The Big Stay: Job-Hopping May Be Lucrative, but Tenure Pays, Too

Do you ever feel pressure to change jobs? Maybe you can pay your bills, you like your coworkers well enough, and the work is at least sometimes interesting… but, that grass over there sure looks green. Besides, it’s practically a rite of passage for millennials; Gallup calls us the job-hopping generation. And as tech layoffs grow, notions of employer-employee loyalty can feel like a bad joke.

Well, I can’t tell you whether you should look for a new gig. It’s clear there are some jobs out there people should jump from at their first chance. But for me, as I hit my seventh anniversary at a company (more than twice as long as the average millennial company tenure), I’m considering the subtle case for why someone might choose to stay at a job. I’ll share these reflections as counterpoints to reasons people advocate for job-hopping, especially since that trend is slowing down in favor of one called The Big Stay.

Leaving a job isn’t the only way to get a raise.

It’s true that leaving your job is statistically a great way to increase your paycheck. In part, that’s because you’re the shiny new answer to the company’s problems. But it’s also because interview processes force a conversation about pay and benefits. I wonder how many people have left jobs wanting more pay and did all the work involved in an interview but never put that work into making a case for a raise.

Or, if you’re the conservative type, you can hedge your bets. Getting a job offer with higher pay is a great way to build your case to request a raise at your current job. My friend used an offer at a competing production company to get a big raise and promotion at his longtime employer. He was so happy he could stay at the company he loved while collecting on his increased market value.

If you’re considering leaving your job for a raise, appraise how clearly you’ve asked for a raise at your own company before deciding that leaving’s the only option.

Even if you decide to optimize for capital, money is but one form of it.

Money is great, especially when you have enough to cover the basics. Beyond that, I observe it gets a little too much priority. When we move up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, money becomes less valuable. Happiness, purpose, respect, trust, self-actualization, and health end up being driven by relationships for those with enough means to live comfortably. The expensive car takes care of none of those.

Why, then, do we encourage people to endlessly chase the higher paycheck, when in the quest for more money, they may give up the hard-won trusting relationships and social capital that drive their happiness?

I realize not all collegial relationships are built on camaraderie and fondness, but at a minimum, someone who has spent a couple of years at a company has a reputation and some level of trust. When you join a new company, you need to spend real time and social effort building back these relationships and reputation. It’s a lot of work.

People who stay at companies have the privilege of going about their work benefiting from the social capital they’ve built. They can spend more time focusing on work and outcomes than learning the political intricacies of an organization and proving themselves within it.

Learning doesn’t only come from new exposure; it also comes from watching cause and effect.

I’ve heard the argument that staying at a single company can limit a worker’s exposure to tools, industries, bosses, and growth opportunities. This breadth of exposure certainly grows awareness, but I question whether awareness is the same as the type of learning that builds wisdom.

In my experience, the most valuable work involves changing human behavior. Change is not simple. Change takes time and deep contextual awareness. It puzzles me what lessons people can extract from one-year or two-year stints at a company when I’ve spent five years observing the lifecycle of an idea from conception to outcome. I’ve also seen ideas that seemed smart at the time fail over the years, and those lessons have been equally valuable. How can someone understand the difference if they don’t stick around long enough to see it play out?

The Big Stay: Should you stay or should you go (now)?

Maybe you’ve read this and you feel even more assured that it’s time to find a new job. You must be right! I don’t suggest we all blindly stay at our current companies.

Instead, I hope that we can all bring a little more critical thought to that important decision. I find the conventional wisdom that endorses job hopping as the natural millennial career path oversimplified and short-sighted.

The Big Stay can pay off financially, through carefully built relationships, and by building your wisdom about how real change is (slowly) made.


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