Note to Hiring Managers: Stop Punishing the Victims

Do you know anyone who's happy at work? 

I've had two different friends complain in two days that everyone they know is miserable at their job. There's obviously something severely broken here, yet employees are the ones suffering and penalized if they try to leave too soon.

For most people, quitting is not an option. Very few of us work for the fun of it and not for the need of it. If you're lucky and you enjoy what you do, count your blessings but if like most people I know you hate your boss/job/company etc, you're stuck there until you find something hopefully better. You'll look or think of looking for a new job but depending on how taxing your current job is, you may not have much bandwidth to really look. And since you need the salary and/or benefits or both, leaving without having somewhere else to go is not an option.

Some of us are so miserable at work that we fantasize about being let go. Yes, our lives will be harder since unemployment only goes so far, but at least it will be a lower-level of misery and we'll have time to look for a better job. Many of us eventually get this wish granted given how many companies resort to layoffs first when times get tough. (And yes, this is another example of how everything's broken. I've written about various ways to improve culture.)

So you have employees that have either been let go several times and/or have been lucky enough to voluntarily leave miserable jobs behind. If they jumped out of desperation and/or were mislead, their new job's honeymoon period will be too brief.

And then they're miserable again.

Is the above scenario the employee's fault or are they the victim? I'd argue for the latter. Unless they bail after two or three months and do so repeatedly, in this day and age anyone leaving after nine months or longer is probably justified. Better yet, ask them instead of assuming they're at fault.

During one of the two conversations I mentioned at the beginning of this post, my friend told me of someone who was waiting for the one-year anniversary before leaving a job that didn't turn out to be what she hoped for. I don't know the specifics so won't conjecture on why, but I remember thinking and commenting on how arbitrary that one-year milestone is. If someone puts up with a miserable situation for twelve months rather than ten months, are they really less of a "risk"? Would you rather an employee remain with you miserable and disengaged for longer or would you rather they speak up and then move on if the situation can't be fixed? 

I think part of what is broken is how employees are viewed and treated. We are not widgets but individuals with different strengths, work styles, and interests. If you value this and allow for the differences, you will truly get the best out of your people and have low turnover. It won't matter how often your new employee bounced around before or why: if you hire smart and treat them well, they'll be happy to stay with you as long as they're able to keep learning and contributing. But if you, like so many other companies out there, just want any warm body doing exactly what they're told then yes, keep worrying. Your only solution to high turnover will be hiring a true widget or robot.

Have you had to bounce around due to jobs that were bad fits? Have recruiters/hiring managers given you a hard time about this? 

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