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Editor’s Comment: ‘Job-hopping’ – does HR care?

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Annie Ward

There comes a time in every period of employment when you feel on top of the game, you’ve matured into the role like a good Cheddar ripe for the cracker and you could just about do the job in your sleep; so what can bosses do to halt the steady creep to ‘serial job-hopping’ and should they care – Editor’s Comment finds out.


Looking through the glass ball, the Future Laboratory recently predicted that the more flexible and collaborative organisations will be the ones who are successful at retaining and attracting the best staff because according to them we will see a new marketplace emerge in which staff not bosses rule the roost.

In this new ‘organic’ workplace employees will:

  • be more autonomous and independent

  • be less loyal to a business but more loyal to themselves

  • will change job and even career frequently (as much as six to ten times) and pursue portfolio careers

  • take more sabbaticals from their jobs

  • become ‘flexecutives’ – flexible workers who pursue their own work agendas and often work remotely, from home or on the move

  • put more emphasis on knowledge and ideas above practical skills

  • be more demanding: expecting employers to guarantee quality of life outside of their career and nurture skills which are relevant to them personally

  • expect their employer to have strong ethical and moral values

  • be increasingly assessed on their networking ability

Javier Carrasco, Director at Hudson, commented: “This report unveils a challenging vision of the future workplace that all employers should take notice of. The way in which we work is set to change considerably and, in many instances, this transformation is already underway.

“We’re already seeing strong evidence in the market of a shortage of available talent and a change in what some of our candidates are looking for from their working lives and prospective employers.

“If the predictions in the report become reality, a new, more democratic and ‘organic’ workplace is set to become the standard business model for the 21st century. Employers would be wise to adopt these practices sooner rather than later if they are to win the battle to retain their best people and attract the brightest talent.”

Moving jobs six to ten times would most probably have been looked at with suspicion for those careerists now entering retirement but for the younger generation starting out it really does look as though the job-for-life concept has gone forever.

So why is this and is it something HR should welcome or fear?

I asked professional body, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) for their thoughts.

Far from agreeing, however, with the concept John Philpott, CIPD Chief Economist, says that the idea of a ‘job-for-life’ never existed in the first place:

“ONS figures show that median job tenure (length of time with same employer) fell from 61 months in 1996 to 48 months in 2001, largely due to the improvement in job opportunities in that period.

“Job mobility seems to have increased for all age groups but somewhat more for 16-17 year olds and 18-24 year olds, though it is worth bearing in mind that both these latter groups have relatively high job mobility anyway. Young people have traditionally ‘shopped around’ the labour market before settling down.”

According to Philpott, the trends we are seeing maybe more to do with the result of a tight labour market.

“Indeed, it is arguable that overall mobility in the labour market will fall as the effects of an ageing workforce begin to be felt; older workers tend to be more settled and are those least likely to voluntarily quit jobs. If this is true we would only see ‘a workforce of drifters’ if, unlike previous generations, today’s young workers were to retain the mobility characteristics of youth into old age. This seems to me unlikely but only time will tell.”

Looking at the CIPD’s 2004 survey into attitudes to careers and loyalty to employers what we might be looking at is not a general shift towards ‘serial job-hoppers’ across the board but a faction of well-educated, younger workers putting career and self-aspirations first before loyalty to any one employer.

From their sample of 1,100 workers they found:

  • 36% of employees are ‘traditionalists’ looking to spend a long time with one employer and moving up the organisation. Surprisingly, this group seems to be relatively young and often not from graduate backgrounds.

  • 31% are ‘disengaged’, not driven by work and lacking in strong commitment to their employers. These tend to be somewhat older and lower earners.

  • 24% who are ‘independent’, primarily interested in their own individual career prospects and not tied to any particular employer. These tend to be graduates and report lower commitment to their organisations, lower job satisfaction and a higher intention to quit. Indeed graduate employees as a whole tend to be less satisfied and committed despite occupying senior positions.

The independents it would seem and to a lesser extent, the disengaged are the ones who are more likely to be ‘job hoppers’. According to the CIPD, their size together represents a large proportion of the workforce; food for thought for those in the retention business.

Philpott believes that the numbers of ‘independent’ workers may actually be rising because of a higher proportion of graduates in the workforce rather than due to a fundamental change in attitudes.

“Even so in a state of full employment, and with employers desperate to retain and engage such people, their potential to ‘drift’ will exert a bigger effect on the workplace.”

Even in the public sector the concept of a ‘job-for-life’ seems to have been eroded as civil service cuts are made and attractive final salary pension schemes are slashed for new starters – usually the carrot that ties workers in for the duration.

With this evidence in mind, it seems rather futile to deny the fact that the comfortable ‘job-for-life’ has disappeared but with pensions as fragile as they are for future retirees, giving up work when we’ve had enough is no longer an option so it looks as though job-hopping will be the mainstay of the labour market of the future.

It may not, however, all be doom and gloom for employers looking to hang onto key talent. In survey after survey, we continually see that flexibility and improved work/life balance options top cash as key motivators for staying with a firm.

If this is the case then businesses will seriously need to consider imposing flatter work structures, flexible approaches to benefits and the adoption of new methods to empower staff. But most importantly helping employees to gain valuable skills and experience will help to keep staff who are reportedly more interested in ‘lifelong learning’ opportunities then quick cash solutions.

‘Job-hopping’ therefore it would seem will become part and parcel of the labour markets of today and the future. While HR may fear a creep towards serial ‘job-hopping’ they can stem the flow of sky-high staff turnover by accepting this new reality and engaging with it to ensure that the fluid movement of staff is not rapid and destructive but gradual and measured.


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Annie Hayes

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