The Big Bounce: Do Job Hoppers Fit in Your Talent Strategy?

September 24, 2021
Author: ThinkWhy Staff

A recent study by IBM found that 20% of workers¹ planned to switch jobs this year, compared to 25% in 2020. Similarly, Gallup found that 60% of Millennials² (about a third of the workforce) are open to new job opportunities, 15% higher than other generations.

Why is this important? Depending on your industry and the demographics of your talent pool, you may find yourself looking at candidates from these generations. But at what point should you consider dismissing a potentially suitable applicant as a “job hopper,” and when does it make sense to hire someone with this type of employment history?

Job hopping or career progression?

What Defines a Job Hopper?

Let’s look at the parameters that define a job hopper. One benchmark indicates that a “good hire” has stayed with previous employers four years or more and that two years or less indicates job hopping. Where did these numbers come from?

  • The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found in a study of Baby Boomers³ that people in this group have changed jobs an average of 12 times throughout their careers. However, about half of those job changes occurred between the ages of 18 to 24, or about one job each year. The older a worker was when starting a job, the longer it tended to last. Variations occurred for education, gender and race.

  • The BLS reports from a more general study that as of January 2020, the median length of employment was 4.1 years⁴ (half of jobs were shorter and half longer) across all demographic factors. This study also found that younger workers were more likely to have shorter employment periods than older workers. For example, 75% of workers ages 16 to 19 and 50% of those ages 20 to 24 were employed less than one year, while 54% of workers ages 60 to 64 had been employed for at least 10 years with their current employer.

While it’s easy to see why a hiring manager looking to reduce staff turnover might be wary of putting the applications of so-called job hoppers into their “yes” pile, there is a direct relationship between age, job stability and experience to consider and compare against the role for which you are hiring.

Tony Bohannon, Branch Manager, Finance & Accounting Direct Hire with recruiting firm The Addison Group, counsels that, “If a job candidate has changed jobs every two years or less, the hiring manager should see whether their career has a logical progression versus multiple lateral changes that might indicate personal problems. Major life changes that can be logically explained deserve consideration, too.”

Workers in their teens have little experience and frequently work hourly jobs that can fit around school and the summer break. Workers in their 20s to early 30s⁵ are typically building their income at a faster rate than at any other time during their careers, especially those coming out of college. In many industries and companies, getting to the next level often requires changing jobs.

Bohannon also stresses that the nature of the industry can make a big difference. For example, he said that in tech companies, tenures of two to three years are the nature of the industry due to mergers, acquisitions and private equity deals outside of the control of the employee.

Another source mentions that job tenure averages 1.9 years⁶ for food service workers versus 6.4 years for management roles, and tenure for government roles averages three years longer than those in private industry.

Now, let’s consider why you might want to modify your hiring strategy to accommodate a job hopper, assuming you still think your applicant’s tenure is short for their situation and your expectations.

The Pros and Cons of Hiring a Job Hopper

Here are a few of the benefits that job hoppers can bring to your organization, based on their experience at more companies than others in their age group and industry:

  • They're usually adaptable because they have experience working in different workplace cultures and for a variety of supervisors.
  • They're often confident problem solvers because they pick up new skills and knowledge with every job they've held; it's not uncommon for job hoppers to bring a diverse skill set to the table.
  • They typically boast a more extensive professional network, which can be helpful for the company as well as for the individual.
  • They aren’t afraid of adjusting to new situations and change. Often, they quickly hit the ground running and adapt well to organizational changes.

On the flip side, here are some potential drawbacks of hiring a job hopper:

  • Hiring a replacement is expensive. Figures vary per industry, but studies have shown the replacement process can cost about 33% of an employee’s annual salary or more plus delays in projects they were involved in.
  • Your management team may consider job hoppers disloyal and uncommitted. You may face an internal battle when it comes to hiring potential job hoppers.

That said, there are steps you can take to transform your job hopper into a long-term employee.

Converting A Job Hopper

Part of your talent strategy should include doing all you can to convert your potential job hopper into a long-term employee. This is cost-effective and can be extremely rewarding for everyone.

Here are a few key initiatives to help you hit the ground running:

  1. Provide training and upskilling opportunities that encourage professional growth, especially for younger employees who are early in their careers. A wide range of options could meet this need, from hands-on on-the-job training to formal learning management systems to reimbursement for external education opportunities. This is especially important to Millennials, those now age 25 to 40, who make up one-third of the workforce and are more likely to change jobs simply to find these opportunities.

  2. Give managers the support they need to do their jobs, as unsupported and stressed managers whose behavior deteriorates are one of the top three reasons workers leave. Gen X, ages 41 to 56, who value independence and flexibility and the older Baby Boomers who value respect may be more likely to exit from a micromanaged or negative manager situation.

  3. Offer fair pay and employee benefits packages that reflect what’s important to your employees, such as flexible working schedules and locations, a predictable paycheck especially for hourly workers, and financial wellness packages. This will appeal to all age groups, especially Gen Z, teenagers to age 24 that make up 5% of the workforce and growing. They are pragmatic and value financial stability after watching their parents struggle with the 2008 recession.

Take proactive steps to get to the bottom of why your employees leave. Then, modify and implement your improved retention strategies to help keep job hoppers – and your remaining workforce – firmly in place. As Liz Ryan, Founder and CEO of Human Workplace recently wrote in a social media post, “We change jobs when we are forced to, either because our current job becomes unbearable, to earn more money or because the job goes away…Who has ever quit a good job on a whim? Good jobs are really hard to find.”

Should You Hire a Job Hopper?

Job hoppers can make for good hires, and not everybody who has shorter tenure qualifies as one. Contrary to stereotypes of job hoppers, they are not always chasing the money nor more imperfect than the rest of us. They can bring something fresh and exciting to your organization.

There's plenty you can do to retain new talent once they're on board. Factoring employee retention strategies into your broader talent management plan can make the difference and will help to set your organization up for success in recruiting and retaining the best and brightest talent while saving money – a win-win!

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