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Quit To Proceed Culture
Why My Generation Can't(Won't) Stick with a Job
Recently, on The VCP, we had the pleasure of having on Ben Landau-Taylor to talk about institutional health, problems on the horizon for large bureaucratic structures, and succession planning.
Ben LT’s discussion with Vance about the latter got me thinking about why members of my generation aren’t sticking with jobs as often as members of society have in the past. This 8 minute clip from the full interview will lay the ground work for the context, but the gist is: while many people believe that the baby boomers exiting positions of power is a good thing, broadly speaking, there is a shortage of qualified individuals to fill the coming vacuum.
Job turnover has been on an broad upward trend since the 50s, having reached 57.3% in 2020 (45.1% in 2019) according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Surveys from employment data authority, Mercer suggest that 81% of these turnovers are because of an employee leaving to pursue a better opportunity.
The Question then is:
Why are so many people leaving to pursue better jobs as opposed to growing in the ones that they have?
People entering the workforce with a degree or a trade enter in at the bottom of the ladder. Take an entry level programmer who enters the workforce making $55,000/year on average. What does their journey look like to go from that $55k to the market’s high average of $110,000? My own story of how I went from a $25/hour Programmer to a $100+/hour programmer is I think exemplary of others’ experience across industries in the current workforce model.
When I started programming a few years ago, the most I’d ever made in a job was ~20$/hour as a Bartender. When I picked up this skill and got my first contract in the space, I priced myself into the market at $25/hour. I was elated to be doing something I enjoyed that also paid the bills, I was responsible for ongoing maintenance and adding new features to an e-commerce platform. Over time however, as I grew more confident in my ability and interacted with more people in the industry, I realized that the work I was doing was worth closer to $50/hour, but how could I convince my current employer to effectively double my salary after only a year?
Long story short was that I couldn’t.
An amicable approach netted me the response that I was working within a firm budget and hadn’t been around long enough for a raise of more than a couple bucks. So, over the next few weeks I sifted around and eventually leveled into a $50/hour position through a recruiting agency that was ironically billing me out for even more than that! Over that last few years as I’ve continued to lower my working hours to allocate more time to my own app company and the podcast, this trend has continued, having realized that the best way for me to raise my wage is by seeking a new contract and leveraging my new experience to justify a higher starting rate.
What does this look like for someone working in a larger company and not just month-to-month contracts? Something I’ve learned from working as an outsider with members of larger organizations is that there are limits to the rate of wage growth among other things, mainly imposed to mitigate risk. A 5% wage increase over the course of a year is considered a very high average by most HR standards. At that rate, going back to out initial example of the talented entry level programmer hoping to grow his $55,000 starting salary to the high average of $110,000, it would take over 14 years to accomplish!
These are the sorts of timelines and limitations that the next wave of the work force is contending with when it comes to climbing the income ladder. The de-facto solution has become to leave current positions and seek new ones as a means of transitioning this ladder at a rate more equivalent to skill acquisition. While a solution to the individual, it has created the problem highlighted above in Vance and Ben LT’s interview —
How Succession Gaps Create Cancer for Institutions
The idea that I subscribed to prior to hearing Vance and Ben LT’s conversation was that the baby boomer generation made it into the tops of hierarchical structures in governments and organizations that they appear to be resolved to die in while climbing their own income ladders. Now, it seems more apparent that while part of this may still be the case, there’s a potentially larger issue of succession gaps in organizations due to high employee turnover and low income mobility. This has left organizations with large gaps in middle management between entry level and senior management, where the only quick solution is to hire into positions that in the past may have been better suited to be filled through employee elevation.
This new norm has created a culture where organizations are made up of Anywhere People. (Opposite from Somewhere People. For a brief overview of the idea, here’s a 12 minute clip with David, who we also had on the podcast a few months back.) This isn’t by default a bad thing, but the adverse effect is that our systems have become comprised of individuals with no sense of longevity, which is in turn lowering loyalty and increasing local problem solving; This means implementing solutions that fix one part of an organization that cause strain on the system as a whole. Cancer for Companies.
That’s okay, have at the main points —
There are 3 problems I see in the current workforce:
Low entry level wages due to high supply of labor.
Limited opportunity to move from entry level wages to market average due to compliance restrictions in HR and value perception.
Succession gaps in larger organizations because of high employee turnover.
Why to Understand Problems
At this point you may be saying something like, “That’s a lot of nice, complex problems you pointed out there Benny boy, but what good is highlighting the problem without a solution?”
I am not in a position to solve macro-complex problems independently. For something like what I’ve rambled about today, there may not be any individual that could. What I do know is that the first step to solving a problem is to understand it. Maybe the best way to begin to solve larger systematic problems is to understand them more broadly, so that disparate individual components begin to behave in ways that work towards macro-solutions.
Sometimes, you don’t really know what you think until you say it out loud. Writing is a mechanism for doing this. I know this post was a bit longer than my usual Saturday download- In the words of Mark Twain, If I had more time, I’d have written a shorter letter-, but I’m hopeful that you’ve extracted something of value.
Next Week, I’m going to talk about how a cutting edge team of scientists has proposed a model for finding ‘life’ in the universe.
Seek to understand and solve problems where you can.