About being sensible

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Running a creative business - tenure vs job-hoppers

Deirdre Wilson – Wednesday, February 17, 2016   


When did it become a 'thing' that you are expected to change jobs every two years? Recently I have had clients move on to new jobs because they have been in their current role for two years - that was the explanation that was offered up which just made me feel as if I had been on another planet for the past few years. My niece told me that a recruiter was concerned for her job prospects because she had spent four years in one role. Apparently this meant she would now be pigeon-holed. What utter bunkum - if you get pigeon-holed as a result of four years of employment then doing a university degree becomes a huge risk.

Other conversations that have worried me about employment are the number of employers who vigourously state that they won't employ young women because the risk is of pregnancy is too high. I don't get it. I understand that some smaller companies end up in a huge hole because they have lots of staff off on maternity leave at the one time - to them I say this: diversify. I have employed women and men, young and experienced and the only one who left to have a baby was an experienced member of staff who was more than a little surprised to find her family growing. The rest of them left to travel or pursue a different career - real estate sales anyone?

My niece also told me that you have to change jobs every few years in order to grow your salary. This sort of job hopping is creating huge problems for companies both big and small. A conversation with a solicitor alerted me to the increasing difficulty small legal firms are having in getting and retaining staff. The old model of staying on in the hope of making partner has been dead for a while in legal and accounting firms but it has been replaced with a new horror - the job hopper. Graduates stay a couple of years then head off to travel - all that training and investment in them pouring out the door as they leave. When they return a few years later they don't want to return to the level they left - after all they are now several years out of uni so shouldn't they be on a better salary? Well, only if they are worth it. But how can they be when they don't have the experience or knowledge of the business and its customers?

The same happens in all industries - the inexperienced but travelled employee wants big challenges, not the mundane stuff of turning the wheels of industry. We all know that interesting and challenging work is much more enjoyable than the routine that makes up most jobs but the responsibility for making it interesting is not solely that of the employer / manager. Each of us is able to set goals for ourselves, to look for productivity improvements or ways of building our knowledge. Turning the wheels of industry needn't be dull.

Job hoppers leave holes when they move on. Someone needs to pick up the slack while the latest peg wriggles into the hole. The pieces are being picked up by those who remain and often they are working at a more senior level. While they pick up the pieces, their more senior role suffers and they manage less, making other staff unhappier. Much like the ripples that spread out from a pebble thrown in a pond, so the affect of a job hopper moving on affects many more people than they would expect.

Why then, would you stay on at a company if your job is made harder every time someone leaves? Wouldn't it be easier to job hop yourself and enjoy the benefits of a higher salary, a grace period to learn in and then the ability to move on before you have tired of the local barista? It does sound attractive but not very rewarding.

Job hoppers are creating a boom for the training industries. And there can be a real upside for companies if they invest in well developed training materials. Good training that locks in the culture, the values and the methodologies of the company helps preserve that company's intellectual capital. Starting from induction programs and moving throughout the company's core activities, investment in training will assist in maintaining continuity whilst the job hopping trend continues.

A recent article in AFR Boss magazine "Better the devil you know" by Fiona Smith points to this situation and the gaping hole in available, suitably skilled senior management that we, in Australia, are rushing towards. At Hothouse Design we see it when we look into the businesses around us - both on the client and supply side.

Interestingly, the suppliers with whom we work closest are the ones with the more stable workforces. It is so much easier for us to deal with people who know us, who understand how we work and who work with us to achieve whatever it is that we have promised our clients. The suppliers with a revolving staff rota are harder to deal with because we seem to be providing the induction to us on their behalf.

Running a business is tough - I know that - and having to bring new staff members up to date with each client, their particular needs, processes and style can be that one task too many to do in a day. But if it isn't done, then the client is left to do it themselves. That's why we like our suppliers with solid, dependable, long term staff. And we understand that it works the same way for our clients. Our ability to know their business, their history, other staff in their organisation makes their job easier. It is not favouritism to continue to use the same suppliers all the time, it is a pragmatic, time saving, therefore cost saving business choice.

Job hoppers break down all of that productivity gain that comes with experience and familiarity. There used to be a theory that people moving jobs often would be a boon to the companies they joined as they would bring new ways of working and new ideas. You don't need new staff to change the way you work, nor do you need new staff to get new ideas. Ideas are not the exclusive province of a job hopper. The problem with the idea that new staff are a breath of fresh air is that now, a few years down the track, we can see the deficit that is left in companies as a result of changing staff frequently and it doesn't appear that the benefits are outweighing the cost.

The opportunity that lurks in this mess is the opportunity to reduce the work in the small jobs. By that I mean to find ways to either eliminate, automate or digitalate (yes that is a made up word) the stuff that gets repeated. I sat with a senior lawyer in a smallish legal firm recently while they wrote down (with a pen on paper much to my horror) my name, address and next of kin. Surely that is something I could have supplied digitally along with answers to heaps of other questions, thereby saving both of us valuable time and allowing the lawyer to spend time with me working on the crux of my issue.

No wonder younger staff don't want to do this sort of work - why would anyone with a hard earned university degree want to spend their time writing down a client's contact details so that someone else can copy type them - hopefully accurately - into a computer? The lawyer's lack of digital options also created more work for me as I have to check the copy typed details to make sure the information I provided has survived the two very manual processes accurately, something I wouldn't have to do if they had a digital option for info collection. That's what I mean by digitalate a job - for instance, use cleverly designed digital tools like interactive PDF forms to collect data instead of writing it down face-to-face.

So, as much as job hoppers are a horror, they also present an opportunity for companies to find a better way to turn the wheels of industry. And we are going to need it because we, as a nation, are heading for a big, steaming mess - read Fiona Smith's article - but you'll need a subscription to AFR to see it (annoying, I know).

And If you need help developing training materials or digitalating your tasks, give me a call. I wonder if "digitalating" will take off as a word…? Probably not, but if it does - you heard it first here!!

Further Reading

Need more motivation in your current job? Read this...                   
- Every day. Something new.

This post is by Deirdre Wilson, Director of Hothouse Design – Australia's most sensible information design company.
Deirdre applies her background in industrial design and design management to the complex and wondrous projects undertaken by Hothouse Design.

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