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Happy people don’t leave jobs they love (randsinrepose.com)
360 points by BerislavLopac on Jan 2, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 124 comments

This article implicitly assumes that the employee wanted to be in the company for life, at least initially. Which is strange, given the average life-span of a contemporary company, software or otherwise. Still, maybe if the company asks new prospects during their job interviews whether they want to stay in it forever, and rejects those who say no, this may be applicable. Otherwise, it seems a bit like an inflated sense of self importance.

You see, your company is probably not SpaceX, nor NASA. It's not pushing the frontiers of what's possible, or helping make the world a better place. That iPhone-app-cranking shop is just a marketing gig, nothing important on the face of this planet. And many people, many employees, have dreams. Or seek fulfillment, which they may not find in shipping out yet another webapp. They are in your company because it's fun to work on the problems it has - and it pays well - but that's not the extent of their dreams. Especially in this industry, where a lot of people were originally hobbyist programmers, which means tech is for them a part of life, a part of themselves, and not an otherwise uninteresting money-making skill set.

Happy people may very well leave their jobs, even if they love them, because it's unlikely that their life goals are perfectly aligned with company goals.

And Rands mentions this in the article. There's a weighted list of criteria you keep in the back of your head (am I fairly compensated? Is the company stable?) and you constantly reevaluate them.

Rands lists the major ones, but there can be dozens of others. I personally call them "red flags" and once I see enough, it's resume time. I've tuned my own threshold pretty well and walked away from some perfectly good jobs and companies, only to see them implode in my rear-view mirror a year or two later.

My current employer, who has treated me well to date, just went back on a promise not to move the factory to Mexico. At the announcement they promised not to relocate Engineering. I updated my resume over the holiday break.

And Rands mentions this in the article. There's a weighted list of criteria you keep in the back of your head

No, he doesn't. The full list from him includes:

  Am I happy with my job?
  Do I like my manager? My team?
  Is this project I’m working on fulfilling?
  Am I learning?
  Am I respected?
  Am I growing?
  Do I feel fairly compensated?
  Is this company/team going anywhere?
  Do I believe in the vision?
  Do I trust the leaders?
People can answer "YES!" to all of those questions and still leave the job. I've left jobs I was happy at. All sorts of happy people do it all the time. The foundation of the author's essay is flawed.

I totally agree. I answered yes to all of the above at my last company and left about 9 months ago to start my own company with some former colleagues from way back when in an unrelated market. I had risen quickly, felt very listened to, loved my team, and believed in my superiors. At the end of the day, as much as my last company was the happiest I've ever been at any job, the chance to have my own company outweighed all of the above.

In fairness, your answer to: Is this project I’m working on fulfilling? should have been no it is not fulfilling enough. It does not fulfill your desire to own your own company.

I agree entrepreneurial drive is something Rands didn't account for. For some of us, it's just an innate, inevitable part of our being.

Accounting for it doesn't really add anything. If you have that drive your shields were never really up so trying to prevent the "shields down" moment is simply not possible.

So, elaborate for us. What was your personal criteria or event that wasn't in the list above but made you decide to prepare to leave?

Just the fact that you've been at a given company for a while might be enough of a reason. Even if everything is going well you might want to find out how life looks somewhere else; you can usually come back if it turns out worse, so why not?

I think the thing about life is that its complexity can't be reduced to a list of criteria.

Sure it can. That list will just be different for different people.

And that's the author's point. He's not trying to declare the official list of criteria, but just point out that, subconsciously, you do have one. And one small change to one value in the decision matrix might be the tipping point to entertain job offers.

The sooner you become consciously aware of it, the better.

Different for different people, different for different points in time for the same people (e.g. when parenting arrives)... Modeling life is hard. :)

Nah, you'd expect Life to be at least Turing-complete.

Parent obviously meant a list of specific criteria applied to everybody.

Not to mention that your answer implies that people only do things because of some list of personal criteria -- e.g. that they always take conscious and/or rational decisions.

Having a voice and starting something new in the world, instead of being a replaceable tiny nail in a mansion built by someone else.

Yeah, the list is fundamentally flawed. Too many outside-of-work things [e.g. Spouse job moves] can cause you to leave as well.

The thing is, those are only most of the reasons that are directly related to the job itself. Perfectly understandable, considering the goal is to tell managers how to retain employees. But anyone in that position should also be aware that any employee's real list includes a bunch of things that have nothing to do with anything that happens at the company they work at. The "Shields Down" moments may include things like:

Wanting to move to a different area for any number of life reasons

Wanting to change to a different career entirely

Need to take time off to deal with a new child, a sick relative, etc.

