The Awful Downside of Job Hopping Syndrome

I make the contention that with the birth of job boards and instant access to open positions, changing jobs is far too easy and turnover has become far too acceptable. There is cost to the people taking these jobs and to the companies hiring them. It’s called turnover, disengagement, underperformance and stagnating career growth.

In the olden days it took more effort to change jobs and it wasn’t done superficially. Rather than trying to work through short-term job problems the default nowadays is to find a new job. These are the same people who then complain their jobs are unrewarding.

Yet this is the likely consequence when people apply to ill-defined jobs en masse and those hired are seduced by superficial promises, an employer brand, and a nice sounding position. I refer to this problem as Job Hopping Syndrome. It’s caused by overvaluing short-term needs without considering the long-term consequences. This is diagrammed in the Job Seeker’s Decision Grid graphic.

job hopping syndrome

People leave jobs for the reasons in the bottom half of the grid and accept them for those in the top. The reasons for leaving and taking jobs can be categorized as either intrinsic or extrinsic. The extrinsic reasons on the left tend to be short-term and tactical. The intrinsic reasons on the right are long-term and career-related.

As you review the descriptions of the four quadrants below consider the point of view of both a job seeker and the hiring manager. This will help you appreciate how each person perceives and evaluates the same information.

To get started, think how you’d answer this question I always ask candidates first, “Why are you looking for a new position?” I then categorize their answers into either the Daily Grind or Going Nowhere quadrants.

The Daily Grind: Sometimes people leave jobs for spur of the moment problems or temporary challenges. Being required to work overtime without warning, screwing up on a project or just too long a commute are part of the Daily Grind. Leaving for these reasons is not necessarily bad unless they’re the excuse a person always uses for why a job didn’t work out. That’s why during the work history review I also find out the reasons the person left his or her last few jobs.

Going Nowhere: Lack of career growth is a reasonable reason for leaving a position. A festering problem with the boss or a mismatch on the culture also suggests it’s time to move on. When a candidate mentions these things I then find out how long it took for the person to decide it was time to leave. I also try to discover if the person did anything proactively to address the problem head-on before leaving.

Once I find out a person’s reasons for leaving I typically ask, “What are you looking for in a new position?” I then categorize his/her answers into the short term, i.e. what they GET on the start date or the long-term, i.e. what they’ll beDOING.

Getting – Day 1: An overemphasis on what a person gets on the day they start is the fundamental cause of Job Hopping Syndrome. This includes a title, company name and reputation, a salary and location. None of these factors drive long-term satisfaction. Whenever candidates mention these things as their reasons for accepting an offer I dig further finding our why they accepted their previous few jobs and if the jobs worked out as hoped. If a person had little knowledge of the job, the hiring manager’s style or the company culture before accepting an offer things usually don’t work out.

Doing – Year 1: For a job to represent a true career move it must offer some combination of more satisfying work, a bigger role and/or more opportunity for learning and growth. When I ask candidates what they’re looking for in a new job many describe these factors. However, to validate past decision-making I ask them how and when they figured these things out for the previous few jobs they took. The most successful people, as a result of thorough due diligence, figure them out before accepting an offer. Those who weren’t successful blamed the companies for making false promises.

Job Hopping Syndrome is a serious malady affecting 68% the U.S. workforce. For companies the cure starts by clearly defining what a person needs to do to be successful rather than what a person needs to have in terms of skills and filtering them on what they get on the day they start. For job seekers it’s not making long-term career decisions using short-term information.