Last week a few more people that I love left the company we founded eight years ago. To be fair, I also left after the sale of the business was complete in March. But it still hurts a bit to see the band break up and the magic devolve as a special team increasingly goes its separate ways. But we made beautiful music together—and in the bigger picture, the more our co-workers leave, the stronger all of us get.
It seems like each rising generation of workers is scolded for not being more loyal to the workplace, and U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics confirms that average job tenure has declined from 4.6 years on average in 2014, to 4.1 years in 2020. Layoff threats are a fact of life; and part-time, consulting and gig work is increasingly a norm.
But I believe more people should be moving jobs more often—and we need to talk about some of the benefits more openly.
The Network Force is with You
The other day I was catching up with a friend in Cincinnati who is currently looking for a new job. He has a high-demand specialty and plenty of opportunities in town, and wants to stay here for the benefit of his family. But he is focusing his job search on remote positions, explaining that, “I’ve worked in two companies over the past 15 years…I just want to meet some new people.”
It was unusual to hear, but his comment fits perfectly with what I’ve been studying lately around social networks. No, I don’t mean Facebook and Twitter—but rather the real human relationships we all have. You see, we are in many ways a product of our networks. They are our filters for information, define the norms of how we behave, and define the reputations we use as social capital to interact well (or poorly) with other people.
Our co-workers represent one of the largest and most powerful networks in our lives. We are in the trenches together solving problems, seizing opportunities, and suffering through meetings day after day. We unconsciously assess each others’ capabilities and character, build mental models about how to work best with each other, and trade gossip behind our backs. When this innate system works well, teams can do amazing things together.
But networks need a flow of new blood and ideas in order to adapt to environmental changes, and individuals benefit from learning how to work with new people and groups. Whether in groups or individuals, growth and exposure to the novel makes you stronger.
And when your friend leaves the group, awareness of your reputation and potential benefits of your network rise. As long as your relationship remains strong, you can learn about her new company through her eyes, thus gaining new data without leaving. Your friend adds new co-worker relationships that expand your indirect network, thus significantly growing the number of people who may hear about and help you. If a close, 20-person team loses 5 members in a year, they get to hire in 5 new members’ networks, while potentially adding hundreds of friends-of-friends from those who departed.
No wonder research confirms that most people will find their next job through former co-workers. That going-away happy hour should be a true celebration for all sides—as long as your reputation is strong and you maintain those ties.
Breaking away Makes you Anti-Fragile
While many people warn that “the grass isn’t greener on the other side,” my advice is often, “if you’re not happy and not growing, you’re silly not to move jobs.” I’ve even said that to members of my team that I highly value. This additional, under-appreciated reason for taking a new job is that it forces you outside of your comfort zone.
My eyes on this have been further opened by reading the book Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder. One of the book’s main points is that too often people try to structure a comfortable, low-risk life; but the act of trying to reduce risk actually means you are more susceptible to risks—you become fragile.
For example: In the working world, you can get really comfortable by staying at a company for several years by finding a niche and navigating the politics of survival. But then COVID hits, or your CEO over-promises to Wall Street, or the new CEO wants new blood. Suddenly your stability strategy is toast and you’re left with an anemic network to help you out.
We often see this with people who grew up in big companies and are suddenly on the outside. At Procter & Gamble, where I worked years ago, there was a well-known tip shared among recruiters that “you want to hire a P&Ger on their second job after leaving…because it takes them the first job to recognize how different it is on the outside and be humbled and hungry.”
People who are anti-fragile choose to shock their systems once in awhile by taking a leap into the new. They force themselves to learn about new people and processes, and often accelerate their personal growth, even if the grass wasn’t much greener.
“You will never get to know yourself—your real preferences—unless you face options and choices. The volatility of life helps provide information to us about others, but also about ourselves.” - Nassim Nicholas Taleb
An important element here is choice. You should be choosing to leave, on your terms. The good news is that you can tap your network to learn about opportunities and get help navigating the recruiting process when you find a great fit.
Here’s the other key: People who take risks and think strategically about their networks are insured from loss by their reputations. Moving jobs, building relationships, and earning respect from the many people they work with, they always have a healthy backup position—i.e. many people are standing by to work with them again or recommend them for openings that they come across. Your network relationships open the door to options, and options make you antifragile.
Exceptions to the Rule
Of course not everyone who has been in a job for a few years should jump ship. I believe you should be guided by whether you are currently growing your skills and relationships. Some examples of how you might achieve that without quitting include:
Big companies that rotate - Look for opportunities to work in different divisions, take assignments abroad, or even change your role completely. Going back to P&G, the company has a long-held belief in moving people between brands, categories, functions and geographies every few years. It’s a great way to keep people in a state of healthy change and learning without losing them to competitors.
High-growth companies - When growth is happening, a lot of new opportunities pop out of nowhere and your network grows quickly with added new hires. Startups that are winning do this well. In my two high-growth companies we loved to throw our people into new and more senior positions. Often we don’t know if someone can do the job until we give them a chance, and it’s more efficient to bet on people you know and trust than assume some outsider is going to solve all your problems. If you’re lucky enough to be in such a company, don’t leave—but hold on tight!
Entrepreneurship - Starting or buying your own business brings constant, built-in experiences and people to work with—employees, investors, clients, and vendors. You get a lot more “reps” in dealing with challenges, making decisions, and living with the results. Even side hustles and part-time consulting gigs count here.
It’s the Strategy of You
The higher-level lesson is that we all should be thinking about our careers a lot more strategically. Too often I feel people just kind of stick with a job they dislike, or move to a new one because they are bored and happened to get a recruiter call that month. Our work is so much of what our lives are about, we owe it to ourselves to think extremely critically and proactively.
This doesn’t mean spending more time on LinkedIn, accepting strangers’ connection requests and hitting thumbs up on others’ (humble and grateful) job announcements. Being strategic with your career means choosing to work with great people and companies, and earning a strong reputation through your capabilities and character. It means looking into the mirror when your mojo is gone and getting the f*** out, on your own terms, before you damage yourself and your relationships.
A lot more change is on the horizon. Leading companies lose their positions faster now, and startups are on the prowl in every industry. The rise of remote work makes it easy to interview, be hired, and repeat. There’s less of a stigma around “job hopping” and more ways to work our networks to find, attract and leverage proven talent.
Our previous company would never have succeeded if we had not tapped trusted relationships to bring in talented new leaders—and their networks. This all just another giant reason why we’re throwing in on Hearty to help make it easier for great people to find each other and start making beautiful music together.