Finding an opportunity for something you can't offer them, like a chance to start their own company

And about a hundred other things that I couldn't imagine.

But I think reasons that are directly related to the job are the only things that belong in this list. If your "shields down" moment is caused by some factor that is external to the job it's really outside of your manager's control.

His job as a manager doesn't really include making sure your children don't get sick, or convincing you that California weather isn't that nice, or that you don't really want to have the life goal of starting your own company. I'd saying restricting the list to questions that a manager could have an impact on is more valuable than a more generic list that encapsulates everything.

"I want to live in a different city" is a management challenge that belonga on the list. Managers have some measure of control over where they allow employees to work.

What about "Does my compensation cover my basic needs?", followed shortly by "Does my compensation provide me any meaningful life planning?"

Being fairly compensated and being adequately compensated are two different things. Sometimes you have to pay more than what is "fair" to keep people. Fair is tied to market forces, forces that assume people can/will move between jobs. To stop people from falling prey to market forces and leaving you need to pay them above the going rate, beyond fair.

An extreme example of this is where the fair/market rate is zero, or even below zero. People like interns on film/tv productions are paid nothing, sometimes for years. There are even examples of people paying for the opportunity to work without pay. If you want such people to remain loyal you have to pay them something, which would be more than the fair/market rate of nothing.

For an example of negative market rates in the medical field, see http://thetab.com/uk/uclan/2015/10/04/is-uclan-elitist-1193

"There has also recently been criticism of work experience placements in a private hospital being sold for £500 per week, which would help students improve their applications to study medicine at university."

If you're willing to pay someone more money to retain their marketable skils then that price is 'fair', by the definition of 'free market' anyway.

A market/fair rate requires a market, something bigger than a single employer. If a market rate exists, it must be possible to pay someone above/below that rate. If the fair rate is always whatever someone is paid, the concepts of fair or market rates looses all meaning.

My understanding is that in a perfectly efficient free market, yes, everyone would be paid 'fair market rate' for their particular skills.

But such markets are only approximated in practice, and the interesting part of Economics is studying the effects of how actual markets differ from being perfectly free and efficient.

I disagree because this list is meant to be intrinsic to evaluating your current job vs. some other semi-comparable job.

Conditions leading to a shields down moment for someone switching to job that might be preventable by management is pretty well contained by this list. It doesn't account for life goals or circumstances that drive you in a truly different career path.

Humans are quite irrational creatures, aren't they?

There are many rational reasons to leave a loved job too. For most people, their job is not their life, and nor it should be.

One interesting thing about watching companies implode in the rear view mirror is that often one person leaving is enough to start a chain reaction.

In one example in my career, a big employer was trying to change its culture, and set up a group to change its practices. Hired a lot of good, pretty expensive people. And it all worked well for a while, until one person decided that grass was greener somewhere else. Losing a teammate led to another, then another. The people that left had new employers, and happily recommended them. Others that were happy before were less happy with enough good coworkers gone, as management did nothing to special to keep them. In 6 months, everyone in that change initiative, and a lot of other employees they had contact with, were all gone. They ended up having to outsource everything said department was doing, because too much of the knowledge and expertise had left.

So beware when people leave, because coworkers leaving can a very common trigger for shields to go down.

Having a coworker depart definitely makes you readjust your matrix.

It's weighted by whether the coworker was good or not, which makes you wonder if he knows something you don't. THAT'S when you start sniffing around and discovering other things that say yeah, he was right and it's time to bail.

This is how DEC feuled Google, and Microsoft feuled Amazon, and Google fueled Facebook.

I think the order was DEC fueled Microsoft, Msft fueled Google and Amazon in Seattle at least, Google fueled Facebook.

I don't think the article assumes people enter a job intending to stay there for life. Rather, it assumes thst people will stay at a job so long as it meets their criteria for happy employment. The article makes a subtle point, which is that an employee will treat those criteria as absolute or fixed quantities until something -- an action, a slight, a struggle, or some other demoralizing event -- causes him to consciously reevaluate his criteria. At that point, the criteria become relative -- that is to say, relative measures of the current job vis-a-vis any perceived alternatives.

