It’s commonplace to hear sports terminology at work– we “touch base,” we set “goals,” and we draw up “game plans.” We even work in “scrums” and “sprints,” and when there’s something really important to be done, it’s time for us to “step up to the plate.”
Like sport, the business world is a fast-paced, competitive environment that rewards performance and achievement. For better or for worse, both worlds are full of people trying to get ahead- and this means that there are almost always headhunters right around the corner, promising a better deal for those in these particular scenarios.
Personal ambition, a persistent skills shortage, and rapid economic growth in the UAE have all led to the rise of “job-hopping” in recent years. For instance, in 2016, global recruitment specialists Robert Half found that 85% of financial CFOs surveyed were concerned about losing top financial professionals to other opportunities. While ambition is no bad thing in itself, does the sport-work analogy offer a deeper insight than just the semantics of everyday office conversation?
The problem with loyalty
When we look at the pros and cons of job-hopping, it’s not long before the idea of loyalty comes up. It’s a fair point to make, because from an employer’s perspective, loyalty can be a good indicator of future dependability in employees. The problem is that "loyalty" skews the argument towards what’s in it for the employer, directing attention away from the tangible benefits of committing to an organization for the long term.
The “I” in “team”: personal success versus group achievement
It’s another sporting cliché that’s found its way into the workplace. But personal achievement doesn’t have to conflict with the good of the team. Carving out respect for yourself as an individual performer, as well as being noted because of a demonstrable willingness to hunker down and work as part of a team, is all part of the same thing.
Cristiano Ronaldo, regarded by many as the best footballer in the world, has been with the same team since 2009 and recently signed a contract to stay until 2021. The Euro 2016-winning Portuguese captain led Real Madrid to “La Decima,” their tenth European Cup victory in 2014, adding another the following year.
But it’s worth noting that he’s the highest-paid athlete in the world according to Forbes and the most successful scorer in Real Madrid’s history. He’s also just been named the world’s best player at the inaugural FIFA Football Awards. Putting in the time and effort may well bring success for the team, but it can also lead to big personal rewards both in terms of salary and respect.
Looking at salary increases in 2015-16, recruitment giant Hays found that 32% of those surveyed in the UAE who received a raise obtained it by changing jobs. However, a not insignificant 21% did it through negotiating a performance-related pay increase. To achieve that, you need to have established your individual performance credentials with the company first. As Hays points out, “maybe this is how employers manage to keep down the overall cost of salary rises to their business– taking a view on the worth of the individual rather than offering blanket increases?”
Mutual development– understanding strengths and weaknesses
The right “fit” is important– sometimes people work well together and sometimes they don’t. Sticking it out with an employer doesn’t mean doggedly persisting in a role that feels uncomfortable, but equally, the right fit can be mutually rewarding. In the mid 1980s, Mike Tyson, with his trainers Cus D’Amato and Kevin Rooney set out to become undisputed heavyweight boxing champion of the world. By 1987, at the age of 20, he was the youngest champion in history and the first heavyweight to hold the WBA, WBC and IBF titles simultaneously.
Understanding his strength as a power puncher, D’Amato and Rooney trained Tyson in the “peek-a-boo” defense style, offsetting his relatively short stature and complementing his natural talent with an approach that made him harder to hit. At the top of his game, Tyson switched trainers and though he went on to win further fights, his style reverted to relying on power alone. In February 1990 the value of a great working partnership became painfully clear, when he was knocked out by 42/1 outsider James ‘Buster’ Douglas.
A winning formula– fulfilling potential
First impressions are important, but the process of fitting into an organization and becoming a productive team member takes much longer. A survey in Training Industry Quarterly found that 75% of employers interviewed felt it takes at least 1-2 years before an employee becomes “fully productive.”
Transferable skills and experience aside, even seasoned new hires need to “get up to speed.” But once they do, the benefits of sticking around can be huge. Formula 1 driver Michael Schumacher will be forever remembered for his Ferrari years, the longest and most productive period of his career. These years brought five of his seven world championships and saw him become not only a star performer on the track, but also a valued adviser on Ferrari’s Formula 1 strategy and the production of their road cars.
Putting in the mileage, building trust and a mutual acknowledgement of each other’s abilities can lead to an employer conferring more responsibility, asking for advice, and bringing out the true potential of an employee.
Through thick and thin
While we’re setting out our game plan, it’s rare to factor in upsets and defeats, but the fact is, they will happen. No career progression unfolds without hiccups along the way, but the “job-hopping” approach is to move elsewhere when things don’t go to plan.
For the individual, that might be seen as taking control, moving on when there’s a better deal elsewhere. But as “physiology of emotion” expert Walter Bradford Cannon pioneered in his research on the “flight-or-fight” response– we need to consider whether to knuckle down and work through adversity, or head for the hills. Employers are likely to remember someone who faced down the harder times and came out on top.
Take Tom Christensen, often regarded as the greatest Le Mans champion of all time. Of his nine victories, eight saw him at the wheel of an Audi. But the road to success wasn’t always smooth– those victories were punctuated with second and third places on the podium, as well as two failures to finish, all at the height of his fame.
Job-hopping can hurt both employer and employee
In a report carried out with YouGov in April 2015, Dubai-based MENA career site Bayt.com found that 43% of 5,774 professionals surveyed don’t expect to work for the same employer for the next two years. More worryingly for employers, 61% are actively trying to move and one in two would expect to find a similar job easily.
But the danger for job-hunters is that sooner or later, companies can become suspicious of candidates who show a long history of changing jobs. They may fear a candidate will jump ship, or at least have one eye on their next move. It can also breed opportunism in the organization, making the most of an employee’s skills but feeling no hesitation about dropping them when times are hard.
In the book Creating Career Success: A Flexible Plan for the World of Work, Francine Fabricant et al noted that “many employers look unfavorably on candidates who have bounced from job to job, assuming they have a lack of interest, motivation, or competence.”
On top of that there’s the “last in, first out” principle– employers faced with the need to shed staff may find themselves leaning towards letting their newer hires go first. In that way, committing to putting in the years of work with a firm can help to strengthen job security.
Moving from loyalty to commitment
It would be naïve to suggest that those who move from job to job can’t profit by doing so. There may be rewards of higher salaries along the way, but that shouldn’t obscure the long-term view. Footballer Nicholas Anelka played for 13 clubs in his senior career and wasn’t harmed in terms of accolades or financial rewards. On the other hand, his nickname “Le Sulk” gives an impression of how he’s remembered by many in the game.
Sticking with an organization for longer can help both employer and employee become part of the bigger picture– feeling invested in the company, living its values and developing a genuine sense of achievement. Maybe replacing the word “loyalty” with “commitment” shifts the focus to what both employer and employee should be thinking about when looking to the future.
Commitment is the bedrock of success for any successful athlete- maybe that’s the true lesson that job-hoppers can take from the world of sport.