Is staying in a job too long hazardous to your career?

You might be surprised to learn that the average length of time today’s workforce spends in a job is just 4.4 years. Assuming that the average worker is employed steadily from age 18 through to retirement at 65, that means they will hold 10 different jobs throughout their career! And that’s just the average.

Younger generations are much more likely to get restless earlier. Today’s youngest workers (Millennials and Gen Z) are expected to hold as many as 12 to 15 jobs throughout their lifetime. Workers aged 25 and 34 change jobs much quicker than their baby boomer and Gen X parents, finding a new role every 3.2 years. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Canada’s oldest workers (65+) stay in a job an average of 10.3 years.

is staying in a job too long hazardous

are you more a ‘lifer’ or a ‘job-hopper’?

Lifers are more likely to stay with one job for the majority of their career. They may advance through the ranks at that company as their career progresses, but they’re loyal to their employer for the duration of their career. They prefer a stable job and knowing what’s waiting for them at work each day.

Job hoppers are always looking for what’s new. They tend to get restless when employed by the same company for too long. They enjoy variety at work and aren’t afraid to try new and risky things in their career. They’re more likely to work for startups and take on risky ventures. They tend to switch jobs every few years (or less) and thrive in temp or contract jobs.

Then there are the people who don’t fall into either of these categories. They take a little from column A and a little from column B. They might prefer stability at work, but they’re happy to switch jobs if an exciting opportunity arises.

the downsides of staying in a job too long

In previous decades, companies viewed full-time employees as investments. A skilled worker was an asset who would grow with the company over time. As workers gained new skills, there would be opportunities to climb the corporate ladder. Employees took on more responsibility as their experience allowed, and received a sizable salary increase with each promotion. Today, that model is disappearing. Companies are becoming wary of investing heavily in training employees who, more likely than not, will pack up and leave within a few years.

In some industries – we’re looking at you, technology industry – lifers are all but an extinct breed. To keep up with the latest skills, tech trends, and receive competitive compensation, it’s all but a necessity to hop from job to job.

smaller salary increases

Unless you’re receiving promotions every 2 to 3 years, along with significant increases in compensation, it’s likely that seeking out new opportunities is the chief way you will receive raises and promotions. In 2016, the average raise is about 3%. However, a salary increase from a job change can boost your income as much as 10-20%. Fortune estimated that staying at one company for more than 2 years, on average, will reduce your lifetime earnings by 50%!

lack of skill development

Overstaying at a company can hinder the opportunities available to you in the future, too. This is most apparent in hot tech fields such as development, mobility, IoT, and data mining and analysis. Once you start to fall behind, it’s difficult to catch up again. The reality is that staying in a job too long can pigeonhole your career. Immersing yourself in a career with a narrow skill focus will make you an expert in that field, yes. But you risk not learning new skills because they’re not needed in your current role.

stigma of falling behind

Employers in quick-moving IT fields are looking for innovation and individuals who have the technical expertise to drive their company forward. The technologies that were hot 5 years ago are no longer relevant or necessary. In these cases, sticking with a job for 10+ years is unheard of. Employers actually assume that their best performers will move around. If you’re staying in a job too long, employers in fields driven by innovation may begin to wonder if you have the drive, adaptability and fresh skills needed to bring value.

contract work is normal

The rise of contract work and the so-called gig economy over the past decade has de-stigmatized short-term and temporary work, particular in fields like technology and consulting. The days where short-term and temporary jobs were only for unskilled and inexperienced workers who couldn’t find a full-time job are gone. There has been a fundamental shift in employment.

Many businesses are opting to keep their workforce agile, employing more temporary and contract workers. In Canada, the number of temp workers has surged from 11.3% of the workforce in 1997 to 13.4% percent today and continues to increase steadily. The largest area of growth is in contract work, which has increased a whopping 83%, with over 1.1 million Canadians currently working on contract.

how much job hopping is too much?

Though staying in a job too long can hinder your career, not sticking it out long enough can also be a problem. When hiring managers see a string of jobs lasting only months at a time on your resume, they may start to wonder about your stability, personality, and competency. Are you difficult to get along with? Are you easily bored? They need to justify the expense of hiring and pouring resources and training into you. You’re as much an investment as a shiny new piece of technology – let’s say a new printer.

Think about it for a moment. You’re shopping for a new printer. Along with the printer, you need to buy accessories like special ink and toner that only work with that printer. You have an option to get one that, historically, lasts 5 months before breaking, or one that lasts 3 years. In all other ways, both options are equal. Which one would you choose? It seems pretty cut and dry when it’s about a piece of equipment. Employers approach hiring decisions much the same way – you’re either a worthwhile investment, or you’re not. It’s not personal, it’s a matter of business sense.

The real problem arises when you make a habit of months-long employment. A blip or two on your resume isn’t a big deal. Most recruiters understand that sometimes a job just isn’t the right fit and moving on is the right choice for everyone involved. The key is to not make a pattern of it. Changing jobs with the seasons isn’t a good look on anyone.

is there a sweet spot when it comes to job duration?

There’s a fine balance to walk when determining how long you should stay in a job. Excessive job hopping can be frowned upon. On the other hand, some career paths all but expect you to flit between jobs, picking up new and cutting-edge skills to stay competitive.

So what is the magical sweet spot? According to recruiters, you should try to stick out each job at least 18 months. With a solid 18 months under your belt, you’ve settled into your job, and received the training to do your job thoroughly, while also bringing value to the company you work for. Less than 18 months, and you’re in danger of being seen as a flight risk, particularly if you make a habit of bouncing from job to job. The one exception to this rule is contract work. Contracts are usually for a set duration ranging from 3 months to 2 years. Most employers will understand that contract work comes with a finite timeline.

The bottom line: in today’s employment landscape, switching jobs every few years can actually be beneficial to your career, particularly if you work in a fast-moving field like IT. With that in mind, every employee is different. Some people prefer a stable work environment, others believe variety is the key to enjoying coming into work each day. There’s room out there for everyone.

Are you looking for new opportunities? Whether you’re interested in contract work, or a new full-time job, Randstad can help you find the right fit.

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