A criticism I often hear of my generation is that we don’t stay at a job or company as long as previous generations. I call it “grass is greener” thinking. It’s on my mind often, both because of the direct and indirect experiences in my own career. I wish I had a clearer position on it, but I don’t. I’m still figuring it out and thought it might help to throw some stuff down on paper.
As with everything in our lives, we have tremendous visibility to new opportunities more than ever before. I receive daily updates of not only the new opportunities at new companies available to me but the potential earning power I might have at those opportunities. I don’t think this is a bad thing, but how will it continue to shape the way we, as Gen Z, view, interact, and ultimately move between opportunities? Furthermore, what are the positive and negatives to “grass is greener” thinking?
In my opinion, this type of thinking is ever-present early in one’s career, and it’s arguably the most important time to act, or not act, on the thought. The majority of us switch jobs at an incredible pace, and we all have our own justifications for doing so. We sometimes get frustrated at work when the fruits of our labor do not appear to pay off the way we think they should, which can lead to feeling undervalued or simply stuck. As those feelings well up inside of us, we begin to take advantage of resources that show us where the grass could be greener. Rightly so, but are we truly helping ourselves and those around us by looking at new opportunities outside of our current company?
Fully exploring and vetting a new opportunity is a TON of work. It’s not difficult to submit applications via LinkedIn, and many companies make it simple to apply to a few different positions at once. This isn’t what I am talking about. I mean actually taking the time to research the company and opportunity requires a lot of time and attention. Not simply for what both are, but also for how they align with your own goals and mission statement. Should you be fortunate enough to move through the interview process, another set of commitments begins. You may need to spend a few additional hours per week prepping, in addition to the hours you will spend interviewing. After all of this, there is still your current role. One of these opportunities will be sacrificed. If you’re thinking you can handle both, stop. Maybe you’ll get close, but one of your opportunities will take a backseat.
I think that there are serious pitfalls to juggling new opportunity exploration and current role responsibilities. What might you miss out on in your current role? You might be getting by day-to-day, but just getting by isn’t going to lead you to a promotion. Just the same, are you giving your all to exploring the new opportunity? I’d argue that people can certainly move through an interview process and successfully get the job without doing an appropriate amount of opportunity vetting. Simply put, the grass seems green, so they graze. However, after a few months, they realize that the grass isn’t greener and so begins the process of looking for something new all over again. Nobody wins in this scenario; the company is out the investment they put into the new team member, and the person has taken a few steps back, both professionally and personally.
I recently read “The Servant” by James C. Hunter, and it led me to contemplate how leadership intersects with grass is greener thinking. One of my key takeaways of the book is that leadership opportunities present themselves on a daily basis. It really doesn’t matter the position we have or where we are at in life. So, the question is, as we look for greener grass, are we being the best leader we can be? I truly am not criticizing because I don’t have the answer, but I think it’s worth pondering. If we slack a little in our current role, however minimal because we are looking for the next big thing (for ourselves), are we being a good leader? Or, if we happen to obtain that new opportunity, but ultimately find ourselves unhappy because the grass isn’t as green as we thought, are we being a good leader?
Don’t get me wrong: As much as this sounds like a criticism of Gen Z’s insatiable desire for the next great opportunity, it isn’t. I graduated from college 6 years ago. I’ve worked at 3 different companies for an average of 2 years. Truthfully, I didn’t expect to move this much, and the jury is out on whether or not I think I’ve made the right decisions. I’ve seen a lot of positives in my moves, but I can’t overlook some of the negative impacts they have had on my career development either. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that I currently work in talent engagement. The grass is greener thinking keeps me in business. However, I urge you to really think about your career. Do you want to build a portfolio of experience, or is grinding in your current role perhaps better for the long-term? I don’t know, but you will.
All of this said, at the end of the day, sometimes you need to find greener grass 🙂
What are your thoughts?
Quintin Meek a talent consultant at Pillar Technology (part of Accenture Industry X.0). Also an active member of Detroit’s startup and tech community. Every day is something new and challenging, and I am learning more than ever before. I’m finding that I’ve become a lifelong student, and I’m excited to see how that continues to shape the road ahead.
I believe this was an issue for the last two generations of workers, the difference now is the speed of communication of new positions and the ease of applying. I do appreciate the reflection above about whether the right moves were made. These are and never were easy decisions, and my personal opinion is if there is a demonstrative reason to change, then do so. However, if it’s boredom or irritation, think more carefully. Managers are also changing faster then ever, so a situation may resolve itself.
I think you making the distinction that these moves typically occur early in our careers is accurate, and I’d add that the type of work you do will help determine whether these moves are beneficial. For example, I could have sat in a lower level HR role for the first 6-8 years and gained more Senior titles, but moves to other companies were necessary to increase scope, re-define myself professionally, and last-but-not-least, increase earning power and learning. At this point, I’m looking forward to a long tenure and not moving much anymore.