How Career Switching Differs Among Generations

December 10, 2019 | 5 minute read
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By Kerry Nutley, Human Capital Management Strategy Director, UK&I for Oracle and David Young, DY Associates 

I was scrolling through LinkedIn and saw an article by Raja Jamalamadaka entitled ‘If your employer doesn’t see the real value in you, it’s time to for a fresh start’. Having just started a new job myself, it got me thinking: why do we stay in roles longer than we should?

My last organization had an above average tenure and churn rate below 5%, and so I’ve dealt with both the positives and negatives this type of culture can create as an HR Director.  We know for Generation Z and Millennials this seems to be less of an issue, as they favor the career hop; meanwhile Traditionalists, Baby Boomers and Generation X generally prefer stability and predictability. Swapping roles, employers and careers seems to feel a bit harder for us.

Of course people want to work and continue to work for great employers, yet staying too long in a role can build resistance to change, and restrict new ways of thinking. How many times have we heard as HR professionals the words ‘It was better in the old days when…’ as people show a level of resistance to proposed changes?

We know in today’s job market, a job is no longer for life. Recruiters want to see a mix of diverse roles, experience and a level of subject matter expertise. When I think back on the amount of time I spent as an HR Director coaching people through career change - whether considering a move out of the organization, into retirement or moving due to performance - I began to wonder what this means for us as individuals and the organization we work for. What should we do as HR professionals to support people through their career change curve?

Each generation switches between jobs differently and for different reasons. Find out how to speak to each generation in this blog.

With this in mind, I decided to ask Leadership Change expert David Young from DPY Associates to give me some of his thoughts and insights into the following 3 key questions:

  • Why do Traditionalists, Baby Boomers and Generation X seem more prone to resisting role and job change?
  • What is the impact of staying in a role too long, from both an individual and organizational perspective?
  • What advice can we give to HR practitioners to help people through their career change curve?

David has worked alongside American developmental psychologist and author, Professor Bob Kegan from Harvard University as an accredited practitioner in ‘Immunity to Change’ methodology; coaching global FTSE 15 leaders, and European Corporates through transformational change. 

Here’s what David had to say:

Why do Traditionalists, Baby Boomers and Generation X seem more prone to resisting role and job change?

DY: When we start our careers, we are successfully selected because of what we know; we build our expertise and recruiting organizations value us for it. Unconsciously we develop a bias towards this winning formula, we start to over value it and so, as humans we tend to stick with what is familiar. This is because our familiar formula feels safe and we feel much lower levels of anxiety when we use it. We perceive our career and our position within an organization as safer and more predictable.  We enjoy the certainty this brings. Over time these biases can become stronger, so the longer we are in a role the harder it becomes to move.

What is the impact of staying in a role too long, from both an individual and organizational perspective?

DY: When we stay in a role too long we adapt ourselves to fit the role’s requirements as precisely as possible. In doing so we make a compromise: we suppress some of our natural instincts, our ambitions, creativity and our passions. We become smaller versions of ourselves.

It seems like a fair trade - we fit in with the expectations of our role and get rewarded for doing so. Yet making ourselves smaller is toxic to us, it’s not healthy in the long run. We start to fear change and develop strange compensating behaviors, heightened levels of anxiety and stress, and lower levels of health and wellbeing. A probable outcome is absenteeism.

It’s also toxic for organizations to have people who feel their best option is to be small, fit in and play it safe. This impacts on an organization’s ability to grow and mature, diversity of thought, richness, and creativity. Where organizations have a long dwell time in role, you can sometimes observe higher resistance to change become an embedded cultural behavior.  

What advice can we give to HR practitioners to help people through their career change curve?

DY: Change is hard, especially when the familiar and habitual are so falsely reassuring.

There is a 4-stage process that psychologists have been using for over 100 years to manage change so we become bigger, better versions of ourselves. For some people step one is enough to get them unstuck and thinking differently. Others may need to work through stages two, three and four to get results.

Ideally people who want to get the most from their personal leadership capability should undertake all four stages with a qualified coach. This will enable them to free themselves from personal limitations, develop their talent and potential and take a chance on being a bigger, better me.

See what resonates for you and add it to your toolkit as you work with people in your organizations:

  • Catharsis – let people talk to you about what’s on their mind and genuinely listen to them, without judgement. This has a natural healing effect. The whole psychotherapy and coaching industries are built on this premise.
  • Explanation – understanding why people see things the way they do. Coaching people can help them to open up and see hidden mindsets and behaviors. A 360 feedback exercise can be very useful here. For HR professionals with an accredited coaching qualification, Professor Bob Kegan’s Immunity to Change process can help people deal with illogical perceptions and challenge perceived barriers and blockers.
  • Education – build your knowledge about approaches to self-awareness and personal growth. You can use this knowledge to help others to develop a stronger personal character. This will support them in managing higher levels of anxiety and resilience when they move from being a smaller to larger.
  • Transformation – F Scott Fitzgerald said that, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function”. Analytical Psychology has long used this idea as the basis for personal transformation. So you might ask someone: How can you have more job security and move role? How can the unfamiliar provide more reassurance? How can higher levels of anxiety be healthy for you? For this transforming mindset to develop you’ll need to hone your skills of non-judgmental observation and empathy as you deal with how challenging this can be.

In conclusion, it’s hard to change, especially when the familiar and habitual are so falsely reassuring. Yet the price of a ticket to a larger life is our willingness to build a transformational mindset, which can manage more uncertainty and complexity. If we do this, life will feel fuller, more meaningful and more whole.

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