A reader writes:
On much of your advice on this blog, you seem to say something akin to “if your workplace/manager/coworkers are so bad, you should evaluate whether you should continue working there,” yet you still admonish those who could potentially be seen as job hoppers. What is the threshold? Why give what seems to be such conflicting advice?
Also, yes, there should be due diligence when selecting a job, but it’s not always an option for those new to the workplace who don’t know better, or those who are trying to get out of a bad situation only to get stuck in another dud. For example, in one position I held early on, I had an absent manager and needed someone more hands-on. When I left that job after two years for what seemed to be a vast improvement, I ended up with a severe micromanager on the other end of the spectrum. There’s only so much you can prepare for…
Well, you’re leaving out key parts of the advice.
The advice isn’t “if your workplace is bad, you should leave.” Most of the time, it’s “if your workplace is bad, you should accept that it’s not going to change and decide if you’re willing to continue working there under those circumstances.” That’s not “just leave” — it’s about accepting the reality and figuring out what you’re willing to tolerate. In some cases, it might make sense to tolerate bad working conditions because (a) you’re willing to accept them in exchange for high pay (or in some cases, any pay), (b) you’re trying to clear up a spotty job history and are willing to stick this out in exchange for helping your career long-term, or (c) there are other factors in play that make it worthwhile to you, like that you just need employment until you go to grad school next year or that it’s giving you experience that you’d have trouble finding somewhere else.
At the same time, it is indeed true that it will reflect badly on you if you leave a bunch of jobs quickly. (And that’s not to admonish anyone for job-hopping; it’s to explain a reality so that people can make decisions that will get them the best outcomes for themselves.) That’s why I make a point of saying that if you’re leaving a bad job quickly, you should be really, really careful about the one you accept next — because you’ll need to stay there for a while. You don’t want to jump from one bad job to another; you want to vet the next place to be sure it’s somewhere you’re willing to stay for a decent number of years.
Obviously, that’s not foolproof; no matter how well you vet a place, things can change — new management can come in, etc. But too often, people don’t even do the basic vetting they should be doing, and then they end up job hopping when they could have avoided it. It’s an unforced error, and I want people to avoid that.
And yes, when you have fewer options — because you’re new to the workplace or already have a spotty work history or are in a tight financial spot — you might not have a lot of choice about what jobs you accept, and as a result you might end up having to deal with a crappy boss or crappy workplace. That goes back to the point in my first paragraph — you need to calculate what makes sense for you, in your particular situation. For people without a lot of options, it might be “yes, this sucks and it’s not going to change, but I’m getting A, B, and C from this job that will help me position myself well for the future, so my plan is to put in two years here and then parlay that into something better.”
Underlying everything I write here is that your goal should be to create the kind of reputation and work history that gives you options in the long-term.