The Psychology on Job Changing

John is a good friend. He has worked for the same company on essentially the same job for the past 5 years. During these 5 years, he received moderate raises that roughly kept up with the inflation. His boss valued and praised his contributions, frequently in public. This job, however, is dead-ended. There is little, if any, prospect of increased responsibility, influence, or pay. John is in his late 30s. He is proficient in what he does. He wishes to afford his own house, save for retirement, and provide his child with college tuition. None of those is likely to happen given his current pay. Should you advise John to:

  1. Stay with the current job? Don’t worry about it. Future will take care of itself.
  2. Actively hunt for a new job that he may not be so good at, but provide growth opportunities?

Most people will advise option 2. But if you in a situation like John’s, you would have chosen option 1.

Job market is not efficient. People are very conservative in changing jobs, to the point of irrationality. For parts of the world, loyalty is a deep rooted virtue. One is to be loyal to his family, tribe, village, town, school, etc. Leaving the company feels like a betrayal.

The job hunting also involves lots of rejection, tests, and failures. Even the most talented need to go through a process that has a very high failure rate. A typical hiring event screens more than 20 resumes to identify a worthy candidate and filters out 5 to 10 candidates before extending offer to one. Many simply cannot deal with this pressure emotionally.

Then there is the uncertainty of the new job. “What if it does not work out?” You won’t be able to go back. You have spent years perfecting your current job and you are not sure if those skills are transferrable. If not, you will be rebuilding them or risk becoming a worse performer.

A job is more than a means to put bread on the table. It is also an identity, a self-value, a web of relationship, and a habit. Changing job is a gambit that carries risks to all that. People hate the regret of making a wrong decision much more than the misery of the current job. Job changing is about psychology, not compensation or career. It is usually irrational.

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