Welcome to the world of job-hopping

Nov 06 2007 by Nic Paton Print This Article

Germans, French and Greeks swear by it. The British and Irish think it is over-rated. And for Americans it is virtually unheard of. What are we talking about? Job loyalty, of course.

British and Irish workers are the least loyal in Europe, moving jobs on average every eight years Ė but are still far more committed to their employers than Americans.

According to research by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, while Greeks workers tend to stay put for 13 years, French employees for 12 and Germans for a decade, workers in Britain and Ireland have a devil-may-care approach to job mobility.

Yet neither is as mobile as Americans, who move jobs on average every four years.

For Irish workers in particular, it is a combination of a much younger workforce than in most of Europe, a booming economy, the Irish Times newspaper has said.

"In Ireland, it's much more of a 'plug and play' environment," Mary Keating, senior lecturer in human resources management at Trinity College Dublin, told the newspaper.

"People put themselves out there and behave as an individual commodity," she added.

Where workers were once grateful to have a job and companies had the pick of a large selection of hopeful candidates, firms were now having to fight hard to attract and retain the best workers.

With the economy growing 6.1 per cent last year and unemployment at an historic low (4 per cent, against 10 per cent and 9 per cent in Germany and France respectively), it was hardly surprising workers saw themselves as being in demand.

"There was a time when we would have looked at a CV, seen three jobs in six years and have considered that abnormal. Now it is usual. The boot has moved from the organisations holding all the power to the individual," pointed out Keating.

Prof John Geary, director of doctoral studies at the College of Business and Law at University College Dublin, said another factor was Ireland's younger workforce.

Younger workers are historically more likely to move around jobs more. Ireland currently has the youngest population in Europe, with just 11 per cent aged 65 and over, compared with the European Union average of 17 per cent.

"Management competence is much less related to the sector in the UK and Ireland than it is in continental Europe," said Geary.

"Here, you can become an accountant, do an MBA and have a ticket to a management position in any industry. In continental Europe, you would study engineering, do a masters and a PHD in engineering and then progress only in that particular industry," he added.

Immigration and the high levels of job creation in the economy in recent years were also likely to have played their part in lowering the average job tenure here, added Prof James Wickham, director of the Employment Research Centre at Trinity College, Dublin.

Other factors contributing to the trend included the fact that many jobs had only existed for fewer than eight years, particularly in new start-ups and technology companies.

And Dr Don Thornhill, chairman of Ireland's National Competitiveness Council, said employers should not be unduly worried.

Eight years was a respectable length of time to stay in one position. By moving about, workers were simply searching out the best opportunities and so were more likely to be working to their maximum potential.