Job hopping

People are switching jobs more than ever before. An analysis published by LinkedIn this week found that job-hopping has almost doubled in the last two decades.

Chalk it up to a changing economy, or maybe just another problem with millennials.

But a new study suggests that job hopping might also have a genetic component. To look at whether job hopping is partly in the genes, the researchers homed in on a particular gene having to do with dopamine functioning that’s previously been shown to influence novelty-seeking behavior.

When they went through people’s work histories, they found both environmental and genetic influences on job-change frequency. The most important environmental factor they found was education level: people with more education have more voluntary job changes, but people with less education have more involuntary job changes.

Taking into account genetics, the study found that this pattern was exaggerated in people with a specific variant of the dopamine receptor gene looked at in the study, the 7-repeat variant. In other words, the people with the most voluntary job switches were those who were most educated and had the most copies of the 7-repeat variant.

This means job-hopping likely results from an interplay of genetic and environmental factors. It also suggests that having certain genes can in turn make you more or less sensitive to environmental factors that lead to job hopping.

Other research has found other influences on how frequently people change jobs. For example, it turns out that younger siblings switch jobs more early in their careers than older siblings. There may be a practical reason for this: older siblings actually start off their careers with higher-paying jobs than younger siblings, but younger siblings are able to close the gap with frequent job changes over the first decade of their careers.

However, none of this answers the important question: should you switch jobs?

Well, the responsible answer is: it all depends on your situation, so don’t quit your job because I told you to!

But that’s no fun. So science has a less responsible answer: yes.

Another paper published this month tracked what happened to people changing jobs voluntarily in Germany between 1985 and 2013. It found that over that span of time, the income gains associated with job switches decreased – so ironically, job-hopping is growing in popularity as the financial incentive to job-hop is actually disappearing.

In terms of job satisfaction, however, the benefits of changing jobs have remained stable over time. That is, people who switch jobs tend to end up with higher job satisfaction.

The takeaway is that a few years from now, when your interviewer is asking you why you haven’t held down a job for more than a year, you have two pretty compelling responses you can choose from: either “because of my dopamine receptor genes” or “because Neil Petersen said switching jobs would make me happy.”

Image: FreeImages.com/Phillip Collier