Is it Detrimental to Stay Too Long in One Job?

Most people change jobs for better opportunities: a higher salary, more benefits, or a better title with more challenging work. While you can often get that in the same company through promotions; in this era of raise freezes and ‘you’re lucky you even have a job’ mentality, advancement doesn’t always happen and we may end up stagnant in the same position for years in our pursuit of the job security.

Switching jobs may be the clearest way to obtain a higher salary and boost your future earning potential. Research suggests you could earn 18 to 20 per cent more as an external hire, than through moving up in a company via a promotion.

Another factor to consider is how old you are. In a survey of workers who have stayed put for many years, the survey summarised that salaries tend to hit their plateau when people are in their forties—and finding a new opportunity gets harder past the age of 45. That means if you’re approaching forty, the next few years could be the best time to go for a higher-paying, higher position job.

Broadly speaking, today’s job seekers demand more from their employers. This means they’re more likely to hop around different companies until they find the conditions they want. But the big question is, how long can you stay at a company without damaging your future opportunities? Your length of employment can still say much about you as a potential employee – stay too short a time at several jobs and you’ll be deemed a job hopper; too long, and you might be considered unmotivated or overly set in your ways. 

The truth is that these days, we only increase our skills by trying new things, and staying in the same job does not give the same opportunity to attempt new experiences that a person receives by changing assignments. It all boils down to this – have you really had twenty years of experience – or one year, repeated twenty times?

can it be damaging to your career to stay too long in one job?

There’s no hard and fast time limit for when you, as an individual, should jump ship. Length of employment in previous jobs is only one part of your career picture. As long as you’re advancing your skills, can show you are great at adapting to new situations, and keep building a solid professional network, there isn’t a ‘too long’ limit.

But is it possible you are becoming stagnant without realising it? Watch for the signals. Start by figuring out whether you lack excitement about the bigger picture or the day-to-day activities. When people ask you how things are going, and your standard response is that you love what you’re doing, that doesn’t mean that you like it on any given day. Here are some signs that something larger is going on:

  • You keep promising yourself you’ll quit but never do. These false starts are often indicative of an underlying problem.
  • You don’t want your boss’s job. If you can’t stand the idea of having your manager’s job, you need to think hard about what’s next. Chances are that your hungrier peers will soon pass you, thus creating more job dissatisfaction.
  • You’re consistently underperforming. If you keep trying to improve but you’re not seeing results, it may be time to consider whether you have what it takes, or if your boss and colleagues value what you have to offer. Sometimes you’re up against an impossible task — the job is too big, the politics are too tricky, there aren’t enough resources, or you don’t have the required skills and experience.

If you notice one or more of these signs, pay attention and ask yourself whether the costs of staying in the job are reasonable and acceptable to you. It may be that the ‘price of admission’ – opportunity loss and emotional toll – just isn’t worth it.

Ultimately, to stay in one role in one job too long makes you stagnate, and simply does not bode well for your future employment opportunities. The mere fact that you are reading this blog article means you are considering a job change. However, is it because you want to or because you have to? If you’ve stayed too long in one job and are now job hunting, you will find it harder to dispel certain preconceptions. 

Finally, when considering a new job, the advice for job hoppers and long-time employees is not dissimilar – position and explain your career history in a way that sounds good to the company and puts you in the best possible light. If you have had a series of short jobs, string them together to show you’re in an upward career arc. And if you’ve been loyal to one place, show how you’ve evolved and continue to keep growing. As with other job searching situations, it’s all about positioning yourself and dealing with the cards you’ve been dealt. 

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