There was a time when changing jobs regularly was looked down upon. Interviewers would be sceptical about candidates who had too many jobs listed on their CVs, viewing them as cynical job-hoppers who would probably move on as soon as something more attractive came along. Great credence was placed upon loyalty. Those who stayed in a role for several years were likely to achieve seniority based merely on duration and the perception of expertise.
But the days of unquestioning loyalty are over. We’re in the midst of the Great Resignation, where almost one in four UK workers are planning to change jobs in the next few months. Is this merely a reflex reaction born of the restlessness of COVID lockdowns, or does it represent a significant, long-lasting change to the way we view work.
As Generation Z make up a growing proportion of the workforce, job hopping is likely to become increasingly commonplace. Born between 1997 and 2012, Generation Z have grown up – or indeed, are growing up – against an ever-shifting backdrop of change, whether in the form of technological advancement (the rise of social media), political uncertainty (Brexit) or economic instability (the financial collapse of 2008, which may have forced their parents to change jobs or remortgage). Knowing how fragile their employment might be, Generation Z take nothing for granted and are less loyal to a single employer, always on the lookout for opportunities to develop themselves.
The events of the last couple of years could accelerate this trend. The experience of COVID-19 – which has kept us away from our friends, our families and our workplaces – has taught many of us that life’s too short to stay in a place where we’re unhappy. Workers are also much more likely to leave their current employer if they feel they weren’t properly supported during the pandemic, or the company haven’t made a more permanent move to flexible working. It’s important for employers to remember that flexibility is no longer a privilege – it’s an expectation.
The Gig Economy
The rise of the gig economy – facilitated by technology and accelerated by a lack of disposable income – has had no small impact. With soaring bills, rising property prices – particularly in London – and wages creeping up below the level of inflation, more and more workers are looking at additional revenue streams, whether it’s as an Uber or Deliveroo driver, or by doing freelance jobs on the side.
And why wouldn’t you? Offering flexibility, access to a global marketplace and the freedom to pick and choose suitable projects as and when you need them, the gig economy continues to expand at pace. The number of people using online platforms to find work has trebled in five years, with the gig economy workforce now reaching 4.5 million in England and Wales.
However, the instability of the current market means it’s not always possible to completely shun the security offered by an employer. Even people with their own businesses are often forced to work for other companies, at least on a part-time basis, in order to ensure a regular wage. 69% of freelancers and 63% of temporary workers considered moving into permanent, part-time or full-time work last year and it will be interesting to see whether this will translate into tangible movement in 2022.
In with the Generalists
In a world where we must constantly adapt and where we can learn or work from anywhere, the generalist will become more and more common. As they’re more prone to job-hopping, workers increasingly have a mixture of skills – a graphic designer with knowledge of user experience, or an operations manager who runs HR and facilities, for example – which means there’s not as much specialism.
At the same time, many companies are starting to recognise the value of transferable skills and the importance of diversity of thought; after all, you can never improve your team beyond your immediate level of understanding unless you bring in people with a slightly different mindset. As a result, the modern job hunter is an increasingly complex aggregation of skills and industries. While it can be hard for employers to replace leavers with a very specific combination of skills, they can save on salary costs by combining job roles. A departure presents the opportunity to split the vacant job into its constituent tasks and absorb them into other roles.
With so much of our lives now online, we have a virtual world of choice at our fingertips and are therefore more transient in everything from dating to our choice of takeaway. Due to the rise of virtual working, the same could also apply to our professional relationships.
Relationships have always been crucial to our happiness at work. A couple of years ago, the idea that the laptop would replace the kitchen or vending machine as the hub for workplace chitter-chatter would have seemed ridiculous. Now, we’re asking ourselves whether the concept of the office will soon cease to exist. Now we’re used to working remotely, will we become less dependent on in-person relationships? Will we be freed of the emotional ties that bind us to a particular workplace? In short, that dependence on relationships has been removed; or at least, it’s been displaced to the extent that it no longer need keep us in a particular job.
Yet we’re ultimately social animals and we’ll continue to crave those in-person relationships, purely because they’re more tangible, more fulfilling and arguably, more real than those developed largely on a laptop screen. Employers therefore mustn’t lose sight of the need to build a strong team culture. It’s important that they understand each individual member’s preferred mode and regularity of interaction, and keep the team connected through quick check-ins and social gatherings.
The net result of the relentless change we’ve experienced in recent years is that it’s no longer frowned upon to leave a job early – or perhaps to put it more accurately, to leave a job after a couple of years. As a race, we’re becoming more transient in our approach to life, let alone work. Technology has brought everything to our fingertips, and factoring in the effects of economic uncertainty and the impact of COVID-19, it could be that what we’ve traditionally viewed as career transience – the cycle of earning, learning and moving on in the quest for continual self-betterment – becomes the norm.