The only implicit assumption in the author's thesis is that people value stability and are generally content with the status quo until it is challenged. I'm not sure this applies to all people, though I'm willing to consider the possibility that it applies to most. And if not most, then certainly many.

All of that said, your point about changing life goals is a great one. People definitely leave jobs for reasons beyond those articulated in this article. Rands' thesis is not completely encapsulating. But it doesn't need to be complete in order to be compelling. So long as what he's saying provides a decent, rough framework for managers and leaders to keep in mind -- which I'm interpreting as his intent here -- then it's still valuable.

If I'm insanely fortunate I will have 100 reasonably healthy years on this planet. Spending 3-4% of my life at any one company is a lot if you ask me, no matter how much I like it there. The bottom line for a lot of people on HN is that they don't have to if they don't want to. And like you say, most companies are not SpaceX. While you can certainly still grow and crush it after 2-3 years, chances are that you can grow and crush it that much more if you uproot and start over somewhere else.

I used to value working at a "SpaceX" company much more in my 20s, but these days I'm grumpier and more selfish. Now I prioritize happy with job, good pay, work-life balance, short commute even if it's just some website. I figure if I have those things right now, there is no reason to leave.

> While you can certainly still grow and crush it after 2-3 years, chances are that you can grow and crush it that much more if you uproot and start over somewhere else.

Or have to begin at the bottom somewhere else. In other words: give up what you reached at the first company when you go somewhere else.

Without judging it one way or the other, there is a certain mentality among many in tech (especially Silicon Valley) that jumping full-time jobs every 2 or 3 years is just how things are done. By contrast, in most situations, a resume with 10 different jobs on it tends to set all sorts of alarm bells off. It's partly a function of startups, which frequently fail. But it's not just that.

Well, a resume with 10 jobs on it is just a badly designed resume. Who cares where you worked 20 years ago? Drop in the three positions you feel are most relevant to this application, not everything you ever worked on.

This makes a fair bit of sense, but how does it fit with employers poised to jump on any career gap (which I guess you could say is a warning sign in itself -- but seems to be common)

One thought would be to do it like academics do with "selected publications" and have a section called "selected experience" or "relevant experience".

What I've done in the past though is simply mkae the older stuff increasingly terse to the point where the really old stuff is just the dates, company and title.

Do you want to work somewhere who thnga that your non-work 10 years ago is more important than your recent work?

If you're getting a clear demotion when you switch jobs, there's a problem.

Why is there a problem then?

I think with a large, diverse (in terms of jobs possible to do) company that's possible. Someplace like Google, you could move teams every few years and learn new skills, do interesting work. (Assuming you enjoyed working for Google).

Conversely, if I had a job that paid well enough I knew I could retire healthy and happy, and in the meantime I didn't actively dislike it, I could tolerate a little monotony.

Unfortunately, most jobs couple monotony with long hours and think money will make up for it. This becomes a viscous cycle - the few hours you have to yourself are not a state where you are prepared to go out and learn new concepts, so you get locked into moving up the career ladder to get higher pay, rather than switching careers.

where does it imply that?

To me this is an attempt to look past the BS of generic reasons given while quitting. What happened a year prior to lead to that moment? Regardless if it's 1 or 20 years into the employment.

If what you said was the absolute case nobody would quit unless they were going to a job that is more meaningful to them in relation to their life goals, which happens to a degree but I believe is sill in a minority. Reality is much less idealistic and the 10 smaller reasons listed in the post can absolutely lead to shields down.

Even if you're at SpaceX you may treat it as "paying the dues" or apprenticeship period of your life until you can go off and have more impact somewhere else.

Wouldn't that almost by definition make then unhappy? If your job isn't helping your fulfill your life goals then at some point it seems like that conflict would make you unhappy.

That said, there are 3 companies I've worked at I would have stayed at 2-3x as long if I'd been happier at them where in this particular instance happiness = having more fun at work and building stronger/closer relationships with my co-workers.

nobody (should?) looks for satisfaction at work. that's the marketing human resources and PR feed you so you spend more time at work.

work is a means to sustenance. you help someone make a lot of money (either exploring space or showing ads in a plagiarized fart app) for a paycheck and then you use that money to sponsor your life style.

work is not supposed to be a hobby.

I used to believe that when I was younger; a little experience cured me successfully :). It's not that it isn't possible to have a job that also is your hobby and your passion - it's just extremely difficult to find one. That is, unless you're really accepting and easy to please, or young and still in crush with programming. I've seen quite a lot of the latter types among young developers. Sadly, I've entered workforce long past my crush period, so you couldn't make me satisfied with life by offering to pay for making a random website in currently hot framework.

