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Home » Unemployment, Workplace Finance

The Age of Disloyalty & Career Change: Should you Tell your Employer you are Changing Careers?

Last updated by on January 3, 2014

The Generation of Career Change

In 2008, the Bureau of Labor Service released comprehensive data regarding duration of employment over the past 30 years. The results show how short our working lifespan is at one particular employer.

– For ages 23-27, 75% of workers were with their employer for less than 2 years, and 88% less than 5 years.
– For ages 28-32, 68% of workers were with their employer for less than 2 years, and 84% less than 5 years.

Those numbers drop, but not significantly, as you age. And the average number of jobs held by those born between 1957-1964 (up to age 44) was at 11. Generations X and Y are too young to do a study like this, but I fully anticipate that number to skyrocket.

Damn, we are disloyal!

changing careers

At-Will Employment

At the same time, we live in an age of at-will employment. And employers have not exactly been the most loyal in return. At will employment states that:

…Any hiring is presumed to be “at will”; that is, the employer is free to discharge individuals “for good cause, or bad cause, or no cause at all,” and the employee is equally free to quit, strike, or otherwise cease work.

This law has been touted as a measure of protection on both sides, but with the decreasing number of contracts offered and erosion of unions over the years, employers have been very liberal in their willingness to exercise this doctrine. Case in point: the last two years.

The result: For better or worse, loyalty in the workplace is dead.

Should you Tell your Employer you are Changing Careers?

Of course, these days, it seems like workers are just as likely to change careers as they are jobs (no official study has been done on the subject yet). With all of this disloyalty and change, it creates some interesting dilemmas in the workplace. Here are a few examples.

Case #1: The Employee who is Afraid of Losing their Job

A close friend has recently run into a dilemma around whether or not she should tell her employer that she is changing careers. It’s an interesting situation because she is working for an employer that is not thriving in this tough economy, she wouldn’t change careers for another year or two, and she doesn’t want to jeopardize the current income that she needs to live on.

At the same time, she is taking evening classes and needs to leave work by a certain time on nights that she has classes. And it has already put her in some awkward situations where she’s had to make an excuse of not being able to stay late to work on a project.

Layoffs in this industry are everyday occurrences and if it’s known that she is changing careers, she might jump to the front of the line (in spite of good performance).

  • Is she under obligation to tell her employer she is changing careers when it might result in her termination?

Case #2: The Expendable Employee

I work for a big company that hires a number of spring chickens right out of school. It’s pretty common that in less than 2 years, most of them realize work is actually work and they go back to a school or transfer to greener pastures. In a culture where this is expected, it’s fairly common that the employees are up front about their impending departures. Do they need to be? There is almost a factory line of even fresher chickens coming through right after them to gladly fill in, and the company is certainly not dependent on any one employee. Everyone is replaceable.

  • Are these expendable employees under obligation to tell management that they are changing careers?

Case #3: The Essential Employee

In some small organizations, out of sheer lack of numbers, many employees are a one-person show for their given specialty. Any time one of them leaves, it has the potential to be a huge loss for the employer. And anyone coming in after them could surely benefit from mentoring of their predecessor. However, this very same organization could have let employees go without notice. In fact, they probably have. And it could have been a close friend of yours. At-will employment, remember?

  • Is the essential, at-will employee under obligation to tell the employer they are leaving?

Career Change Discussion:

  • What do you think in each of the three cases mentioned?
  • Have you always told your employer you were changing jobs or careers?
  • When is it acceptable to not tell your employer about your career change?

Beyond a courtesy 2-week notice, are you obligated to tell your employer you are changing careers?

View Results

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I am G.E. Miller, & this is my story. My goal is financial independence ASAP. If you share that goal, join me & 10,000+ others by getting FREE email updates. You can also explore every post I have written, in order.

  • Honey says:

    I think most employers assume, when I started where I am now I was told “if we can keep you for 2 years we will consider it a victory.” It’s been just over 2 and I have no plans.

