The extremes of job hopping


Gone are the days when employees work in one company up until retirement. Gone too are the days when employees stay in the same workplace for more than a decade.

For many employers and human resources professionals, job hopping, especially among the younger workers, is an ongoing headache. Most are still searching for the reason young employees don't stay in one company for long.

Meanwhile, many younger people in the workforce do not see a problem with changing jobs and finding greener pastures when the need arises. Work is as much about finding fulfilment as it is about the pay cheque.

But how much job hopping is too much? Clinical psychologist Joel Low says there is a difference between healthy and unhealthy job hopping.

Of course, changing jobs when one has learned enough skills and has the opportunity to take on different challenges or more responsibility is not a bad thing.

"Part of it could be exploring and trying out new companies. In some industries, the norm is to move around in order to move up the ladder. It comes back to your motivations: why do you change jobs?

"Some people do it because they think they deserve better . That's fine. But when you change six, seven jobs in two years, you gotta start asking yourself, what is it you are looking for?" says Low.

The latter scenario sits on the extreme end of the spectrum. Unhealthy job hopping is when a person just cannot seem to settle down in one job long enough to learn and progress.

"It is about satisfaction. If, no matter how many jobs you hop, you are never satisfied, that could be a red flag, that feeling that you are missing out on something," Low says.

"Sometimes it's about, 'Why should I bother if this job is working me so hard? I just go somewhere that pays me more and works me less'."

Changing jobs can be quite a stressful event, regardless of the reason for taking on a position in a new workplace. It involves starting over in an unfamiliar workplace with different social dynamics and job functions to learn.

Sometimes, jumping jobs can negatively impact a person's daily functions and quality of life, Low says.

"Frequent changes in jobs are unhealthy when it comes to a point when they cannot pay their rent or car installments because they are constantly in transition. Or, if it has gotten to a point where a prospective employer looks at their CVs and says, 'Oh my'.

"On a psychological level, there are compounding questions of satisfaction, achievement and purpose each time you change jobs."

Many people who are contemplating or embarking on a change in their jobs often reach out to friends, family, counselors or life coaches for help and advice. But when frequent job changing starts to impact their lives, some approach psychologists.

Low, 29, has worked with several clients who have had multiple new jobs in a short span of time.

"Most of the clients I see are stressed out or anxious to a point where they cannot function. They have deadlines and they get depressed.

"By the time they come to us, they've reached a point where they need help because it has affected the other part of their lives."

This is, in some ways, related to the common reasons people go to psychologists, such as high stress and anxiety levels, concern over their performance, and disillusionment.

What psychologists like Low do is to help people figure out why they are facing specific pressing issues in life and how to go about unraveling it.

Low explains that the approach he takes involves cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), a form of therapy that helps people understand how their thoughts and feelings influence behaviour.

He describes an example to illustrate his point: Imagine a double-parked car that gets honked at. Person A's reaction could be "No problem, I'll just go move my car". Person B might think "That was embarrassing". But person C could panic and feel anxious.

"Why does the same event affect different people differently? Essentially, it is the way we think. It comes from the core belief that we have.

That core belief literally drives every motivation and other beliefs that we have," Low says.

In CBT, psychologists take take their clients through a series of explanations to uncover their main core beliefs. CBT posits that people hold certain core beliefs about themselves that tend to inform how they view themselves and the world as well as how they might react to certain situations. These core beliefs could be positive or negative.

According to Low, two common core beliefs that people hold are: "I am not good enough" and "I am unlovable".

"From that one core belief, you can see the different lines come out," he says. In extreme cases, this could manifest in low self-esteem, social phobias, persistent anxiety and depression.

Low had one client who initially felt high levels of anxiety at work. Over time, that anxiety grew into agoraphobia - a fear of going out in public.

"My job is to find the core belief and if it's a problem, tweak it into something more functional. For example, change 'I am not good enough' to 'It is alright. I may not be good at everything but some things, I am alright.'"

So, when clients come in and say they feel anxious about not being able to find a job they love, Low typically talks them through the past.

"It's a whole process. We talk. We look back, 'So you changed jobs eight times in the past two years? How do you feel?' The feelings are like symptoms," says Low.

However, he cautions that CBT may not benefit everyone, especially those who are less articulate or insightful about their emotions. Depending on the client's needs and goals, Low may administer a personality test to shed further light on the client.

"My therapy is very goal-oriented. I ask them what they want to achieve. They might say, 'I want to be happy' or 'I don't want to be sad anymore'. But that's so general.

"So we break it down. What does it mean for you to be happy? Even asking them that question is a big aha moment for them."

When it comes to extreme job hopping, Low says it is often difficult to pinpoint one or two key reasons or issues. It could be a combination of factors working in tandem, such as an individual's past experience, temperament expectations, circumstances at work, or inability to find one's place.

But broadly speaking, he notes that the current generation entering the workforce has different expectations, circumstances at work, or inability to find one's place.

But broadly speaking, he notes that the current generation entering the workforce has different expectations and experiences.

"During our parents' generation, no matter how suck their jobs are or how hard it is, they will stick with it because dollars and cents are what matters. But when it comes to passing down that experience, many kids are told, 'Don't do what mummy and daddy did. Do what you love.'

"We learned that hardship is important but not as important as doing what you want., Low says.

He notes that there seems to be three broad reasons for the feeling of lack of fulfilment or direction prevalent in many Gen Ys.

The first is impatience and wanting fast results. The second factor is a need to compare and try to keep up with their peers. After all, social media provides a window into other people's lives.

"With the Internet and social media, we think everyone should be amazing and lead an awesome life. That's not a bad thing to aim for but that's like a bonus, you know? If you don't get there, it's okay lah," Low says.

The third reason is the entitlement mindset where younger employees believe they deserve more money or better jobs.

"They might say, 'I have a degree, why should I work for RM2,000'. You gotta start somewhere right? I'm not saying you cannot earn RM5,000. You can. But you have to work your way up and be realistic," Low says, adding that they should manage their expectations.

Here are five question to ask before changing jobs:

  1. What are the benefits of my current job?
  2. What are the negatives of my current job?
  3. What else is out there for me?
  4. What do I see myself doing in five years?
  5. Why am I changing jobs?

This is a non-exhaustive list of questions. Leaving one workplace for another can be a big life decision and it is rarely a simple thing to do. These five questions are intended as a preliminary self-assessment. The key is to evaluate your situation and be honest.

"As helpful as these questions are, these are not the only things you should look at. But at the very least, you cover a lot of the bases, instead of going on a whim," says Low.

He notes that these questions can produce different answers depending on many factors, such as a person's work industry, socio-economic background, motivations and ambitions.

"The most important question to ask yourself is what is it that you want? After that, go into the pros and cons. Most of the time, the initial answer could be 'I don't know what I want'. It takes time," Low says.

If the answer to most of these questions is "no idea", perhaps it is best to stay put until it's figured out.

"Don't change for the sake of changing," Low suggests.


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