Career Hopping: The New Trend

Until about two decades ago, people spent years trying to get a job in a government department or a Public Sector Undertaking, and if they were lucky enough to bag one, they would stay in it till retirement. “Job security” was a thing, and people would toil their entire lifetimes for a single employer with their sights set on post-retirement benefits such as pension, provident fund and gratuity that would see them through old age.
There was no such thing as job hopping. In most cases, the employer had the last word on the tenure of employment. If a new hire could deliver the same or better results than an incumbent employee, the latter was dispensable. This is still true in sectors where labour supply is plentiful and the business outcome does not depend on the incumbent.
All that changed with globalisation. Spending your lifetime with a single employer is no longer a considered the ideal. Job tenures are becoming shorter and switching jobs is a regular thing to do.
But, switching companies too often — every six months to a year — is still frowned upon. Most people try to give a job at least a couple of years before moving on to another one. And quick job switches inevitably warrant a barrage of questions from interviewers on one’s motives for the changes. Also, somehow, saying you’re leaving a job to seek a more challenging role seems professionally more acceptable than saying you’re taking up a more lucrative offer.
Employers, too, don’t look kindly on job hoppers. Companies work hard to retain employees as recruiting and training people is an expensive process. Human resource models have typically been designed keeping employee retention and growth in mind. Employers even try to put “golden handcuffs” (benefits, typically deferred payments, given to employees to discourage them from leaving their job) on resources who are in high demand because they possess niche or “hot” skills. They also offer increasingly challenging roles to make the employee feel valued. But, despite all of this, job-hopping is a regular thing now.
If you give the matter deeper thought, you will realise that what we’ve been doing all this while actually switching employers and not really jobs. We may be adding new skills, but they usually build on existing ones and are in our respective domains of experience and expertise. What we’ve been doing is employer hopping, while keeping our core jobs the same. So, in that sense, the term “job-hopping” is a bit wrongly worded.
There are new trends at play now. We are moving from so-called job-hopping to actual career-hopping. People are throwing caution to the wind to pursue their passions and be their own masters. Most of us know someone who has spent some years in the corporate sector, given it up to pursue their passion for a sport or to travel, and then, a year down the line, become an entrepreneur by setting up a restaurant or some other business.
Until ten years ago, such people were an exception, but not anymore. With the number of people giving up well-established careers to follow their passions rising, employers need to brace themselves for career-hopping. Let’s look at the four major drivers of this trend:
DRIVER 1: Rapid obsolescence of skills
Gone are the days people celebrated the end of college life by tearing up their books, overjoyed that studies were finally over. In today’s world, one has to continuously update one’s skills and knowledge or risk becoming obsolete. Rapid changes in technology and business models combined with shifting consumer preference are making entire organisations obsolete. Naturally, those who lack marketable skills have to do something entrepreneurial to survive.
DRIVER 2: Hyperautomation
Advances in artificial intelligence and automation are having profound effects on employment. The fear of losing jobs and entire work streams becoming redundant due to automation is also causing people to move towards entrepreneurship.
DRIVER 3: Abundance of career options
Long gone are the days when being a doctor, lawyer or engineer was only socially accepted career choices. In fact, we are now moving on from the second wave of acceptable professions — business management, product and fashion designing, call centre jobs, hospitality services — that came up in the 90s. The last few years have seen the rise of bloggers, social media managers, chief experience officers, app developers and more. Wanting to explore options is an important driver of career-hopping.
DRIVER 4: Legitimacy of leisure
Leisure is no longer a bad word. It is an integral part of Millennials’ lives. Until a few years ago, in developing economies, those who actively announced their leisure-time activities were viewed as lazy. But, things are changing. “Work hard, play hard” is the new mantra. Not wanting to work harder than necessary and valuing one’s free time is now seen as a legitimate aspiration. Leisure time when combined with financial safety enables people to pursue their passion, whether that means writing a book or running a farm.
The fear of losing jobs and entire work streams becoming redundant due to automation is also causing people to move towards entrepreneurship
All this means that the war for talent will be won by a few. Employers will need to rethink work and the workplace around the individual’s needs. Employers will have to think deeply about how they can nurture loyalty among Millennials or risk losing a large percentage of their employees. This, in my opinion, is the biggest shift from the analog to the digital world.
Abhijit Bhadouri