The most realistic shot at really working on what you love is to start your own business, but even then you often have to pivot to something less interesting to you, and either way, in time you're likely to end up doing mostly administrative work.

So yeah, I ended up assuming that work will not be my hobby, and it's up to me to maximize its profit while minimizing time spent on it.

starting your business is already on the area i like least: dealing with clients.

impossible to start my dream job, and i already tried twice

I had a job that was incredibly fulfilling for about three years. The remaining five years became less and less fun, leading me to move on after more than eight years with the company. Saying that "nobody looks for satisfaction at work" is an over-generalization. I worked with others who also loved being there. It might be rare, but it happens.

Err depends on what sort of job you need to look at what level you are on Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

A job working at MacDonald's is not the same as say Dactor or Vet.

Happy people leave jobs they love all the time. Not everyone is an in-demand tech genius with no life outside their career. Not everyone has a buddy at another company who can promise a job. People leave jobs they love every day not because they want to, but because they have to.

Real people have real families. Kids grow. Parents age. Sisters have car accidents. Dogs rip their ACLs. At any moment any realworld person may have to walk away from the job they love to accommodate the needs of a family member. Maybe they need to go to a higher-paying job (if they are lucky) but more realistically they need a job at a different location or time so they can spend more time dealing with things totally outside the job.

Real people have real bodies. They get sick. They have heart attacks. They get devastating news from doctors. They need to spend less time at the keyboard and more time at the gym. The job you love, that you are willing to spend 24/7 working to improve, is often the job that is killing you.

Want to keep employees onboard? They want two things more than anything else: Either more money, fewer hours for the same money, or some balance between the two. That's what keeps people from leaving. It allows flexibility when that day comes that they would otherwise have to walk. Everything else is just icing on the cake.

I agree 100% on your point about flexibility. I personally value three things : fair compensation (both because I know I'm good and because I don't like to let people make a number on me), the company's mission and it's flexibility.

The first two are obvious. The way I see the third one is that I prefer when a company respects my life, value entrepreneurial mindsets, and will let me accommodate the evolution of my personal projects over time. Too many companies want to own your life and influence your lifestyle. They have a one-sided approach to employment.

I once met a different kind of employer. I told him I was passionate about something and left my job a few months before to start a startup that was at the time already on the market. He asked me if I wanted to work part-time of full-time, if I wanted to be on the payroll or if I'd preferred to invoice the company, and if I wanted to work from home or to commute.

This is the sort of company one wouldn't leave for sure, and it really triggers a deep sense of loyalty. Respect and flexibility are the key things.

> I once met a different kind of employer. I told him I was passionate about something and left my job a few months before to start a startup that was at the time already on the market. He asked me if I wanted to work part-time of full-time, if I wanted to be on the payroll or if I'd preferred to invoice the company, and if I wanted to work from home or to commute.

These sorts of managers/founders/owners/clients are worth their weight in gold; I follow these people to the gates of hell with suntan location in hand.

I'm calling this the "It's not all about you" principle - the "you" being a person's employer. The OP article reads as if jobs are all about the employer, when there's also the employee's life that overrides any and all things that the employer has to offer.

I'd say more money or fewer hours will keep people onboard but only despite other problems. The other problems will still persist and they will adapt to the new lifestyle of more time/money they will take it for granted, but the niggling desires will still be there pushing them to another job.

"Either more money, fewer hours for the same money, or some balance between the two."

You're probably right that this probably how most people are motivated. I think the OP is talking about high-performing people at technology companies, who aren't mostly motivated by short-term pay rate or leisure time. They tend to be the best people precisely because they have more drive to succeed in the long-term than collect the best near-term paycheck or maximize leisure time. The best people in these companies could make more money for less work right now-- if they wanted to.

I'm not actually saying that's always (or even usually) a good thing-- the most common deathbed regret is working too much.

High-performers are still human beings. They still have families. They still get sick.

Harry Potter-type orphans with no living relatives and a magical ability to avoid disease are out there somewhere. Potter even had a trust fund that meant pay was not an issue. But an employer cannot bet on finding and keeping such people. Worse yet, trying to attract mythic people leads down dangerous roads. There are laws against seeking to hire or promote only single/healthy/non-disabled/sterile/rich people. If you run a workforce involving people you must accept that people are going to have unique problems and that pay will matter when those problems inevitably crop up.

