Maithilee Samant
Jun 7 · 9 min read

Devotedly working at the same position for three or more years? Read this now and avoid making a very costly mistake.

There are two types of employees in a company: Loyal Employees and Rising Stars.

Loyal employees are excellent performers. They work smart and hard. They seldom look for work opportunities outside. They take pride in representing their company, and they see their workplace as their second home.
Rising stars, on the other hand, are excellent performers as well, but in addition to their day to day jobs, they actively engage in their career growth. They are recognized as having high potential and given opportunities that lands them a steady stream of promotions.

If one has to measure performance based only on the contributions one makes to the company, then loyal employees and rising stars both should be ranked the same. However, loyal employees follow a significantly different career and reward trajectories than that of the rising stars.

It is often the case that loyal employees struggle to get promoted. It is harder for them to find a new job outside. In financial downturns, companies tend to let go of their loyal employees but try hard to retain their rising stars.

Times have changed, and there is something else that the companies value much more than employee loyalty.

Today, blinding loyalty makes employees prone to make one big mistake that has fatal implications on their careers. But before we see what that mistake is, we need to understand how the past, present and future is contributing to it.

The Era Of Employee Loyalty Is Behind Us

This Economist’s technology adoption graph shows how many years it took for new and disruptive technology to become mainstream in the last two centuries. It took electricity forty six years to become mainstream compared to the internet took only seven years. The current technology adoption rate is at its highest in human history. Since the early 2000s, the pace has accelerated even more with the rise of social media and smartphones. Compared to an average of 35 years to mainstream adoption in the 20th century, now it takes about 3–4 years for disruptive new technology to gain worldwide adoption.

The faster rate of disruptive technology adoption brings significant changes to job market dynamics.

Slower adoption rates in the past meant that the skills required to do a job effectively remained the same for decades. That was the era where you could take up a job and continue working there until your retirement. Stability and loyalty were the important career values of that time. Until about the late 1980s, it made sense to hold on to a good job for a long time. From the employer’s perspective at that time, the longer the employee stays with them, the more productive and knowledgeable they become, the more valuable they are to the continued success of the company. Employee loyalty was encouraged and rewarded.

Today’s Employers Value Learnability More Than Loyalty.

Today’s corporations are under immense pressure to innovate themselves just to remain in business. All functions, right from R&D to sales, need to be continuously reevaluated and adjusted for the onset of emerging new technologies.

Continuous evolution is the new operational excellence.

What’s more? Disruptive changes are coming faster with the rise of artificial intelligence, cryptocurrencies, IoT, in addition to the rapid globalization of the workforce. Today’s companies need a workforce which can keep up with the onset of continuous change.
The skills required to do a job most effectively now change every 3–4 years. The ideal employee needs to not only keep up with the change but also proactively anticipate and even initiate it.

Ability to learn and adapt is the critical soft skill that we all need today.

If the current staff can’t keep up with the new technologies, companies are under pressure to look for the workforce with more new skills, to either replace or supplement. This pressure results in the paradoxical phenomenon where companies offer 10–20% higher pay to new employees than their long term loyal employees.
Upgrading your skills and switching jobs is now paradoxically safer and financially rewarding instead of continuing to work at the same company for a long time.

Job-hopping Is No Longer A Red Flag On The Resume.

Recent labor statistics show the effect of rapid technology adoption on the job market. According to a recent report on employee tenure from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, today’s workers change jobs every four years on average. This time frame correlates well with the pace of technology adoption (3–4 years).

Job-hopping is helping workforce to keep up with today’s rapidly changing skill demands for emerging technologies.

The following video showcases study by Harvard Business Review. It shows that millennials are expected to switch around 20 jobs in their lifetimes, while baby boomers on maximum changed 12 jobs. Job-Hopping is becoming the norm.

In the past, job-hopping was seen as a red flag mainly because it hinted at potential personality issues with a worker, which resulted in untimely job switching. However, now as long as you have good references and growth shown on your resume, job-hopping is not a cause of concern. Instead, it is seen as evidence of learnability and agility.

Stagnation Is The Silent Career Killer

Even without the taboo of job-hopping, moving between companies is not what a loyal employee desires as they value long term relationships with their employer and peers. Though one can grow in skills and levels at one company over time, it does not happen naturally and never without proactive effort from the employee.

Every job follows the S-shaped learning curve, a “skill curve.”

Fig 1. Skill Curve

After the first steep learning, one comes to a stabilizing point at which the learning stops and one gains mastery at the skills required for the job.

Career growth happens when at the point of mastery, you challenge yourself to learn a new skill and pick up a new responsibility.

