  The true business costs aren’t just the recruiting and onboarding costs for replacing people.  The true business costs is $100’s of thousands to millions in lost productivity (individual, managerial, organizational) and lost opportunity.

While the argument can be extended to any role. I’ll focus on sales.  We all see the data that in complex B2B sales organizations, the average onboarding time is 10 months.  In our experience, we see onboarding times that are sometimes longer than a year.  Remember this is the time to get people up to a “run rate” of full productivity.  During this time, there are huge opportunity costs, whether it is territory that’s not covered, inexperienced people losing deals that might have otherwise been won.  For a discussion of this, look at my article, The High Cost Of A Salesperson.

Now add another data point.  Average sales tenure in the job with the same company is 22 months.

Think about what this means.  We’ve spent 10 months getting them ramped up to be productive, then they leave 12 months later.  Unless we are recovering the expected productivity of the full 22 months, in those 12 months, this is a huge money losing practice!

Stated differently, in months 11-22, they have to be significantly over performing for us to break even on them.

But we already know the answer to this.  Huge numbers of sales people are not achieving their goals and companies aren’t meeting their numbers.

There’s more that one can look at in assessing the business impact of job hopping, but I’ll stop here.  By it self, this simple business analysis of accepting job hopping as inevitable shows an absolutely unacceptable picture.

If we want to do something to improve business results, we have to focus on retaining our people.  We have to rid ourselves of the belief that job hopping is inevitable.

How do we start to address this issue?

Again, there’s a lot of research that tell us the reasons and gives us clues for what we have to do about it.

People, of all ages, voluntarily leave jobs for a variety of reasons, including:

  • A bad direct manager.
  • They see no opportunities for learning, growth, and development both professionally and personally.
  • They don’t feel that management values or cares for them as human beings.
  • Consequently, they don’t feel their ideas are valued or listened to.
  • People want to contribute to the company and have that opportunity to contribute.
  • They want to be part of something that’s exciting and growing.
  • They want to work for an organization that contributes to society or the world, in some way.
  • They want to work with people who trust them and who they can trust.
  • They want to feel a value part of something, not just a commodity that can be replaced.

There are a lot more, but I’ll stop here.

There’s no inherent reason companies can’t do these things–in fact the great one’s do, but of course they don’t have a job hopping problem.  But if you are reading between the lines, you are starting to see the root of the problem may be a leadership issue.

There’s another layer to this problem, and this may be more specific to millennial.  They all grew up in the late 80’s, 90’s and early 2000’s.  During that time, companies were downsizing/rightsizing/restructuring, they saw their parents being laid off.  They saw their parents and jobs being commoditized, hired when demand is up, laid off when demand is down.

They saw parents who were loyal to their companies, often wanting to work for one or a very small number of companies over a career being abandoned by those companies.

Where prior generations saw loyalty to a company as a virtue, their children saw the companies not being loyal to their parents.  As a consequence, loyalty to an employer is not part of their value system.

Frankly, company leadership has, for the most part, earned this lack of loyalty.

I’m not naive.  There are business ups and downs, there are cycles that are unpredictable.  This is not new, it’s always been a part of business and companies have to right size.  But good companies recognize this and try to keep these to a minimum.

Others, view people like commodities.  When we need more inventory, we get more, when demand is down, we get rid of inventory.  They treat people the same way.

On top of this, organizations get sloppy at people management.  It’s tough managing performance issues.  It takes time and commitment on the part of everyone.  Rather than managing these issues, too many managers take the cowardly way out, simply laying off people because it’s easier than doing the right thing.

People aren’t dumb, they get this, they see how they are being treated, so they start looking out for themselves–which has further devastating consequences to overall company performance.  They keep looking for better opportunities–which they should.

Which gets us to where we are today.  Where everyone believes job hopping is simply the new workplace dynamic.

