The idea of job-hopping is not news. Although initially resistant, many organizations are accepting the reality that most millennials and Gen Z-ers aren’t looking to stay at a company for the entirety of their careers. Most have factored it into their HR strategy, preparing for the costs an eventual turnover will have, or adding new programs further rewarding tenure to squeeze as much “company loyalty” they can from a new hire. But few organizations have shifted their mindset on job-hopping altogether. Most still view it as a cost, and few view it as an organizational benefit. But as these younger generations begin to completely overtake the workforce and job-hopping becomes more of the norm and not the exception, those who do change their mindsets when it comes to job-hopping may end up winning the long game of employee talent.
We have often heard about the lack of company loyalty that our young workforce has. Gallup has dubbed millennials “The Job Hopping Generation,” and statistics have shown that millennials as well as Gen Z employees are switching jobs at about 3 times the rate of past generations. Why is that? Well, Gallup suspects it might have to do with the fact that young people are not engaged in their careers. Some point to millennials’ high frequency of job hopping as evidence that they are not passionate about their jobs. I argue the opposite is true.
If we look at what is being taught in our business schools, gospelized in today’s business books, and preached at conferences around the world, how could we be expected to stay in our jobs? Young people are told today more than ever to follow their passions, to innovate, and to break the conventional rules. And young people are passionate, as we see more people than ever saying that they are pursuing a career path consistent with their values and with missions they believe in. But we are passionate about causes, not companies. Passionate people don’t tend to stay in one place, they constantly seek out new opportunities that advance their missions.
Take Suzie for example. Suzie is passionate about making a difference for the planet by devoting her career to combating climate change. Suzie takes her first job out of college as a researcher at an environmentally focused think tank in Washington D.C. A few years in, she takes her experience and becomes a consultant at a sustainability focused consulting firm in California. After working her way up and becoming a partner at the firm, Suzie interviews and becomes head of sustainable initiatives at a Fortune 500 company based in New York.
Few would argue that Suzie’s was not a successful and passionate career path. Suzie was passionate about climate change and sought how she could make a difference. Ultimately, she chose that the best way to do this was not to stay at her think tank, but pursue different avenues of how to apply her passion, and make her impact in three different, yet very important and influential ways. Had she not gained experience in both the areas of research and consulting, her impact at the Fortune 500 company may have not been as influential.
If young people want to have a major impact on an issue, or issues, they care about, they know that they need a wide array of experiences. They seek knowledge in as many areas as possible so that when they are in the driver’s seat — as the CEO of an up and coming startup or the founder of an innovative nonprofit, they are prepared to lead and maximize their impact. When we think of who we trust to best run our nation and deal with crises of all kinds, do we prefer the candidate who has been governor, senator, and spent time in the private sector, or one who has spent their entire career in the House of Representatives? History, at least, has shown us that the former will make the better leader. Why is that not true when we think of business? Is the best person to navigate and lead change in our company the one who has been with the company through all of its archaic policies or one who has experience in seeing change at different levels through several organizations? We are beginning the see that benefits of being the latter, if not the CEO, in leadership throughout the company.
This is all not to say there aren’t very valid reasons companies want employee retention: turnover is costly, lack of fit between external hires and company culture can cause problems, and there are undeniable benefits knowing the inside and outside of a singular company. But recruiters and management cannot discount the benefits that a diversity of career experiences can bring.
Companies might even try looking for ways to encourage this — programs in which employees can start their career at a company, as a staff consultant or analyst; leave for a period to pursue other career goals or pursue their passions at different companies, and then come back to the company to be hired as a partner or a part of the executive team. What better way to promote company loyalty among employees while also building a smarter, more diverse, more nuanced, and agile organization? What better way to motivate employees to seek new experiences and do their best work with the knowledge that it will result in a high-level position? What better way to have employees that have a sense of career fulfillment? What better way to have a passionate organization?
And society should not discount the ability of job-hopping to make a difference. How? Because a passionate person is no longer confined to a single organization in which to make their impact, but rather can make a larger impact touching many organizations and fields; organizations who can then use that person’s contributions to do good. While devoting a career to impacting a singular organization is certainly noble, there is equal value in making that impact across a myriad of organizations throughout a career.
Organizations that embrace the reality of job hopping now will undoubtedly be the ones who come out the victors of the shift to the Millennial and Gen Z workforce. In a world in which agility, disruption, and creative strategies are only becoming more at the forefront of the way we work, changing our mindsets to view job-hopping as an organizational asset will poise organizations for long term success.