There has also been another significant pay-off: Anna’s successive job moves have meant her salary has grown by 30% in a short space of time. “I simply wouldn’t be in the position I am now unless I kept changing jobs,” she explains. “I started at a small start-up, and have quickly worked my way up. Each role has been an upgrade on the one before – I wouldn’t be on the pay I am now by waiting for a promotion.”
Rather than strategically planning her moves, Anna, whose surname is being withheld for career concerns, says she’s opted to change jobs – even industries – whenever a better opportunity has arisen. “Unless I really enjoy the role, I don’t see the point in staying for years just for the sake of it,” she adds. “If I can find more fulfilling work and effectively gain a promotion elsewhere, then how long I’ve stayed at a company shouldn’t matter.”
Workers like Anna who forego the traditional career-ladder climb, and instead jump from role to role, have often been stigmatised; in the 1970s, job hopping was likened to vagrancy and branded ‘Hobo Syndrome’ by industrial psychologists. As such, the practice has received a bad rap in many quarters; from recruiters and executives, but also older workers for whom accruing career capital was a hallmark of professional life.
However, these stereotypes may be outdated. In a tight labour market and an environment where companies show less and less loyalty to workers, many of those who job hop are reaping the rewards, gaining sizable pay rises and greatly accelerating their career progression. The question: is this approach to employment sustainable – and can it come back to haunt those making so many rapid moves?
A generational shift
For past generations, the tacit contract of work implied that companies would reward loyalty with progression and pay. This arrangement, however, began to break down in the 1980s. “Many companies downsized and saved money through mass layoffs,” explains Christopher Lake, assistant professor of management at the University of Alaska Anchorage, US. “More workers began to feel disposable, and that their job could be eliminated at any time.”
In the wake of this, strategically moving around the job market became more common, says Lake. By the 1990s, a new mentality had developed: job hopping. “Rather than letting their progress be dictated by a single employer, many workers felt empowered to actively manage their own careers: moving between companies as needed to advance, gain new skills or look for new opportunities.”
Recently, job hopping – which Lake defines as switching roles once a year – has flourished, with younger workers driving much of this movement. US Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that not only do employees aged under 34 change jobs most frequently (an average of 1.3 years for employees aged 20 to 24 in January 2020, versus 4.9 years for those aged 35 to 44), but they’re doing so more often: median tenure has been shrinking since 2010.
Following the Great Resignation and subsequent hiring crisis, job hopping seems to have swelled even further. In a February 2022 LinkedIn study of more than 20,000 US workers, 25% of Gen Zers and 23% of millennials said they hoped or planned to leave their current employers within the next six months. Lake says with greater choice, workers have had greater opportunities to job hop. “In order for someone to move around, they need enough options to find a better job.”
However, adds Lake, there has also been a generational shift in attitudes towards work. “We’ve seen a growing re-interpretation of what a career is for people, even before the Great Resignation. The traditional model was to work for a company who would effectively decide your progression for you. Today, people are autonomous – they want to take control of their career.”
Where quick switching works
In many cases, when workers job hop, they effectively take bigger strides down their career path. “When people change jobs, they collect skills, abilities and knowledge they can use in a future role,” says Lake. “A worker that’s job hopped will likely have a greater wealth of experience to draw from, leading to a wider variety of jobs and companies available to them.”
Lauren Thomas, European economist at company-reviews website Glassdoor, based in London, says workers often job hop because of slow internal processes at their company. “Moving to a new job can be a faster and easier way to progress to the next level in a career.”