"When that mail arrived gently asking you about coffee, you didn’t answer the way you answered the prior five similar mails with a brief, “Really happy here. Let’s get a drink some time!” You think you thought Hmmm… what the hell. It can’t hurt. What you actually thought or realized was:...(miserable past experiences)"

No, that's not me. When someone asks me for a coffee in these circumstances I go out of curiosity - it gives me an opportunity to probe the career market in an indepth way and lets me upkeep contacts.

I'm happy where I work but I do need to know my market worth and what the job market is like just in case the management three layers up decides to do something which affects my position negatively.

I'm a neurotic about things that just need to work and my familys financial situation - for which I'm greatly responsible - is one of those things.

Networking and flirting with other employers is not treachery, it's common sense.

Also, I claim there is a hell of a statistic bias going here - I bet he does not collect this information from the people who are staying and which parts of this heuristic dataset actually explain why the people who left, left. One would need to compare these factoids with the population who stayed first. I understand the need for rules of thumb of course - just as long one remembers they mighy be completely wrong.

One thing is networking, and another is to do onsite visits that are clear recruiting pitches. I have a friend that, since she's become relatively well known and travels a lot, gets a lot of those recruiting pitches. Has that made her happier? Nope: It's not hard to see the grass greener on the other side when everyone around you is doing their best to make things seem amazing. She's never sat in the same place for more than a year in the last 6, so she's not really had time to leave her mark anywhere. Not one major work accomplishment in years. And now, the minute anything starts to look difficult, she gives up, and jumps ship again. It's like dumping partners after 4 dates: Never having enough time to building anything remotely meaningful. When the honeymoon phase ends, she's gone. In her case, her public face is what keeps people coming back. But really small stays are a red flag.

In a company, it's not as if you need people to stay for 10 years to be successful, but it's hard to go anywhere when 10 months is already considered a big tenure.

At the same time though, I also worry about having a core of people that never leave. A few jobs ago, I attended a 15 year celebration. 15! Straight out of school, to architect, without having ever worked anywhere else. Management never figured out that those 15+ year tenures were the reason many new senior hires were coming in and leaving quickly: Why would you work at a place that has such a long standing, very tenured network of people that trust each other more than anyone new, and that they'll never leave? You better love those people, because they are the technical ceiling of what you'll get.

"Why would you work at a place that has such a long standing, very tenured network of people that trust each other more than anyone new"

In general, trust and longevity (in addition to a smallish size) are desirable qualities in a technical team of experts.

The product itself signals then the technical merits of the team.

There is the 'expert beginner' idea that it's easy to stagnate and entrench oneself in a dysfunctional organization.

A long lasting team of expert beginners is an antipattern of course.

But the way to get a high quality team is not by churning through hires - it's by successfull hiring.

This article (and most of the comments thus far) seems to completely ignore the fact that work might not be the only thing in your life.

As an example, seven years ago I asked my wife to leave a part-time job she loved. I was the family's main breadwinner, and spending 30 hours a week being a solo childcare provider was crushing my productivity.

She left that job. But it wasn't the job's fault in any but the most vague theoretical way, like "If they'd paid her a million dollars a year to work part time, we could have afforded a nanny."

(That change triggered additional positive changes in our lives, and today we are in a much nicer place for us to live, and she has a full time job she likes, though perhaps not quite as much as she loved that old job. But the environment that made that old job great ended years ago anyway, as her boss moved on to greener pastures.)

The last job I left was an extremely fulfilling job that I'd gladly stay in for a lot longer. Unfortunately, as you mentioned, work is not the only thing in life. Together with my fiancée, we've decided to move back to our country of origin, due to many personal reasons. This change had nothing to do with work at all.

Unless the employee leaves for a role (more senior, more pay, and/or more responsibilities) which at his/her current company simply isn't available or feasible.

I have experienced this from both ends, as the employee who outgrew my current role, and as a manager who my direct report outgrew their role. In this case, apart from trying to create a similar role (which often than not is impossible), the best you can do is to wish them the best, and be proud of the fact that you've worked with such an awesome colleague that they have now surpassed what the role could do for them. :)

This, exactly. I left a great company because I was at the top of the (small) technology department and didn't see any chance for further technical career development, either in management or in technology. It didn't make sense for the company to radically change their technical direction nor to hire a larger team.

At least that was my assessment. Nine months after I left they spun off a small start-up that, if I had known was coming, would have made me more likely to stay.

