How Long Should You Stay At Your Job? Fulfillment, Value, And Opportunity

Once upon a time, American’s worked for one company their entire lives. They went in from 9-5, worked hard, didn’t know what a headhunter was, and retired with a pension that guaranteed a certain payout.

Times change.

Although this is a gross generalization, it does paint a picture of a time where loyalty between employer and employee was stronger and tenure at big corporations was longer. There are many factors that play into this:

  1. The attitude of the workforce – many talk about how baby boomers were grateful for work, and millennials are entitled.
  2. The strength of unions – About 20 years ago, roughly 20% of Americans were union members, and now it’s more like 10% (using federal data and CNN private sector statistics).
  3. The ease of job hunting – With Monster and numerous other sites available to search, not to mention thousands of people employed as headhunters who spend their every waking hour on LinkedIn, promoting the position that seems “just perfect for you,” availability has increased tremendously.

There are plenty of other reasons that we could get into, but I’d rather talk about what this means for you.

Nowadays, the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that people stay at a given job a little over 4 years, and that is expected to continue to drop. However, some companies are responding to the trend, and some predict that it will instead reverse.

So how long should you stay at your job?

Your employer will tell you indefinitely. A headhunter will tell you that you should leave tomorrow for this other amazing opportunity. Don’t forget peoples’ incentives…

Check out this previous answer to a question: How do you know when it’s time to leave your current company and move on? Let’s just get to the quick and dirty:

  1. As long as you’re happy
  2. As long as you’re learning
  3. As long as you’re respected
  4. As long as you’re valued
  5. Until you can do better somewhere else

That last one may seem a little harsh and at the crux of the issue we’re talking about here (lack of loyalty), but this is opportunity cost. If you stay at your job, you are passing on the opportunity to work somewhere else or for yourself.

In my corporate career, I felt like I learned probably 70-80% of what I was going to learn in a given position in about a year. I’m sure I would have continued to learn, especially around some of my better bosses, but the curve dropped off drastically.

Because of that, I usually spent the next year doing 3 things:

  1. My job
  2. Documenting and streamlining the processes, so my job could be done by a chimp.
  3. Job hunting.

I rinsed and repeated this 4 times. For a lot of people, a much better alternative will be to find another position within your company that will allow you to continue to learn, be happy etc… Smart managers know that it’s more valuable to the company overall to keep talented individuals, even if not in their department.

A lot of time, and especially in smaller companies, this isn’t always an option, though. If you’re young in your career, or if your learning curve is dropping off for any other reason, jumping around ever couple of years may still be the best choice, both for your education and finances.

If you fall into this boat, here’s the kicker:

Look for your next job while you still have your current job.

Coming to a prospective employer while already employed is the key. You can have any number of reasons for wanting to switch jobs, from the bigger ones we discussed to things as simple as “I want a better commute” or “I really like your company.”

If you’re already employed, any response is filtered through that fact, and your reasons can be yours. The only caveat is this: Your reason is always a positive about your future dreams and aspirations, never a negative about your current employer.

This follows the logic of the gossip: You know that one person who always talks shit about other people to you? What do you think they do when they’re around other people? They talk shit about you. Similarly, if you tell employer B that you want a new job because employer A sucks, they’ll worry that it’s a problem with you, not the employer… and they’re probably right.

If you find, like I did, that you just don’t want to be part of a giant company where you are a cog in the wheel. If you want to have more impact, and you want to build a business that allows you freedom and fun, then hit us (and our members) up.