Looking for work is an intensely stressful experience. It’s also insidious, because it doesn’t feel like it should be stressful. During a job hunt, I often find myself overwhelmed by the whole process. Part of me wants to give up and go back to bed. Another part questions my self-worth. Then I feel guilty for being overwhelmed by something as simple as reading job listings and sending emails.
So let’s be clear: it is the condition of looking for work that is stressful, not the activity. Your mind is aware that you’re making a decision that will have a large impact on your life. Although the mundane activities connected to a job hunt aren’t stressful individually, the broader context gives them weight.
I struggle with this every time. We all need reminders that it’s okay to recognize the stress a job hunt places on you. If you’re out of work, you have the added pressure of needing to resolve the situation quickly. If you’re still employed but looking, then you have the stress of juggling a job hunt and a day job.
But It’s Worth It
Despite the stress, getting a new job is by far the best way to dramatically improve your working life. That’s not just my opinion. Current research into the job market makes it clear:
According to ADP’s data, full-time workers who changed jobs saw their paychecks increase an average of 4.5 percent, an improvement over the 3.9 percent average that covers all full-time workers. (In one extreme illustration of the power of switching jobs, the salary of one Alabama engineer increased by 31 percent over 4 years by changing jobs every six to 12 months.)
If you go looking, you’ll find a variety of hot takes on this subject. They range from “kids these days would rather quit than pay their dues” to “of course they would, companies are awful.” I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle. We’re witnessing an employment culture shift and many employers haven’t caught up. They’re stuck in an outdated philosophy that says “employees should be grateful for the opportunity to work here. A small annual raise should be all it takes to keep them loyal.” But when your employees know the company next door will offer much more, of course they’re going to take it.
“I tend to change jobs about every six to twelve months. It's the best way to increase salary,” Baxter told CNNMoney. The calculation is simple: It comes down to staying and getting a 1% raise or leaving and receiving a 10% boost, he said.
I’ve repeatedly heard the statistic that the average job duration in tech is 18 months. While researching this book, I couldn’t find a good source for that number, but I did find several related bits of data:
The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that the average “computer” job lasts 4.8 years. Unfortunately, they lump all computer-related work together — from developers to actuaries — so it’s hard to say if technology jobs would be lower.
The Society for Human Resource Management says the average employee tenure for tech companies is around 3 years.
According to a PayScale survey, technology companies have the highest turnover rate. The biggest companies, like Amazon and Google, have turnover rates closer to 1 year.
Opinions vary as to why, but the most common idea is that this reflects a combination of two things. First, an overall shift away from the post-WWII job market where you could work 40 years for a single company and retire with a pension and a gold watch. Second, technology workers have valuable skills that are in high demand, making it relatively easy to find a better job.
Blah Blah Millennials Blah Blah Entitled
I can’t even begin to tell you how sick I am of reading opinion pieces on how Gen X is lazy, or that Millennials are entitled. They’re usually written by a Boomer who doesn’t understand how the job market has shifted. They’re stuck with an outdated view that jobs are plentiful, and if you can’t find one you’re not trying hard enough.
When I was unemployed, my parents would get irritated with me and ask why I’m wasn’t getting a job at McDonalds. They didn’t understand that low-skill jobs are among the hardest to get and keep due to intense competition. (Look at how old the person taking your order is next time you go through a drive-through. It’s not teenagers filling that job anymore.) The market is saturated with workers, many with college degrees who can’t find work in their field.
The more I read these articles, the more I notice a common thread. There’s an underlying narrative that “kids these days aren’t willing to do the work.” It’s all based on the idea that you can get an entry-level job at a company, put in your time, and your loyalty will be rewarded with promotions and raises.
Most Generation Y folks will stare at you blankly if you talk about loyalty to one’s employer; the old feudal arrangement ("we’ll give you a job for life and look after you as long as you look out for the Organization") is something their grandparents ranted about, but it’s about as real to them as the divine right of kings. Employers like Google or Facebook that provide good working conditions are the exception, not the rule. Employers are alien hive-mind colony intelligences that will fuck you over for the bottom line on the quarterly balance sheet. They’ll give you a laptop and tell you to hot-desk or work at home so that they can save money on office floor space and furniture. They’ll dangle the offer of a permanent job over your head but keep you on a zero-hours contract for as long as is convenient.
Loyalty is necessarily a two-way street. You can’t be expected to be loyal to someone who is not loyal to you. In this time of recession, we understand that a five-year stretch at a company is remarkable, and ten years is nearly unheard of. Companies make excuses why this isn’t a good year to give out raises, or why they need to do a round of layoffs right before bonuses are due.
I worked for an agency in Portland who issued 10% salary cuts across the board when the housing crisis started. The CEO assured us this was temporary, and we’d get our pay back once the economy improved. A year later, I noticed we were hiring new people at regular salaries. I asked the CEO why we were hiring before restoring salaries for existing employees. After all, if we can afford new people, we can afford to treat the people who stayed with the company properly, right? I was told the salary cuts had always been permanent, and that I needed to stop talking about this with my coworkers because it was “bad for morale.”
We now live in a world where companies that reward loyalty and offer opportunities for advancement are rare exceptions. An economy where Silicon Valley touts the new “sharing” economy and ignores the hidden costs to the people sharing their labor.
We need to shake off this idea that Gen X, Gen Y, and Millennials aren’t loyal, and talk about the way the economy treats them. A choice between a company that's made it clear they don't value you and moving to a new job that will pay you what you're worth is no choice at all.
This is an excerpt from my book How Find a Better Job in Tech: A guide to finding the right job, not the next job. If you enjoyed this, you should check out the rest of the book!
photo credit: wocintechchat.com