Is it odd or embarrassing to stay in the same job for years? Here’s what Jenni Poikelus, who has hosted YleX for over a decade, thinks: “The grass isn’t always greener on the other side.”
More and more people change jobs every few years. Jari Hakanen, who is a research professor studying well-being at work, says that work has undergone a cultural shift: in the past, a long career with the same employer was something to be aspired to whereas today, it can even be embarrassing. After 10 years, radio host Jenni Poikelus still enjoys her first job in her field and feels that she has found the right place for herself.
When Jenni Poikelus started her internship at YleX radio channel at age 24, she was told that a presenter's traditional career “on the air” in live radio broadcast is about four years.
It's been over 10 years since then, and Poikelus’ voice can still be heard at YleX.
“Here, I get to do exactly what I dreamed of when as a student: us presenters and the jokes we tell are given space. Compared to many other channels, the time we’re able to speak on air is significantly higher,” says Poikelus, 35. She is also happy about the fact that presenters get to influence their job description.
"We started making skits for social media on our own initiative, and today it's a big part of my official job. I’ve also had the opportunity to do projects outside YleX, which has kept my mind fresh and brought new energy to daily routines as well,” says Poikelus. She has featured on TV shows such as Villi Kortti, Suurmestari and Joonas Nordman Show.
A diverse range of duties, learning new and the ability influencing one’s work are some of the retention factors that make employees stay at an employer, according to Jari Hakanen, Research Professor at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.
“Feeling that you are part of a team working on something meaningful also plays a part. It is important that employees see the impact of their work,” Hakanen adds.
Young people have grown up in a culture where employees must look after their value in the job market
The ability of workplaces to retain employees is a hot topic among company executives and HR professionals, and no wonder: more and more employees switch employers every few years.
According to the Quality of Work Life Survey, almost half (45%) of people have changed jobs in the last five years. The most recent survey is from 2018. In the past few years, the job market has been impacted by the pandemic, which probably didn’t reduce the number of people moving between workplaces.
"Yes, there’s been a clear cultural shift. In the past, there was a sense of professional pride in progressing within the company from apprentice to master, as it were, and staying in the same job until retirement was something to be aspired to. Today, people may feel anxious or even ashamed for having worked for the same employer for a long time. At the very least, there may be a feeling that it is something that has to be explained to others,” Jari Hakanen says.
Jenni Poikelus is familiar with the phenomenon.
"I sometimes wonder what people think about the fact that I'm still working in 'teen radio'... What’s helped is that I don't worry what others think!”
“Luckily, I don't have to pretend to be a teenager and can be myself. Management will probably kick me out when I start to sound too much like an old lady,” Poikelus laughs.
What makes Poikelus' career unique is that, at the age of 35, she still works in the same job she’s had since she was a student in her twenties. Typically, changing jobs is most common among under-35-year-olds: according to the Quality of Work Life Survey, 68% of employees aged 25 to 35 had changed jobs in the last five years.
This is of course natural: younger people are still searching for their own field and place in working life. According to Hakanen, the erosion of psychological trust that has taken place over decades is also a major concern on peoples’ minds.
"In the past, you could rely on keeping your job when you did it well. As we know, this is no longer the case. Young people have grown up with the knowledge that they need to take care of their own employability and job market value by gaining experience, skills and networks, for example. One way to do this is switching employers,” Hakanen says.
“It is often said that young people no longer commit to their employer. Then again, neither do employers. Young people have adapted to this and even turned it into a strength,” Hakanen says, but points out that excessive workplace hopping doesn’t necessarily bring advantages.
“Skills don't build up overnight. If you’re constantly switching jobs, it is difficult to gain really deep expertise and become a true expert in your field.”
Constant employee turnover is costly for the employer
Switching employers is by no means always a matter of our own desire or decision. Many people change jobs when their fixed-term employment ends or they are dismissed by the employer.
Looking at the statistics of the Quality of Work Life Survey, however, it is interesting to see that the majority (57%) of those who switched jobs in the past five years did not experience unemployment or temporary lay-offs. Indeed, this seems to be increasingly common: since 2003, more and more people have switched jobs without a reason caused by unemployment or a lay-off.
At times, Jenni Poikelus has also thought about leaving her current job but has always ended up staying.
“I've always said that this is where I find the most self-fulfilment. It’s also been great to see how occasional problems in the work atmosphere have been resolved, for example. I've also learned from people I know in the industry that the grass isn't always greener on the other side,” Poikelus says.
In short, switching jobs is not always a shortcut to happiness. The same is true from the employer’s point of view.
“Constant turnover and the onboarding of new employees take up a lot of resources. A good organisation employs a wide range of people, both in terms of age and experience,” says Jari Hakanen. He points out that those who have stayed in their field for a long time are often valuable employees:
“They are loyal, know the ins and outs of the organisation and can mentor new employees. And it is by no means the case that only young and new employees can offer fresh ideas and perspectives. Even old employees can be very innovative, especially if they are offered the chance to switch things up,” Hakanen says.
This is something he knows from experience.
Jari Hakanen has been with the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health for 25 years. What is his story?
“One reason is certainly that I was already 36 years old when I came here and had experience from several jobs. In addition, I’ve spent time away on a few occasions: a year working on my doctoral dissertation and a couple of years at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies. Taking a step back has been a positive thing,” Hakanen says.
A pop outside the organisation can bring new motivation
As the examples of Jari Hakanen and Jenni Poikelus show, projects and brief stays outside day-to-day routines are a possibility worth considering in many situations.
“It can be beneficial to both the employee and the employer that the employee has the opportunity to see life outside the organisation for a while or part-time. I'm certain that for many people, their appreciation for their job will only grow after such an experience. Of course, there is always the risk that the employee will not return – but is that risk any greater than an unmotivated employee who may eventually leave on their own?”, Hakanen asks.
Of course, Hakanen has also thought about leaving. His 25-year career at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health has included many ups and downs.
“There’s been rounds of layoffs and major changes. At times, I have felt pretty alone and wondered if this is the right place for me anymore. I’ve also seen many coworkers walk away over the years. In the end, however, I’ve always come to the conclusion that my work at the Institute is wonderfully diverse and I feel that what I do matters. At the moment, I'm very satisfied,” Hakanen says, recounting his quarter of a century with the employer.
Jenni Poikelus doesn't believe she can quite reach the same longevity at YleX. She is aware that sooner or later, the time will come to move on.
“The YleX studio has been like a second home to me for so long that thought of not going there anymore seems strange, even a little frightening.”
Jenni Poikelus photo: Nelli Kenttä / YleX