Leave too soon and you lack commitment. Stay too long and you lack initiative. How do you work out whether changing jobs now will further or hinder your career?

We no longer live in a world where we are expected to work in the same job for life. However is there an ideal amount of time you should stay in a job before moving onto a new one?

This conversation comes up quite a lot in my own relationship. I grew up in a family where my father changed jobs every year or two. I am very comfortable moving on when I’m no longer being challenged or a better opportunity presents itself. My husband on the other hand grew up in a family where his father worked in the same job his entire working life. The thought of leaving a job after even four or five years makes my husband uncomfortable.

Given that there is no right or wrong answer for every situation, we decided to ask a few people in different industries what they think the optimal amount of time to stay in a job is.

What employees think

“Too long is when you don’t want to get out of bed for it anymore, feel stale, unchallenged or unappreciated or just plain miserable. Could be a short time, could be a long time. I have had about 5 jobs – longest 7 years, shortest 6 months.”
Lisa, Sonography

“It needs to be a win-win relationship for both you and your employer. I have been in my job for 6.5 yrs now and still get to do cool new stuff every week.”
Melissa, Engineering

“Time frame is definitely individual. As a personal preference I try to remain for as long as possible. I think anything less than six months to a year in a ‘permanent’ job might still raise eyebrows in some circles, depending on the reason for leaving.”
Jennifer, Self-Employed

“Naturally there could be a wide variety of reasons for someone to leave their job, but i will say that it seems that employers like to see at least a couple of years per job, or they will be afraid you’ll leave them really quickly too. Also, having several in a row that are of a decent duration shows some overall stability.”
Rose, Marketing

“Move on when you’re not learning, when the company goes in a direction that conflicts with your own values, when your boss is a #@*!, when you’re undervalued, when you’re not making a difference, when you’re not becoming who you want to be.”
Tim, Public Sector

“As a woman across many years I discovered often I would need to leave a job to obtain the pay I deserved and which was being paid to my male colleagues. I would stay in a role for two to 4 years and then find one doing the same role at a higher rate of pay.”
Margaret, IT & Technology

“I’ve had 11 jobs in my adult life (4 of which were different retail chains). When my employer will only employ me as a casual employee I don’t feel they are committed to me. The minute I’m offered something else with better pay or conditions I don’t hesitate to jump ship and move on.”
Elizabeth, Retail

“I only really get excited by new challenge/change management type things which means I usually move on pretty quick. Although no plans to move anytime soon, so maybe I’ve finally found something to keep me interested for longer.”
Sarah, Charity Sector

What employers think

“I believe there are very significant differences in type of job and country etc… having said that, I think 3 years is acceptable. Shorter can be ok if there is a logical reason, but also dependent on other jobs. So someone in a role for one year and leaving five times in a row is worrying. But someone in a role for 4 years, then 1 year then 3 years is no red flag.”
Douglas, Software

“If it’s not working out then it’s better to get out sooner rather than later, this is better for both employee and employer in the long run. I think honesty on a CV counts for a lot too, so if you’ve only been in a job for a short time be open about the reasons why.”
Mel, Entrepreneur

“In the IT or technology work spec, if you stay in a role longer than 4 years there can be a perception that there must be something wrong with you.”
Margaret, IT & Technology

“From an employers point of view 5 years would be ideal for staff to stay, but it’s more like 2 years or less. Although we are fortunate to have staff clocking up 25 years.”
ennifer, Agri-business

Questions to ask yourself

Is my unhappiness affecting my work?
If you are really unhappy in your job, it is likely affecting the quality of your work or the perception that your boss and colleagues have of you. In this case staying around to make your CV look better is not going to help if you leave with a poor reputation or references. Bite the bullet, and move on, but be prepared to explain your reasons.

Is my unhappiness affecting my health?
If your work is affecting your mental or physical health then get out as soon as you can. Life is too short to give it to an employer that doesn’t value it. However before you find yourself in another job and in the same situation, work out exactly what it is that is affecting your health. If it is the hours, the environment, the people or whatever… make sure that your new job will be better in this area.

Do you have a history of jumping from job to job?
If your CV is packed with jobs of one years duration or less, maybe it’s time to start looking at what it is about these jobs that isn’t working for you. What would need to change in your job or industry to make you want to stay longer? Perhaps you’d be better in a new career than in another job that you aren’t going to enjoy.