Be careful when quitting in a downturn

Apr 09 2008 by Brian Amble Print This Article

If you're planning on changing jobs at the moment, make very sure you want to do it for the right reasons. The grass may not be greener, so a better strategy may be to ride out the economic turbulence with your current employer.

One of the paradoxes of the current economic slow-down is that it does not yet seem to have had much impact on the numbers of people planning to switch jobs.

One indication of the level of discontent in the workforce came in a recent poll of 3,300 North American workers by consultancy BlessingWhite.

It found that a general disquiet over a lack of opportunities to grow or advance in their job was the main reason why people wanted to jump ship Ė so much so that a third of those questioned said they would only "probably" still be with their employer by the end of this year.

But with many companies likely to reduce their workforces and fewer new jobs being created, a more sensible strategy might be to ride out the economic turbulence with your current employer. After all, the grass may not always be greener, especially in a slower economy.

Nevertheless, for those who won't - or can't wait Ė there are some important factors to consider if you're trying to switch employers during a business slowdown.

According to Annie Stevens, managing partner with ClearRock, a Boston-based outplacement and executive coaching firm, the most important piece of advice she can give is to exercise extreme caution.

"In a slower economy, employees have to consider the potential negative consequences of switching employers more closely than during a better business environment," she said

In a difficult business environment, competition is more intense for jobs. It's a buyer's market and as employers trim their payrolls, qualified candidates are more plentiful. So employers will tend to play hardball on compensation packages.

And if you do get hired, expect pressure to deliver results quickly.

"There may be a much shorter time period during which successful candidates will have to achieve their objectives, since employers may be looking for new hires to increase sales, cut costs, improve earnings and productivity more quickly," said Greg Gostanian, managing partner with ClearRock.

"While in better times, employers may give new employees six months or so in which to attain their goals, this window can be cut by half or more during a slowdown."

While this might appear counter-productive, Annie Stevens pointed out that there will be more candidates to choose from if a new hire fails.

"The shorter time period in which new hires will have to achieve results, and the greater availability of qualified talent, mean more employers may pull the trigger sooner. They may offer new hires less generous severance packages to enable them to make a change more quickly," she said.

Another factor to bear in mind is what might happen if your current employer discovers you are trying to change jobs.

"Employers who learn that a valued employee is seeking to change jobs may try to make things more attractive for him or her to remain onboard. But, an employer who discovers that a problematic employee is job hunting may decide to let the worker go and take advantage of the availability of qualified candidates to find a replacement," said Gostanian.

In a similar vein, tough times make it more important that there is a good "fit" between new hires and their new employers.

"Employers may be less forgiving of new hires who don't fit in with culture of their organizations, or with co-workers and their supervisors. How well new employees relate interpersonally to their supervisors, colleagues and direct reports counts more heavily when a business needs to be turned around or its earnings and profitability are off," said Stevens.

Ultimately, then, those who decide to change jobs during tough times should make sure they want to do it for the right reasons.

"Don't base your decision on minor disagreements with supervisors or co-workers or negligible compensation differences. If you generally like what you do for a living and who you are doing it for explore options for working things out with your current employer, at least until the economy improves," said Stevens.