The adage of a ‘job for life’ is a distant memory in Australia. These days, the average Australian shifts employer every 3.3 years, racking up a hefty 17 employers in their career.
So, what drives our desire for change?
At least for the younger generations, the answer seems to be job satisfaction and working for social good.
A survey of 18 to 24-year-olds (generation Z) found the youngest job starters are more likely to be motivated by passion than money. Their big brothers and sisters, the millennials, are also less likely to be motivated by a pay cheque. Instead, they look for growth opportunities, great managers, and jobs that are well-suited to their talents and interests.
But Eva Chan, a psychologist and a manager of the Careers Centre at the University of New South Wales, says when you drill down, the situation is often more nuanced.
“We see quite a bit of cultural difference,” she says. “It really depends on where the student is coming from and whether their parents or family members have come through a traditional career path.”
“For example, a lot of our students from more traditional backgrounds are after a career path that gives them progression. Whereas our other students, they are more open to looking for what we call a portfolio career. They’re not looking for a nine-five job with a big four accounting firm or something like that. They are looking for meaningful work and job satisfaction.”
For Kester Naismith, from Melbourne, career meaning has meant vastly different things at different times in her life. After studying a bachelor of arts in criminal justice administration, she fell into an administrative role at a call centre. Despite the unlikely beginning, Ms Naismith stayed with the organisation for 15 years.
“It was a vibrant and happy place to be,” she says. “What I valued most was the people I worked with. It was full of all my friends. A very sociable place, with lots of opportunities.”
After the birth of her daughter, she says, her needs and values began to change.
For the past three years, Ms Naismith has worked for the non-profit organisation, Birth for Humankind, which provides women from disadvantaged backgrounds with doulas (or birth assistants). She says her role as programs coordinator has given her a new sense of meaning.
“They seemed to tick a lot of boxes that I thought would make me happy,” she says.
“Being close to home was one major thing, being part-time, and working with doulas. I knew that having a doula was a good thing to have, and I thought this is an amazing thing that it’s offered to women who would almost certainly go without.”
Ms Chan’s advice to anyone choosing a career path, entering tertiary education or considering retraining, is to start with personal reflection.
“The first thing about career planning, it’s not about going on the internet and looking at what are the courses being offered. It’s always about stepping back and thinking about ourselves to start with. This is really very important.”
She says finding meaning in one’s career can mean almost anything.
“For example, if they say ‘I like helping people’, what does that mean? In what capacity? I had someone who had more than 10 years’ experience as a social worker coming back to do engineering. It was something he had always wanted to do, but never got a chance to.”
Ms Chan says some other common drivers of meaning are creativity, scientific research, and policy work. In fact, the options are almost endless.
“Financial incentive can even be one. I know someone who works in the finance industry and meaningful work for them is all about watching the stock market go up and down every nanosecond.”
She says it’s important to differentiate between what you are good at and what’s important to you.
“Everyone is good at texting each other, but does that mean you want to do that for a job?”