(c) Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand. Contact Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand for permission to reproduce this article., Careers

Should I stay or should I go?

Some people advance their careers while staying with one employer for many years. But for others, the best way to get ahead is to get out. So how do you know when the time has come to move on?

By Fiona Smith

Switching jobs is life-changing. It can be stressful, but also open up new worlds of opportunity. A new job can take you closer to your life goals, send you on an adventure and enrich you in a multitude of ways.

The angst often comes in deciding whether to stay or go. The fact that nearly two-thirds of accounting and finance workers are either job-hunting or open to opportunities means that the employment market is a bit like a revolving door – and to get safely through, you have to be sure-footed and get your timing right.

And, sometimes, you might be better off staying right where you are.

For Chrissie Murray CA, audit partner at Baker Tilly Staples Rodway in Wellington, the first move was the hardest. She’d been working as a graduate trainee in general management at the UK’s National Health Service, but decided she wanted to be an auditor.

“The first big decision was very difficult. I was 24 and there were lots of discussions with people that I trusted,” she says.

But once she had changed direction that first time, other big moves – such as emigrating to New Zealand – were less intimidating.

“It taught me about opportunity and risk. If you don’t take any risk, you don’t get the benefit of any other opportunities,” she says.

If people and their careers can be slotted into styles such as ‘stayer’, ‘switcher’, or ‘steady climber’, Murray defines her approach as ‘open to opportunity’.

“I don’t think I’ve ever really sought the opportunities out. They come up all the time, if you are listening. I don’t explore 95% of them. I follow them up if I can imagine myself doing it well, and all the jobs I have had have fitted well with my values and principles.”

Movers and stayers

A recent Hudson report, based on a survey of 6500 professionals across Australia and New Zealand, found that 54% of accounting and finance professionals describe themselves as ‘open to new opportunities’, while 16% were ‘actively seeking a new job’.

Among those looking to move on, the main reason cited is they no longer feel motivated. Other factors include looking for work-life balance, flexibility, salary, workplace culture and a great manager, says James Wood, associate director, accounting and finance, at Hudson’s Sydney office.

“What motivates someone is very personal. Looking for stimulating work is huge in an accounting and finance role,” he observes.

8 signs it’s time to move on

1. Mondayitis:
You dread going into work and count down the days till Friday night.

2. Lingering at lunch:
Finding reasons to delay getting back to your desk.

3. Ugh no:
Looking for reasons not to do something.

4. It is pointless:
Work has lost its sense of purpose.

5. Marooned:
The organisation has moved on and left you behind.

6. Missing mojo:
You have lost interest and you’re hanging on for a redundancy.

7. Cul-de-sac:
You have gone as far as you can go, but there is still petrol in your tank.

8. Toxicity:
The workplace culture is so poor, it’s enough to make you sick.

It all boils down to how your career is tracking against your career plan, he says.

Staying or going can also depend on a person’s life stage. Someone who jumps in and out of four jobs in six years may decide, once they become a parent, to settle longer-term in a job that offers shorter hours or more flexibility.

Hudson’s survey also shows 31% of accounting and finance professionals are planning to stay in their jobs for the coming 12 months.

One of them is Sam Sargood CA, who has spent 12 years with PwC, working all around Australia in nine different roles, starting with a trainee position six months out of high school. Now a senior manager in the R&D incentives and innovation area in PwC’s Melbourne office, Sargood says he often gets asked why he stays so long with one employer.

“Given that I am only 30 years old as well, that is obviously a rarity,” he says.

What keeps him there is his interest in his assignments. He also likes the travel opportunities, and has worked in every major city in Australia.

“I’ve enjoyed meeting many different people within my client base in different locations,” he says.

“The biggest reason for staying as long as I have is finding a team or an area where I enjoy coming to work. You don’t enjoy every aspect of your job. Or, if you do, you are very fortunate. There is 80 to 90% of the work that I do that I really enjoy and the rest is just admin and things you have to do.

“Being able to have fun and get things done is very important to having a good work environment.”

