Opinion

Boredom and frustration: Why 18-48 year-olds hop through 11.7 jobs

8 min read

28 November 2018

Finding employees in it for the long-haul has become one of the biggest challenge for any business owner, says Real Business columnist Jan Cavelle.

I am currently helping a client with recruitment – no easy task in this market and time of year. It is not because of a lack of candidates. An ad still produces an eye watering quantity of  CVs to read and write up. But quality candidates are akin to the proverbial gold-dust.

I still look for a good work record, especially for more senior posts. I want to find candidates whose CVs demonstrate they are making conscious, well-informed choices on their careers. That they are likely to stay and help my client make their growth plans reality.  Yet a CV with serious job stability is becoming a rarity.

Job hopping has become the norm.  Figures report that 18-48 year-olds now have an average of 11.7 jobs.

Part of this pattern is attributed to the millennials’ desire to acquire as many skills as possible to protect their incomes in an uncertain world. But there are other causes.

Despite having seen how fragile employment now is, we have less appreciation for it. The days when getting a job locally and for life are history. In this mobile world, we can go where we like. And thanks to the internet, thousands make their living telling us that we can be better, and have better. It is a nice idea. But this dictum inevitably results in dis-satisfaction with the present.

Recent research by Staples demonstrate the results of this. Some 97% of people say they are frustrated at work. Nearly a quarter admit to looking at job ads when they are bored and 37% say they are bored and frustrated all over again in the new job in less than six months.

HR specialists claim you need to pay salary levels where money is not an issue. While the glitter of more money may make people job hop, money does not stop people feeling bored and frustrated.

Boredom at work stems from many things. The basic employment contract is an exchange of money for time. Selling our time may mean that our basic financial needs are taken care of, but it does not make us feel we are fulfilling any useful purpose.

We rarely see the link of what we do to final outcomes on the business or our own lives. For the self-employed, it is very different. We work till the job is done and then we can stop.

If we do well, we see tangible results in happy customers and more work. It is almost impossible to ensure a team member gets that level of satisfaction and connection to outcome.

The next issue is that few people chose their jobs out of genuine interest in the subject. They are attracted by salary, title, convenience or because their friends work there.

They may have entirely false conceptions of what the job really involves, or perhaps how glamorous it is. So they end up dis-interested and disillusioned.

Too often, their new job finds them earning a living but not feeling what they are doing is worthwhile. Their talents are often under-used and they feel under-valued. Perhaps the funding isn’t there to keep them motivated by providing learning opportunities to stimulate their engagement.

The regular, legally enforced breaks sound good, but with nothing to do in them, more boredom sets in. Breaks become easily filled with comparing notes of how dreadful things are with other equally bored people, or listing to someone else express how genuinely happy and fulfilled they are. Either produces more dis-satisfaction.

The result of all this disconnection and boredom is the low productivity that is such a huge problem in the UK. Unfulfilled people end up feeling lost, confused and altogether disappointed. They lose pride in their work and become stressed.

They start coming to work late, drinking more, eating more unhealthy foods, taking higher risks to alleviate the boredom. The more bored they are, the less effort they make, and the more bored they become. As their negativity cycle spins faster, so do the risks of mental health issues.

Psychologists argue that boredom is a normal human state and arguably a good and necessary one, as it acts as a natural trigger for change. Listening to interviews over the years, undoubtedly the common themes are frustration, neglect, stagnation and boredom.

The Staples report suggests 89% of respondents regularly think about switching jobs, causing employers to leap in with office makeovers, and ever higher HR spends in an attempt to keep their team happy.

It strikes me as atypical of a time where the shift has been away from our self-responsibilities and a development of the blame culture. There have always been ways that people can combat boredom at work themselves; taking greater ownership, focussing on the needs of others, actively seeking more responsibility, good old laughter.

But we do not see it as our responsibility anymore. We look to others to provide quick fixes. The internet has created the expectation of instant satisfaction.

Small surprise therefore that when faced with dissatisfaction at work, we believe the solution lies in changing the job. And are then amazed, that like any quick fix, the novelty wears off fast and we are back looking for a new quick fix.

A lot of change is good. Of course, people do need to change their jobs for one reason or another as their needs change. And it is great that we live in a society where most of us at least have that option. But our expectations of perfection can increase unhappiness.

As for companies, while a certain amount of a team can be short term, a nucleus needs to believe and plan to be there for the long haul, to give the continuity and stability essential for survival.

Finding those people, in this era of such high staff turnover, has become one of the biggest challenge for any business owner.