In FORTUNE (print) this week Jena McGregor, based on a survey by the Corporate Executive Board, reports that 27% of “high-potential” employees plan to leave their current job in the next 12 months. It’s 1 in 5 for the general employee population. Some may think that’s bad news. It’s not. In fact it’s good news for employees and companies.
McGregor continues to explain that perks hold some sway in keeping people around, but the potential for growth is the powerful motivator: “They want a mix of recognition and challenges that stretch them without completely stressing them out.” I had a conversation with Fast Company about this very topic 10 years ago.
Many people take jobs for money, but when they leave, most go when they quit learning.
One way to read the finding is that about half of us want to change our job every 2 years. Why is that?
People leave jobs when the no asshole rule is triggered, or when someone makes them an economic offer they can’t refuse, or most often, when they’ve learned 80% of what they can in a role and it’s time to take on the next challenge.
People stay in jobs when something about their current role affords more growth and learning, or when their personal expenses require them to stay.
There’s an assumption, really a mindset at this point, that changing roles is a bad thing. The refrain: It shows a lack of commitment. It signals low achievement. It’s disloyal to the company. It shows a lack of focus, the kind that comes from someone who doesn’t know what they want.
In my experience, not true.
In fact the opposite is more often the case: people who have an idea of what they want, even if not crystal clear, work their way toward it through trying on different responsibilities, creating results, then importantly moving on to do what’s next.
These people are the ones I want in my company. They see the work we can do together in part as a means to their own personal learning end. I can provide income and perks and a healthy culture, but there’s no motivation that I can provide that will ever be greater than the individual’s motivation to pursue and learn about something that fires them up.
The fact that people want to leave their job is a strong signal they’re taking their professional growth seriously. That’s as commitment- and achievement-oriented as I could wish for. Yes, there are exceptions. Some people perform poorly, some approach the relationship solely for maximum personal value extraction, and some aren’t ready to complete the work we need (which means I made a bad hiring decision).
Nevertheless, I look for someone who walks in and says “over the next two years, I want to see for myself whether I can X.” My job as a manager is to pair our needs with theirs — it’s to help them get the kind of experience they’re looking for while they’re creating the results we need.
Remember, changing jobs does not need to mean changing companies. At the end of two years, the best next step may be to do more work together but in a different capacity, or it may be for them to go get different experience elsewhere. The road is long, if the relationship is good, there’s always a chance we’ll meet up again.
I’m glad to see people want to leave their jobs. I can’t wait for the number to be higher.