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Recruiting Ruminations: Nomads and nesters

With the improvement of the economy comes a paradigm shift in employee exodus. More and more employees are finding their own way to the door in pursuit of better, more lucrative opportunities. Some of this is a result of employees feeling mistreated by their employers when things got tough, but some is just the normal flow of attrition, and restless employees off to seek new adventures.

Everyone knows that staying in one job too long can be career suicide nowadays, but how long is too long? And when it comes to employees, who makes a better hire -- nomads or nesters?

I'm a homebody. I love to travel, see the world, and explore, but at the end of it all, I'm always excited to return home to something comfortable and familiar. My friend Jon, meanwhile, has wanderlust. His true love is a suitcase and a map. The more unfamiliar, the more appealing it is.

Jon recently returned from a two-month, independent bicycling extravaganza through Asia. Last week, we were discussing his next trip. "But you just got back. Don't you want to stay here for a while?" I inquired.

He told me there are two kinds of people: nomads and nesters. As a nester, the yearning I feel to return home after a long stint away is the same yearning he feels as a nomad, to return to the open road and find his next adventure.

People are all different. Some of us like to stay in one place. Some of us like to roam. Your preference of one over the other doesn't make you any better or worse of a person, but let's consider the same labels in reference to employees.

Gone are the days when the ideal scenario involved landing a job out of school and sticking around until retirement. With a decrease in pensions, step increases, and other bonuses that incent employees to put a stake in the ground, tenure has shortened and the definition of longevity in the workplace has shifted.

That said, three to five years seems to be the longest an employee should remain in the same role before employers start to wonder about their level of motivation and ambition. As employers look to bring strategically-minded, energetic people on board, they seek employees that are self-motivated and engaged, which does not come across strongly in a candidate who has remained stagnant for several years.

"Strategic-minded people enjoy working independently, and their projects are self-directed, fueled completely by their own ambition. Someone who hasn't grown in five years wouldn't be a fit for those strategic roles," says Jackie Wolfstone, a recruiter at Marchex, a call advertising and small business marketing company. Wolfstone recruits for a variety of roles, both at the individual contributor level as well as leadership.

New opportunities bring a renewed sense of passion and energy. Passion and energy bring success. But there is the other side of the spectrum to consider as well. Opinions from recruiters and hiring managers differ, but common consensus is that two years should be a rough minimum to stay at a job, since that is the amount of time it typically takes to make an impact. Jumping around with more frequency than this, unless contracting, can be detrimental.

The key is to find the right balance. There's nothing wrong with an employee who stays in the same role for several years, if that role has been enlarged or enriched in some way. And if the employee remains productive and engaged, that's a positive thing.

On, Rhoberta Shaler, Ph.D. explains the difference between job longevity and job maturity. In her article, she talks about how repeating tasks and occupying a seat on a regular basis (job longevity) will only lead to the possibility of continuing to occupy that particular seat, and that workplace loyalty is no longer the end all and be all.

According to Shaler, "The longevity model no longer applies to our marketplace. We need the 'maturity model,' which exists when employees are learning, growing, AND applying new information while taking responsibility for their roles, tasks, and progress. These folks understand the meaning of accountability. That's big!"

So who is a better hire, the nomad or the nester?

The answer? Like most things HR, it depends. It doesn't matter how long you contributed, but what you contributed.


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