Making it in the nomad economy

Four years. It’s the number that has leaders scratching their heads. On average, employees commit just over four years to an employer before moving on. For younger workers, it’s often only one or two years. These career nomads are changing the social contract between employer and employee with implications for the wider economy. It means both individuals and organisations need to start thinking very differently about career management and making the nomad economy work for all.

The nomad economy

The job-hopper label has long been applied - mostly disparagingly - to millennials. In truth, it’s not a millennial phenomenon: younger people have always changed jobs more often than older employees. But now that impact is being felt more keenly as millennials become the most populous demographic in the workforce while at the same time, their older colleagues are also shortening their average tenures.

The perception of job-hopping is also changing. Talent acquisition professionals are far less likely today to think of job-hopping as a bad thing. Our research shows that we need leaders who are change-natives, willing to seek out challenges and adapt to different environments seamlessly - the very skills that can be developed through changing roles and organisations. Organisations want these people in their businesses. The question is, how can you convince them to stay?

What it means for employers

While there’s no fighting the career nomad trend, business leaders can look for ways to extend that two- or four-year job tenure, especially for high-potentials, the diamonds in the rough. These are the people who will make the most impact on the company and whose learning and development ought to be the biggest priority. This group needs to be identified much earlier than in the past—then nurtured, mentored, and developed.

[bctt tweet="There’s no fighting the career nomad trend: leaders need to look for ways to extend short job tenures." username="Korn_Ferry"]

Among all the noise - and the data - organisations need to hone in on what matters in determining future success. One crucial factor is learning agility - the capacity to apply past experiences and lessons learned to new challenges and opportunities. It’s not only a strong indicator or potential but it’s one of the hallmarks of the self-disruptive leaders hiding in the organisation’s midst. These individuals are equipped to make an impact on the organisation in the short-term, while possessing the skills necessary to be future-ready leaders in the mid- and longer-term.

Learning agility encompasses five factors:

  • Mental agility—embracing complexity, examining problems in unique ways, making fresh connections, and staying inquisitive.
  • People agility—being open-minded toward others, enjoying interaction with diverse groups, bringing out the best in others.
  • Change agility—willingness to lead transformation efforts, continuously exploring new options.
  • Results agility—delivering results in tough situations, responding to challenge, inspiring others to achieve more than they thought possible.
  • Self-awareness—being reflective, understanding strengths and weaknesses, seeking feedback and personal insight.
In the nomad economy, it’s even more important to identify individuals with these five factors early and nurture their talents. HR professionals need to work with the business to redefine recruitment and talent strategies to support agility organisation-wide, through understanding the agility baseline and putting learning agile leaders into critical roles.

What it means for employees

For employees, the nomad economy means individuals must now assert greater control over their learning. There’s no longer a corporate ladder to climb or a neat map detailing the skills and experiences they need to collect along the way. In the nomad economy, workers have to make lateral, diagonal, and occasionally downward moves to get a new role that they want. Today’s career ladder is more like a jungle gym, moving up and branching out.

It’s that up and outwards movement that employees should be most aware of. They need to prioritise lifelong learning not simply based on what an organisation offers, but what they can learn externally through their extended networks.

Turning two, into four, into eight

As more talent is on the move, companies need to find ways to make the most of employees’ contributions while they’re on the job. Keeping people on the job a little longer, with real opportunities to learn and grow and make an impact, can be the win/win that satisfies career nomads and their employers.