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Switching jobs or careers shows high agency and ambition
Companies say they want risk-takers and ambitious, high-performing professionals. That means throwing out some dated notions, and realizing "job hopping" is not a pejorative
I wanted to write a quick post on a meme I shared on social the other day because it warrants additional discussion.
For decades, companies have viewed "job hoppers" through a lens of skepticism and mistrust. The prevailing belief was individuals who switched jobs frequently lacked commitment, were unreliable, or didn’t have the necessary skills to stay in one place. Loyalty to the company was considered paramount, and employees were expected to demonstrate unwavering dedication in return for job security and benefits. Consequently, those with a history of changing jobs were often seen as disloyal or as individuals who were simply seeking short-term gains at the expense of the company's long-term stability. This deep-rooted perception led to a reluctance to hire individuals with a history of job-hopping, perpetuating the cycle of judgment and discouragement for those who sought diverse experiences or to escape unfulfilling, below market rate or toxic environments. However, as the modern workforce evolves, it's becoming increasingly evident that this one-dimensional view of "job hoppers" fails to acknowledge the realities of modern work, and perhaps most dangerously the benefits of diverse skillsets, adaptability, and fresh perspectives these folk bring to the table. Someone at the same company for 10 years is perhaps more likely to be stuck in their ways and without incentive to continue learning. A person with insight into multiple sectors and company types in a short period is, if the right individual, on an accelerated learning curve and potentially higher value. The high school guidance counselor mindset of blind loyalty without question is fairly incongruent with competitiveness and drive. Of course not always the case in either direction, the fact that there is nuance should warrant us to reconsider any priors here. Let’s explore more why.
The dynamics between companies and their employees have evolved considerably but too few acknowledge it. Gone are the days when employees were expected to remain loyal to a single company for their entire career. Pensions are dead. Layoffs are swift and indiscriminate, no matter how loyal you might have been or how many millions you made your employer. So I think we need to realign our thinking on the idea of "job-hopping,” which I no longer meet with raised eyebrows (although I once did). Having personally been through the ringer with ruthlessly capitalist startups who don’t have infinite funding and are trying to grind it out from 0-1 has changed my perspective. Sufficient people in positions of power here have lucked out to mostly winners in their careers: but the reality of the world is many companies and most startups are terminal zeroes, something people need to wake up to post ZIRP (and now that the internet has matured, which we also are reluctant to admit). It’s so different than a life within the top percent of brands. Many of so called “job hoppers” are actually hardened, grizzled professionals ready to do the work. Perhaps more so than the winners, as they badly want to post their first win. Yet, these folk frequently are the ones most punished, I believe punitively. I think this is likely known by people who survived the first generation of internet companies, but it’s been forgotten by survivorship bias winners of the second (see this as a recent example, and consider the poster worked at Facebook, Google and Square - basically the perspective of someone who has won multiple lotteries - also be sure to read the quote Tweets for many diverse perspectives from people who are extremely successful and were “jumpy”).
The world is so different now, and while companies act as rational capitalist actors, employees who exhibit similar behavior are frequently (unfairly) shamed. This discrepancy raises questions about the treatment of employees with high agency or desire for more and the need for companies to adapt to the new reality.
Let's face it – corporations, driven by a relentless pursuit of profit — love to flaunt their rational capitalist approach. Look around at all the layoffs and back-patting by people about running companies with ever-fewer team members via AI and automation. But when employees dare to channel that same shrewdness, they often find themselves facing an unfair dose of shame. Talk about a double standard, right? My meme at the top expresses this sentiment.
The paradox lies in the double standards observed in the corporate world. Companies are hailed for pursuing profit maximization, optimizing efficiency, and adapting swiftly to market changes. Yet, when employees exhibit a similar rational mindset by seeking better opportunities or “job-hopping,” they are criticized for being disloyal or lacking commitment. This incongruity warrants a fresh perspective on how we perceive and appreciate the actions of both employers and employees.
The tech industry has once again become a prime example of how fast business ecosystems can change. Companies within this sector experience both rapid success and sudden failure, necessitating quick decision-making. Employees, especially those with high agency, are quick to recognize these fluctuations and increasingly not afraid to take charge of their careers or try out a new (and risky) idea or trend that requires “thinking in bets.” This self-awareness prompts them to make choices that may include leaving a current role to explore new opportunities or escape the uncertainty. In most cases and especially at startups, everyone understands this. I believe it’s mostly people in ivory tower megacorps who do not and are insulated from these harsh conditions. Regardless, if you talk to most folk here and listen to their story, their actions frequently make perfect sense and are something you’d expect an intelligent person to do (vs run out the clock at a f*cked company, they get life is short). If you just looked at their LinkedIn history with the mindset of someone who learned HR from a decades-old textbook, you’d already have formed a conclusion. On a long enough timeline, reality catches up to academic thought. The question everyone should be asking themselves here is: what kind of team do you want to build? Do you bias to beaurocrats or risk-takers? Why?
As employees with high agency assert their right to choose their paths, corporations must respond proactively. Rather than shaming those who move on or were decisive, they should focus on retaining talent by creating an environment that fosters growth, job satisfaction, work-life balance and appropriate ‘skin in the game’ if retention is truly desired. And really, enough with the ping pong tables, no one actually cares about those. Recognizing the importance of adaptability, non-mid companies should encourage a culture that embraces change and empowers employees to make informed decisions about their careers. The responsibility lies with both parties to speak openly like adults (asking too much for some, I know).
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