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Job Hopping: The Grass is Greener Outside
Article » Finance
Posted by : thedesk   Jun 24 2006
An article on job switching issues, specifically related to frequent job changes
So, why do people want to change jobs often?
Non-Office factors
Why do some people find their jobs gratifying while others are nagged by dissatisfaction?
The KISS Principle - Keep it Simple Stupid!
How long is long enough to be not viewed as job hopping
Is the acceptable duration of staying in a job related to the industry?
The Fear Factor


My friend was the luckiest person a year back. He had landed a dream job. Naturally friends and peers were envious of him and everyone was very happy for him. The problem began when he realized that the dream job may have actually been someone else’s dream. For him, it began to turn into a nightmare. The fear of having to live through a nightmare forced him to change jobs. When he went to a new one, the old one appeared better; so unhappy was he with this one. He thought he had been chasing just money. So decided to hop to a third company, based more on a qualitative evaluation of the work he was to do. He realized there was again a big gulf between expectations and reality. He made a simple conclusion. The grass that grew outside of the bald patches of land he traversed on was always a lush, luxuriant, verdant green! He decided to go searching for that greener patch. He has been looking ever since!

The lure of the Moolah…..
The reason we take up a job is because we like the cash and the career prospects, as we see it at the time of choosing. However, it is human for most of us to not read fully into the compatibility that may exist between you and the job that you choose to do. The result is that professionals often find a meteoric rise in initial interest in a job contrast with an equally steep decline in interest as time wears on. In times when attention span is as brief as surfing television channels, picking your job with as much care as you would buy a toothbrush is likely to leave you bristling later at the quality of decision-making about your own career.

If your attention span in making a decision about choosing a job is short, do you think you will devote a longer time to a job you do not like. Granted that the answer is implicit in the statement itself, it leads us to the phenomenon that is as restless, unstill and fidgety as the name suggests - job hopping.

...and the cure of a Mule-kick !

So, why do people want to change jobs often? Why do you want to quit your 3rd job in 4 years?
Is it surprising that a recent Wall Street Journal-ABC News poll found that half of all people polled would choose a new line of work if they had the chance? Does it indicate to you that we don’t know what we want? Is that why we hop and skip? Let’s find out why.

Honey I shrunk my Boss!
Internalizing the external factors: Dissatisfaction in a job is likely to stem out of the interplay between external factors and the individual's mindset. HR experts say work satisfaction gets governed more by external factors such as work environment, benefits, fringe facilities, challenging opportunities overseas, compensation etc but as one moves along in the job, there is more interaction with people and a deeper involvement with other features of the organization. Add to it the job pressures and the way such pressure is handled by the individual and the organization. It is sometimes the pressures in a job that bring out the real value that an individual attaches towards the work he is doing. Sometimes it is the lack of energy in a job that affects his interests towards it. Whichever way it is, intrinsic factors acquire more importance as an individual internalizes his work with passage in time.

The salary factor: Salary holds the attention of a person at the stage when he decides to join an organization. Pay packet is equated with professional satisfaction. This is natural since salary is one of the few direct and tangible evaluation measures regarding the job. As one spends more time in the organization, other behavioural and qualitative factors related to work acquire a lot more importance. Pay packet is a key to job happiness, particularly in the early stages of one's career when money is the sole motivator. As one climbs the career graph, other factors start gaining equal significance. That is perhaps one of the reasons an experienced individual learns to evaluate potentiality of job satisfaction better. When a person joins an organization, he evaluates the prospects with respect to his own expectations. After spending time in an organization, the relative terms of peers, colleagues and their emoluments and reward structure determines the level of satisfaction.

Hey, I must quit because my wife thinks I love my job more
Non-Office factors: This is an area that employees and employers need to give more importance than what has been accorded. Frustration emanating from personal lives and events outside office may affect job stability. Erin White, author of a weekly Wall Street Journal essay about recruitment, pay, and getting ahead, recently reminded her readers to “look at all of the factors to make sure [you’re] not making one decision to solve another problem." White sees many people in miserable marriages who think they can fix their personal lives by changing professions. (http://www.moaa.org/TodaysOfficer/careers/look_leap.asp) .

