Friday, June 21, 2013

What actually gets people to switch jobs?

The other week, I wrote briefly about Paul Sturgeon's column in Plastics News where he expressed doubt that HR departments knew how to attract Gen X and Y top performers. To recap, here's Mr. Sturgeon again:
Finally, your company does not understand what the candidates want. Many studies have been done of Gen X and Y to see what is important to them. When compared side by side with what most employers think is important, the correlation is closer to the opposite than to lining up. Prestige, power, salary, and so on, the things that are important to boomers, rank near the bottom of the list for X and Y. They are looking for things like flexible hours, relationships with colleagues and interesting work. When companies try to woo them with an offer that represents a 10 percent boost in pay, with a better 401(k) match than what they have now, they are shocked when the candidate turns that down. 
I never had a chance to comment on this portion of the article, but I don't think it's as demonstrative as Mr. Sturgeon thinks. To be honest, a 10% pay raise plus a better 401 (k) match wouldn't necessarily get me to quit my job and move to another company either. (Did that really work for baby boomers?) It obviously depends on the other circumstances of the position. Now, if you doubled my pay... (And who's to say that top performers did not immediately turn around to their own management and use the new offer as leverage for their current position?)

This also brings to mind the really interesting survey that See Arr Oh posted; he also compiled all the different motivating factors into a nice list -- I'll quote the top 5 below:
1. Meaningfulness of work (28%)
2. Good coworkers (14%)
3. Commute/location (13%)
4. Salary (11%)
5. Stability (9%)
I agree with this list, and it doesn't surprise me at all. It matches nicely with the theory of Dan Pink's "Drive" (reviewed in a great post by Lisa Balbes at ACS Careers Blog) that people are motivated best by autonomy, mastery and purpose.

There are a couple of things I wanted to mention from See Arr Oh's survey. First, he asked for "top two workplace criteria", which 42 different people happily listed in the comments. I suspect that a more directly-on-point question may have been "Currently employed industrial chemists, what improved conditions would get (or have gotten) you to leave your current position for a new employer?" In those cases, I suspect that "meaningfulness of work" may have fallen and "commute/location", "salary" and "stability" may have risen.

Also, I wonder if there is a stated preference/revealed preference problem. ("Stated preference" refers to what people say, whereas "revealed preference" refers to what people actually do.*) Perhaps I am transferring my own internal struggles, but I wonder if relatively young chemists have had the same difficulties as I in aligning their ideals (loyalty and perseverance, for example) with the choices laid before them? Do people have as much ambivalence as I do about expressing how important their income level might be to them?  Either way, there is nothing quite as revealing about oneself as the choice between "Do I stay with my current job?" or "Leave for greener pastures."

*Here's a nice example where people say they want to help the environment by purchasing "greener" products (stated preference), but when they're charged more for them, no sale! (revealed preference)


  1. Thanks for the kind words and deeper discussion on the article. I'll readily admit that my survey didn't ask the best questions, and that it probably won't predict revealed preference.

    What we'd really need is for a larger organization (ACS, AAAS, etc) to issue a 2-pronged survey to an age-specific group of, say, 1,000 chemists. First, you'd ask the above question ("What factors would get you to switch jobs?"), then you'd track the respondents' careers for the next 5 years, to see whether location / salary / coworkers really made the difference.

    Alas, I'm not sure there's $$ or interest for such a survey. Too bad.

  2. "And who's to say that top performers did not immediately turn around to their own management and use the new offer as leverage for their current position?"

    Does that really work? Logically, it should, but if I'm an employer I'd be wondering how many times this person is going to do that. I guess if they're that good it may be worth it. It also likely points to the inefficiency of salary discovery.

    Ditto on environmental example. Same is true for Walmart's---often planned new stores are met with scorn by local citizenry, but the parking lots are full after it opens. Maybe people would Buy American if they could still get a dozen tube socks for a dollar?

    1. I've often read that pulling the leverage like that usually bites you in the end. Sure, you get the bump up in pay this year, but down the road they remember that you're "ahead" of where they expected you and your pay derivative decreases accordingly.

      Just reemphasizing the fact that I am literate: I also read a little quote that said "people don't leave companies, they leave bosses", which I wholeheartedly endorse.

    2. You have no way of knowing whether the full lots contain the minority of vocal people who expressed their distaste for Walmart or the the majority who neither expressed disapproval nor felt disapproval.
      I don't buy tube socks for a dollar but I am vastly outnumbered by people who do.

  3. Did you see this TED talk by Dan Pink? Taking his theory on motivation to its logical conclusion, the more you pay a CEO and benefits you give them like gold parachutes and guarantees that they will make money, the worse they run a company. Which kind of makes sense when you look at the state of pharma today.

  4. "loyalty"

    The best cure for this is to work for Pfizer.

    1. The Aqueous LayerJune 22, 2013 at 10:34 AM

      The best cure for this is to work for Pfizer.

      These days, it's all pharma companies. With all the layoffs, I doubt there is much loyalty left save the few true believers who don't know any better.

    2. Ya, right! Loyal only to me. Loyalty does not count no more for the bottom line. In my previous job the best of the best mind (20+ years) were shown the door. Not many found the job befitting to their qualification or experience.