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

The Generation of Career Change

In 2016, the Bureau of Labor Service released comprehensive data regarding duration of employment from 1978 – 2016. The results show how short our working lifespan is at one particular employer.

– For ages 18-24, 83.5% of workers were with their employer for less than 2 years, and 93% less than 5 years.
– For ages 25-34, 69.6% of workers were with their employer for less than 2 years, and 85.4% 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! (or our employers disloyal to us?)

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?

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