Job hopping—A sign of the times

The FABRICATOR February 2006
June 26, 2007
By: Vicki Bell

The average employee no longer stays with the same company until retirement. Some change jobs frequently. Job hopping can pose problems for both employees and employers. When workers pursue jobs that are good fits for their skills and interests, and when employers strive to meet these workers' most important needs, everyone wins.

Employment hunting on the web

Remember the good old days when men and women worked for one company for 30-plus years—perhaps advancing to higher positions within the company—and retired with a gold watch, a pension plan, and a great send-off party? Although a few of today's workers may have this experience (my brother-in-law recently celebrated 30 years with essentially the same company, which has seen multiple acquisitions), this scenario is far from the norm.

According to Marlowe C. Embree, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin – Marathon County (UWMC), the average 20-something entering the job market for the first time can expect, on average, nine to 13 job changes in a working lifetime. Put differently, the average job in the U.S. now lasts only 3.6 years. In his paper "Career self-management in the new world of work", Embree pointed out that these are projected median figures, which means that 50 percent of these workers can expect even more job changes.

Radical Career Shifts

Not only are employees changing jobs more frequently, more are making drastic career shifts. Embree said that today's workers can expect "an average of 3 to 5 radical career shifts with a working lifetime." Radical career shift is defined as a complete redefinition of one's vocational self … "from CPA to fighter pilot to neurosurgeon to bungee-jumping instructor to U.S. senator."

Greater Expectations

Embree also said that more than seven of 10 U.S. workers would change jobs tomorrow if wishing could make it so. He surmised that most people apparently expect a lot more from work than they are receiving—possibly because many choose careers at random.

Employer Quandary

What does this work paradigm mean for employers? You may have to work harder to retain good workers who are looking for more than just a paycheck.

According to Embree, work in our culture is about three things:

  1. Making a living—Paying the bills, saving for retirement, keeping the wolf from the door. Money, however, is not the scorecard of success; it's the side dish, not the entrée.
  2. Making a life—Making a lifestyle, a way of spending or structuring time. Ironically, money is gained most often by making lifestyle sacrifices—working when you'd rather be playing, traveling when you'd rather be home, toeing the company line when you'd rather be an iconoclast.
  3. Making a difference—Achieving your mission, your purpose, your psychological legacy.

Embree groups these objectives under balance, one of six qualities he believes will be critical in the job environment at least until 2027. Employers who endeavor to help employees achieve these goals in their jobs should realize greater retention.

Keys to Minimize Hopping

A post on The Fabricator Blog, "Job hunting or staying put," cited an Express Personnel Services survey of business owners, managers, and employees across various industries, which concluded that 48 percent of respondents plan on staying in their current place of employment, and 71 percent said they planned to stay five years or more.

Fifty percent of the respondents to a "Welding Wire" survey asking how long subscribers planned to stay at their current jobs said they planned to stay until retirement.

Clearly, at least half of the working population would prefer not to job-hop. Like other life-altering events, job changes are stressful, even when you change to leave an intolerable situation. There are no guarantees that the next job will be the panacea for all that was wrong with the previous job, but there are steps you can take to find a better fit and mitigate the job-change stress.

Rather than blindly send your resume to all prospective employers whose job openings fit your skill set, figure out the type of job that best suits you. Embree outlined four major areas to consider when determining your best fit:

  • Skills—What you do well
  • Interests—What you enjoy doing
  • Motivators—What keeps you doing it
  • Style—What makes you unique as a worker

Skills. Skills include technical and transferable types. Technical skills are job-specific abilities you acquired formally or informally. Transferable skills, which are the more important of the two, are your natural talents.

Transferable skills fall into four general categories: skills with things; skills with ideas; skills with people; and skills with data/details.

Interests. Embree believes "work should be indistinguishable from play, except that work comes with direct deposit." If your career isn't a source of pleasure to you at least 70 percent of the time, either you're in the wrong field or you're struggling with depression caused by external workplace realities, like a lousy boss, or by personal issues in your life.

Embree cited John Holland's psychological model of career interests as a guide to help you determine your top interests. Holland groups the interests into six categories:

  1. Realistic—Working with your hands, tools, machinery, equipment, or physical work (machinist, forklift operator, farmer, police officer)
  2. Investigative—Working with ideas in an analytical fashion, with an emphasis on scientific or technical occupations (wildlife biologist, electrical engineer, pathologist, statistician)
  3. Artistic—Working with ideas in a way that emphasizes creative self-expression (journalist, actor, floral designer, gourmet chef)
  4. Social—People-helping occupations whether people contact is direct or indirect (teacher, counselor, social worker, religious leader)
  5. Enterprising—Occupations that involve group leadership, management, entrepreneurship, or persuasion (branch manager, salesperson, labor arbitrator, school administrator)
  6. Conventional—Occupations that emphasize precision and accuracy in managing details, often quantitative details (accountant, actuary, financial analyst, executive secretary)

Motivators. What gets you out of bed in the morning? What defines a good job for you in terms of rewards (other than financial) that you seek from your work?

To explain motivators, Embree cited Edgar Schein's eight basic, core motivators:

  1. Security and stability
  2. Technical competence
  3. Managerial expertise
  4. Autonomy
  5. Entrepreneurship
  6. Service and altruism
  7. Pure challenge
  8. Lifestyle balance

If your job doesn't meet your motivational musts, you likely will seek another job.

Style (personality or temperament). Are you an extrovert who enjoys spending a lot of time with others? Are you an introvert who prefers more solitude? Or are you perhaps and ambivert, like me, who falls dead center between extrovert and introvert on psychological tests?

Are you a thinker or a doer? Which is more important to you, competition or cooperation? Do you need structure or autonomy? How much on-the-job stress can you handle?

If you've worked at one or more jobs, you may be better able to identify your skills, interests, motivators, and style, as they relate to the workplace easily, and determine which career and job opportunities are best for you. If you need more assistance, you can take free online career assessment tests (Google "free career assessment," and make sure to look for any hidden charges or sales pitches before proceeding) or use books, such as those authored by Jim Barrett, to help you determine your best job.

What's Hot, What's Not

Wondering which occupations are expected to grow the fastest in the next few years and where they're located? America's Career InfoNethas helpful information, as does the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook

Vicki Bell

Vicki Bell

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8209

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The FABRICATOR is North America's leading magazine for the metal forming and fabricating industry. The magazine delivers the news, technical articles, and case histories that enable fabricators to do their jobs more efficiently. The FABRICATOR has served the industry since 1971.

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