Fig 2. Skill Curve Stacking Strategy

“Skill curve stacking” is the strategy of rising stars. It builds up their career trajectory in the direction of growth in both career and compensation.(Fig 2)

Fig 3. Skill Curve Stretching Strategy

Loyal employees tend to deploy “skill curve stretching” strategy. They tend to continue to work very hard but with the same skills that they have already mastered.
The point of mastery you stopped learning on the skill curve is where your career stagnates. In the past, the skill curve stretching didn’t end badly. It just meant no more promotions, but job stability was still a given as long as you have mastered job at hand. This is how the prior generations settled in a position until their retirement point.(Fig3)

Today by the time you are reaching the point of mastery, new disruptive technology is on the rise. So if you stay doing the same job past the mastery point, the marketability of skills is already on the decline. Today’s skill curve has a sharp decline after the mastery peak. Letting skill curve drag past the point of mastery, erodes marketability of your skills. (Fig4)

Fig 4. Skill Curve Stretching Strategy In Rapidly Changing Job Market

Unfavorable career consequences like not getting enough raises, sudden layoffs, not able to quickly find another job are very likely when the skill marketability takes a nosedive.

Careers end not because of the loss of a job but because of the loss of marketable skills.

Career stagnation and loss of marketable skills are very hard to recognize because the stagnant job can keep you very busy making you believe you are making progress, but in reality, you are not. It is natural for loyal employees to miss or ignore these clues when working hard on their job.
It is essential to distinguish the false signs of progress from the real ones.

Stagnation Sneaks Up Behind Loyal Employees With False Signals of Progress

Know these three misleading signals that make you seem like you are progressing but are signs that you are stagnating or even regressing in your career.

#1 You have had an excellent performance review with minimal rewards

Your manager raved how good you are and how much you are valued, but there is no promotion, and the subsequent salary increase is a minimum increment, which barely keeps up with inflation. You hear that the new hires demand 10–20% more salary to do the same job at your company or elsewhere. That is a sign that your marketable skills are eroding.

#2 You are the go-to person in your group but you haven’t learned anything new in last few years

You know all the answers, you are considered an expert and authority of your project. In the meetings, you often are the most knowledgeable person in the room. That is a sign that you might be getting pigeonholed into a role or a project. If you are the smartest person in the room for a long time then you are in the wrong room.

#2 You are extremely busy but bored

You are accountable to do many things and your team relies on you a lot. This may make you feel indispensable but that is a deceptive feeling. Companies can let go of their finest and hard working people along with the projects quickly when they downsize. If you are busy but bored, have a lot of responsibilities but don’t feel you are challenged enough, then it is a sign of career stagnation. Being busy does not guarantee progression or continuation of your career.

The Career Health Litmus Test

There is one warning sign one must never ignore.

If recruiters are not proactively contacting you for new job opportunities then no matter how well you think you are doing in your current job, your career is at risk.

Provided you have a reasonably recent LinkedIn profile and you still do not get contacted by recruiters for outside job opportunities then it is a sign that your skills are losing marketability.

The one mistake loyal employees make that the rising stars avoid at all costs is this:

Loyal Employees allow their careers to stagnate by ignoring warning signs of declining marketable skills.

How to proactively avoid stagnation

Loyal employees can spend years being extremely busy and productive at their workplace not realizing that they are slowly becoming obsolete in a broader global workforce.
They are happy with their performance reviews not realizing that the skills they performed best at are no longer relevant in the outside world.
When the time comes to look for a new job, may it be due to layoffs or personal reasons, they are in for a big surprise. Though they know that they are good, trustworthy and talented, it becomes hard for them to stay competitive in the job environment which has changed significantly since they last looked for a job.

Taking charge of your career starts by being aware of the changes happening around you and in the global marketplace.

Just like an annual physical examination, one needs to perform annual career examination.

  1. Update your resume and online career profile every year and list your accomplishments and the skills that you have learned.
    If you don’t have much to update year over year then that is something worth noticing and act on.
    If your updated LinkedIn profile is not attracting job inquiries from recruiters, then it is a clear sign of not having marketable skills. Earlier you know this is better it is for course correction.
  2. Create a career plan based on what you want to do and where the world is heading.
    Work with a career coach to plan your career and create personal brand and presence so that your talents are seen by others and you are perceived as a rising star.
    Be prepared and be open to change and you will find yourself catching all the lucky breaks towards your rising career trajectory.

In today’s world, you are either embracing the change and therefore growing or you are ignoring the change and hence declining. Stagnating is no longer a viable option.

‘Some people don’t like change, but you need to embrace change if the alternative is disaster’
Elon Musk

Maithilee Samant

Written by

Life and Career Coach, Technologist, and Artist. Founder of www.mirrormymind.com

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