Sargood says a plus about staying with a “large beast” like PwC include opportunities to move into different areas such as campus recruitment, then corporate tax, then R&D tax incentives.

However, smaller firms offer a wider variety of work in general business services, and people are not required to specialise quite so early in their careers. 

The key to making the most of working in a big organisation is to take up new opportunities when they arise, he says.

“You may as well say yes to a lot of things because as soon as you start saying no, offers start falling off the table.”

Weighing up your decisions

Careers expert Jannine Fraser had a very different approach to Sargood, notching up 30 jobs before she turned 30. “I don’t recommend that,” she quips. “I think that was too many moves.”

Melbourne-based Fraser is now managing director of the Career Insight Group and co-founder of executive career strategy firm Directioneering.

She says people may have quite valid reasons to “hold and endure” jobs that are sub-optimal, such as their responsibilities around ageing parents or children.

“They may decide they need the familiarity of the employee relationship to give them a little bit of flexibility around commitments that happen during the day.”

Another reason to stay is that their dissatisfaction is probably temporary, because the organisation is going through a stressful period that will pass – such as redundancies in a restructure.

“There are times where it is about just getting through, knowing it’s going to be tough,” she says. At times tough business environments can be enriching, she adds, when it’s about skills development.

But a fast exit may be recommended for environments that are harmful: “If you are in an unusually toxic environment, my advocacy is to get out. It only provides a damaging environment from a morale point of view.

“Like a bad marriage, it can actually have lasting consequences for people’s health and psyche.”

Don’t overstay your welcome 

A determining factor in the decision to stay or go is whether you’re still providing value to the organisation, says Fraser. Waiting around for a redundancy package, for instance, can do you harm if your declining value to your employer damages your self-esteem and your reputation.

“Your sense of confidence is dramatically eroded by taking that kind of undercover approach for substantial periods of time. Leaving with dignity is critical. People go off and learn fabulous skills somewhere else and are welcomed back to re-engage with an old employer,” she says.

“How dignified you are at exit and how positive you are about the next step all heavily influence your ability to continue to move on.”

When weighing your decision, Fraser recommends considering your satisfaction, stimulation and contribution: “How valued do you feel in your engagement with your world of work? Is the job doing what you need it to do in your total life and are you still contributing in a way that ensures your value to the organisation?”

“Doing that analysis is so important because it will set you up for the future and mean that you’re not changing deckchairs on the Titanic by going off into the exact same environment somewhere else.”

Dealing with the boss

Emma Holderness, a leadership and management coach with Catapult in Wellington, says getting feedback from other people is important, and a coach can help “untangle” your feelings about your career and articulate your sense of purpose.

People considering leaving their current position should also communicate with their employer about how they are feeling and where the organisation sees their future heading.

“Sometimes people don’t have that conversation early enough,” she says. They make a decision in their own heads, but their choice to leave comes as a “bolt from the blue” for their manager.

“Really consider what you want to have out of the conversation. Having the conversation early enough allows your manager to think about other options – particularly if you are a valued team member and people don’t want to lose you. There may be other opportunities that you haven’t thought of.”

Careers consultant Kate Boorer FCA says being transparent about her ambitions has always worked out well for her and she is fortunate her managers have also acted as good “sounding boards”.

Boorer could be characterised as a ‘switcher’ – she started as a chartered accountant with KPMG, then moved into corporate finance roles before she turned entrepreneur as a founding partner in Pearman & Partners, which specialises in aligning organisational culture with business strategy.

She says a career conversation starts with a discussion about where you would like your career to go and what opportunities exist within the organisation.

“When you get to the end of the conversation and there are none, the good leaders ask how they can help you find your next opportunity.

“They can see how disengaging it can be to be stagnated.”

However, Boorer acknowledges that not all bosses are so supportive of an employee’s ambition.

“Whenever I am talking to clients about it, I do say to them that they have to trust their instincts and their judgement. They do have to trust their leader. I think it is a rare relationship.”

This article was originally published in the June 2019 issue of acuity.