The root problem is a leadership problem and until top management recognizes this and starts truly valuing its people, the situation won’t change.  Until top leaders understand the devastating business consequences of this and decide (or have their boards decide) to take action, the situation won’t change.

The good news is there are lot of companies and inspire management teams that get this.  They are both the top performing companies in their segment, they are at the top of the most admired lists, and they are the companies that have no talent attracting and retaining top performers.

Job hopping is not inevitable.  It’s devastating for companies, and I believe, from an individual point of view, it’s probably not the best way to build a career.

Am I missing something?

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2 Comments
  1. Kurt permalink

    Been absent a long time– miss your wise, measured perspective Dave.

    I think you are spot on re: lack of leadership being at the heart of the problem. If we created compelling, challenging and rewarding workplaces, we wouldn’t have to worry much about the GOOD ones job-hopping.

    At the same time, your intuition about millennials being somewhat jaded because of the business environment in which they have been brought up is insightful as well. But opportunities are still there for those with the drive to find them– whether that is in a single company or means they end up having to switch frequently to keep their edge.

    As a father of nine (ages 35 to 4 ½, I’ve had a few millennials leave home and hearth and jump full-on into careers. Their spouses too. And tons of their peers that have passed through our doors over the years.

    There is no question that they are more judicious in handing out their loyalty to a company, and as we spiral into the “gig economy” I don’t see that changing. But I have a hard time feeling sorry for them. This has been a long time coming.

    35 years ago in my first (and only) corporate “captive” job at Sperry Corp (?!), I got some sage mentoring advice. Frank was a director or something and had spent his whole career at Sperry. He smoked like a chimney and a visit to his corner glass-enclosed office (really just a bigger cubicle in a glass cage) was like venturing into a smoke-filled sake bar in Shinjuku after about 10pm. But he was smart and I was ambitious and eager to learn.

    Late one night when, other than the cleaning crews, Frank and I were the only ones still at the office, Frank grew philosophical.

    “Kid,” he said– he always called me “Kid,” just like Officer Obie in “Alice’s Restaurant”– “Kid, in your world there will be no job security. Only security FROM your job.”

    And for most people with ambition, energy, curiosity and grit, that has largely been the case. But this was a case of aggressively pursuing self-made opportunity. It is too common today for “millennials” to bemoan the system, with barely the persistence and patience to look up from the latest release of “Call of Duty” on their XBox (hey kids! Get off of my lawn!).

    The forward-thinking and teachable young Turk will STILL appear to be job hopping at times– if his/her employer isn’t smart enough to keep him/her engaged and motivated. Good for them. I will even encourage protégés to move on if they are lacking current opportunities.

    But it takes a thorough interview process and a compelling company and culture to identify the “keeper” while willingly letting go of ADD-addled second-stringers.

    The Japanese term for this deadwood is “madogiwazoku”– literally, “the gang who sit on the windowsills.” A generation or two ago, the windowsill sitters could keep their heads down and hide in the nameless bureaucracy of the mega corps. Now it’s just as easy to abandon ship and move on to the next “host” from which they can feed for awhile. THESE are the job hoppers that we are better off without.

    Apologies for the rant– every few months you bring up something that gets under my skin and I just have to dig it out. I’ll send you 50 cents to the attention of Dr. Lucy Ban Pelt for the therapy. Another reference younger readers will likely miss (I SAID, GET OFF OF MY LAWN!!)

    • Kurt, love this perspective! Couldn’t agree more. Job happing is not generational, in spite of the caution millennial display. It’s the result of employers failing to create exciting/engaging workplaces, opportunities to grow professionally and personally, career paths, chances to learn, chances to be compensated (financially and otherwise fairly).

      The people as a commodity mentality is a creation of leaders. Companies have created the loyalty job hopping problem by not valuing people, so what they see in the workplace and competing for talent is a result of what they have created.

      “We (corporations) have met the enemy and the enemy is us.”

      Always great to see your contributions!

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