    A lot of the time, though, it’s because you have to look for a new opportunity (if your SO gets a job elsewhere, for example), not necessarily because you want a different job.

  • Wizard Prang says:

    It depends on the employer and employee.

    If the employer is in the habit of laying-off people without notice, they should expect the same from their employees.

    However, if the employer treats their employees with respect, it is normal and natural to expect the reverse.

    This is all a symptom: The real question that most employers never ask is “why are our best people leaving?”

  • Joe says:

    What was life like before employers exercised “At Will” employment? People must surely have been fired from jobs then, too.

  • cheapdude says:

    Never ever tell your employer that you are planning to leave.
    In a big corporation, you will get screwed.
    If you want to be nice, give them extra notice before you leave, maybe 4-8 weeks. That should be plenty of time to find a replacement.

  • JESSU says:

    I currently work at a medium to large company where we have an at will policy for up till 6 months. Employees are often replaced secretly, months and weeks in advance, and perhaps told a week in advance that hey, this is the new person you shall train for your position. In a company where there is no courtesy for the employee, I do not think that giving notice or training should be mandatory.

    One of my coworkers found out about a month ago that she was being replaced. She asked me if she should give notice, if she should tell them that she has found new employment. I told her she shouldn’t have to. They haven’t given her any notice of termination, yet here I am hiring her replacement. I wouldn’t train my replacement (I didn’t for my last job, but that was because my employer thought it would be awkward), and if I were mistreated by my employer, as I think my coworker has been, I would perhaps even sabotage my job by accidentally deleting things or misplacing things or forgetting to inform things. Sure, it’s unprofessional, but why does an “at will” employee have to be professional?

    • G.E. Miller says:

      @ Jessu – that sounds like a horrible situation.
      @ Cheapdude – For the most part, I agree.
      @ Joe – I’m sure they were, perhaps, just not as liberally, or without repercussion.
      @ Wizard – I agree, that is an important question that somehow seems to not be too concerned about. It should be – the average cost of hiring and training a new employee and getting them to a point of being productive is obscene.
      @ Honey – Bet that made you think twice about what you were getting into. Hah.

  • Jen says:

    I don’t think anyone is ever obligated to tell your company you are leaving but I think it can have its perks if you give them more time because sometimes you they might put together a counter offer.

    I think I slipped one time and said …hrm i’ve had a lot of recruiters were calling me lately, strange in this economy… and my boss suddenly seemed very intent on finally putting through the promotion I had asked for a year earlier.

  • jason says:

    There is no loyalty anymore. Look at all the people who have been promised pensions and benefits only to find out that when they need them they vanish. The heads of those companies are still rich and the worker gets the shaft. If you work in small industry then you need to be respectful, because you never know who will end up where and when you might want to return to a company. For example you might leave a company only to find out two years later that someone you really like working for is taking over a department and wants to bring you along. But if you have an offer and it is a take it now situation don’t pass it up. They won’t hesitate to fire you and many big corporations give no notice at all because they no that an unhappy employee with nothing to lose can do lots of damage if you let them keep working for a month.

  • fool says:

    it is a shame that companies nickel and dime everything for a manager to look good… our company laid off some people, they went home on Friday and on Monday were called to resume ASAP, laid off again and called back in 2-4 weeks, laid of yet again and called back in a week… stooooooopid

  • Mark C. says:

    Frankly, screw the employer. They have all the power in the relationship when there are 10 other people willing to take your job for less money. If at anypoint you find yourself in a situation where you have any amount of power, then take it. Have an offer at another place for more money, use that to get even more money at your current job.

    At no point in time is is ever ok to put your own livelihood on the line for you can rest assure the employer would never do the same for you.

    If you plan on giving notice, the make certain they won’t fire you in the interim. I have seen employers do that too many time. Get a short time contract if you can that they will employ you until a specific date. Never give them 4-8 week notice because if they find some one, suddenly you will find yourself without a job.


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