Owner’s Envy Neighbor’s Pride
Why do some people find their jobs gratifying while others are constantly nagged by dissatisfaction at their workplace?
We spend most of our time at work. And incredibly, when we choose to take up a job, we spend a little more time than we allot to our weekly grocery shopping visits! This is one of the most inexplicable mysteries of our times! The result is obviously a gap between reality and expectations. Where expectations are high, satisfaction will usually end up being lower. This when supplemented by a common belief an individual has, that he can do better if given a more worthy opportunity leads people to suffer from the Green Grass Syndrome. They tend to look down at the work they are doing and begin to feel frustrated. It is another matter that many of these people don’t learn and keep suffering from this syndrome as they go along. They curse everything but their own decision to join a company - the very reason that has brought them there! The key to job happiness is finding the right equation between one's mindset and external factors. This is of particular significance for the Indian IT/ITeS industry where job-hopping is common, notwithstanding the salary hikes and a fairly evolved HR system. The issue of technological innovation is also a determinant here, which we shall discuss in succeeding paragraphs.

Meet Mr Hari Sadu
How one gets along with one's boss is an essential factor for job happiness according to a survey conducted by Accountemps, a US-based staffing service. The survey revealed that as many as 43 percent of people rated their relationship with their manager as an important determinant of job happiness. The other factors included workload and responsibilities (24 percent), compensation and/or benefits (19 percent), relationship with co-workers (6 percent), and company performance (5 percent). According to Max Messmer, chairman of Accountemps and author of Motivating Employees for Dummies, employees are most productive when they feel that their contributions are valued and their feedback is welcomed by the management. Stronger relationship with the staff is essential to keep them happy. Another survey conducted by Prof Andrew Oswald of the University of Warwick concluded that an individual's position is a major cause of job happiness. The rank of a staff member compared with others increases his/her happiness and is a pointer to pride associated with the position.

In their celebrated book The Art of Happiness at Work, His Holiness The Dalai Lama and psychiatrist Dr Howard Cutler have stated that there are three categories of workers: those for whom the job is just a means of getting a pay cheque; those who see it as an advancement or social status; and those who view it as a calling. The third category of people who love their work are the most motivated. If we were to juxtapose this aspect with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs we would find that job hopping is an indirect expression of the pursuit of those needs. The above interpretation in the book can also be construed thus as three kinds of people being present in one person’s outlook as he evolves - from job being a means to getting a pay cheque to it being one’s calling, satisfaction of hierarchical needs plays an important part. (http://www.expresscomputeronline.com/20041129/technologylife01.shtml)

Of the many factors that affect success at work, the alignment between the personality, style, values, and culture of our workplace are probably the most critical factors for professional success and happiness. These are the factors that most often lead to job failure. By contrast, those who are the happiest and most satisfied in their careers usually work in organizations or with clients whose values are aligned closely with their own.

Honey I brought the Shrinks!
John W. Thibaut and Harold H. Kelley, authors of The Social Psychology of Groups found that sometimes people stay in unsatisfactory situations because they cannot see alternatives. Does it mean that job hopping happens because there are ample opportunities for professionals? Also, the social upbringing helps decide how much of a tendency you might have to change a job you don’t like. For example, a recent study in the Academy of Management Journal finds that the job-hopping strategy pays off far more for white males than for females or minorities. Out of 700 MBAs in their late 30s working full-time for a variety of businesses in the early 1990s, some 52% were white males, 25% white and minority females, and 23% minority males, of which 70% were African American. (http://www.businessweek.com/2001/01_04/b3716083.htm). This also means that people who have toiled harder to get the right kind of jobs are less likely to leave in a hurry.

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The KISS Principle - Keep it Simple Stupid!
At the outset, it is important to know what you want. Take stock of your professional values and develop a clear understanding of what is important to you. Job change should flow from the desire to change - either in your job or your profile, which in turn needs to be a conscious decision to be effective. It’s advisable that you share your reasons for quitting, with your boss in cordial terms. Companies aren’t expected to criticize someone for moving on to improve his or her career. Therefore, emphasize upon your need to focus on professional growth. If you volunteer to be involved in the selection and transition of your successor, you will have proven your dedication and sincerity towards the work and organization. It’s important to try and keep the bridges intact even when you cross over to the other side.

Sherrie Taguchi, a career development professional and the former director of MBA Career Management at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, gives this advice to all of her clients: “Be honest with yourself and prioritize your values. Write them down so you have them to refer to when you are evaluating organizations and offers."

Taguchi has an interesting perspective where she encourages people to apply the 80-20 rule in their career planning by “taking on roles that 80 percent of the time allows you to draw on your strengths, prior experience, and core skills. The other 20 percent of your efforts should take you out of your comfort zone." It’s a great way to look at things. (http://www.moaa.org/TodaysOfficer/careers/look_leap.asp)

The Three Year Itch
How long is long enough to be not viewed as job hopping
How frequent is frequent to you? It depends on whether you are an employer or an employee. Frequent is a relative term when applied in moderate terms. Yet, duration is important. If you change jobs every 12 years, some companies might think you lack dynamism. But if you job-hop every six months, potential employers may see you as a piece of dynamite they’d rather not touch with a barge pole! Or may even mistake you for a tennis player on an ATP tour! Although companies are concerned with performances and accomplishments and why a particular job change has taken place rather than the timing, staying in your current job for sometime allows companies to breathe easy on tangible costs of recruitment, placements and intangible costs of organizational compatibility.

If I am a Cobbler… should I shift from Nike to Gucci?
So, is the acceptable duration of staying in a job also related to the kind of industry you work in? Perhaps. For instance the IT industry is a place where job changes occur at a relatively faster clip than other places. Job hopping in an industry that relies less on personality related functions may welcome changes more often or is more flexible to changes.

Silicon Valley, for instance, is an exception where job hopping is more common than other places. Computer professionals in Silicon Valley and elsewhere in California do move around more often than other places in the US. As Ronald J. Gilson, a law professor at Stanford and Columbia says that Silicon Valley’s hypermobility is helped by lack of enforcement of non-compete agreements. Anna Lee Saxenian from University of California, Berkeley jokes that it is easier to change jobs than parking lots here. She concludes that instead of vertically integrating, Silicon Valley relies on systems that can flexibly accommodate all sorts of new components and people leading to such job hopping bringing in innovations. There are people like James B. Rebitzer of Case Western Reserve University who disagree though and feel that employees who jump away take their knowledge with them. Rebitzer is certainly not in minority as most experts feel that frequent movement upsets plans of employers and causes an employee no good professionally.
(http://economistsview.typepad.com/economistsview/2005/12/job_hopping_inn.html)

Hypermobility is more counter productive in an industry where a company invests in the personality, marketing, analytical skills of a professional and equates such investment with returns over a period in time. Spending adequate time in one place can thus be reasoned and rationalized as returns equated with inputs or investments (not just the tangible, quantifiable investments, but other individual - specific skills that are typically acquired in an organization).

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The size of a company also matters when an employee job-hops. A smaller company will be wary of such bungee jumpers and participants of Who Dares Wins joining them rather than a large one. The reason is that frequent job switches does not affect a large company that relies on systems, whereas smaller companies are either not systems-driven or are evolving into systems-based entities and thus such cart-wheeling career movers appear more like impatient bulls in a China shop. A large organization is able to absorb changes faster due to the fact that dependencies are far less on personalities. This gap between large and small companies gets narrowed when we look at senior levels where business strategies in big companies depend on the dynamism of veterans who carry huge advantages of non-substitutable personal networks and unique business vision acquired with experience.

The Fear Factor
A problem job hopping professionals typically face is how to convince potential employers that they have finally discarded the mad hopping boots for stable ones. If one genuinely wants to get out of this hole, he needs to be more careful regarding job approaches, resumes and interviews. If possible, use recommendation or references from your boss at one of the companies where you worked for a short while. A good recommendation from one of these places will help your standing as someone who has worked hard even in a shorter spell. It also wipes away any doubts regarding your professional delivery or performance. Also, one must try and use a functional resume rather than a chronological one so that the gaps are not very evident and the focus is on the strengths.

At the end of the day, the unanimous truth that shows up before us is that a decision to change one’s job must be made keeping the longer term career prospects in mind. When you hop, you should also think of the vertical jump you are likely to make in the longer run. To sacrifice a large jump in the future for a shorter hop now is not wise. It is better to understand your focus and give yourself what you want. Assuming that you are likely to spend about 100,000 hours in your life working in office and amongst people, it is a special gift you need to give yourself.

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