The biggest problem with this blog post is its assumption that there are "shields" to begin with.

Whatever I'm doing there's always a possibility of something better out there. Rather than throw up "shields" and shut off all possibility of serendipity, I just evaluate opportunities vs what I'm doing now (and factor in some switching cost). Obviously if I'm heavily invested in a long-term track, it would have to be something amazing to make me leave. But why would someone set up mental defenses against even the possibility of something amazing?

And I think the "shields" wording implies that jumping jobs is a bad thing that workers need to protect themselves from.

It might be comforting for the ex-manager to say "their loss, not mine," but that's not a very useful framework for analysis.

Supposedly I get a call from the POTUS asking me to be a part of the USA digital service with a mandate to dismantle (or to come up with a plan to dismantle) the NSA surveillance system, I would say yes in a heartbeat, no matter how good my current job is, or how attached I am to my coworkers or working environment.

There's no such thing as "shields" I agree with you totally.

One of the great things about my boss is that he talks frankly about the fact that many of us will move on and actually gives advice on what to try in your career "someday". This isn't because we express, or have much reason to express, dissatisfaction. It's simply pragmatic. Highly skilled workers have options and often ambition and curiosity too. Searching for " software job tenure" seems to indicate that most go through many companies in a career. Sometimes a company really does fail it's employees, but sometimes it really is just a chance to try something new. The point being, the author is speaking in too general terms. It's probably ok, even necessary, to not be everything to every employee.

This whole talk of shields up and shields down is of a suggestive psychological kind and it bothers me. Taking shields down implies that shields have been up before, yet the article fails to explain why we're dealing with shields in the first place.

To me the best employee is one that doesn't have to use any kind of shields at all. If using shields is the only way an employee can pretend (to others or himself) he's happy in his job, he probably isn't.

I've left a great job to start a company. And I've had good engineers leave at my startup. Nowhere in there I noticed any shields going up or down. It just wasn't a good fit. End of story.

Are you in the Bay Area? The sheer intensity of everybody constantly asking if you'd consider working for them means that you naturally must put up some defenses in order to stay focused.

"The reason this reads cranky is because I, the leader of the humans, screwed up. "

Not necessarily. Your organization might just not pay the same as some other equally pleasant place. Salaried employees now live in a world where it feels it's best to hoard as much money as possible throughout ones career just in case. It's not greed. It's a fear of destitution and miserable old age.

When I founded hello, a design agency, we had one rule around people leaving. It was always our fault. Whether they left because they found a better job, didn't like their manager, got better compensated and so on.

What I found was that the real reason people left was when they couldn't feel their own contribution in the company or when they couldn't grow insight the company anymore.

People will stand up to a lot of things as long as they feel like their contribution is part of the reason the projects succeed. It also turned out to be a great way to figure out how many people should be on a project. We would never have someone there just because we didn't know what else they should do.

As a founder leaving a company the reason at least for me was a little diffent. I left hello to join 80/20 because I felt we had the wrong conversations. I.e. I was spending too much time convincing the other partners of how the world looked like and they probably felt like they spent a lot of time trying to convince me how the world looked like. This is akin to having a relationship where you argue a lot about the symptoms and never about the root cause for the symptoms.

It always somehow about meaning.

Strange article, as if people needed to be "shielded" into their jobs.

Also I'd argue that you can be perfectly happy and still resign. Sometimes someone simply comes along and offers more money.

If you're perfectly happy, you're probably not going to leave to get a 10% raise.

If someone comes along and offers you 50% more than you're currently making, doesn't that implicitly mean you're not being properly compensated at your current job?

I guess that's the "shields down" moment, when you realize that you'll become chronically underpaid if you stick around.

Depends on what you mean by properly.

Yes, in a sense that your market value seems to be higher than what you were making. However you might have been earning appropriately considering your current environment (based on your work, compared to peers and what company itself can actually make).

Last year I turned down an offer that would be 2.5x increase on what I was making. This year I will nevertheless reduce my involvement in my current company to work on other things (while certainly earning less than the offer I turned down).

The reason for change isn't that I would suddenly be unhappy. I have a habit of regularly re-evaluating what I do and it just happened that last autumn it became clear to me that working in international development exclusively will severely limit my options as developer in future in ways that I am not comfortable.

I have been doing this evaluations for years and certainly all the while I was happily working at the company even though I was happy on an assumption that things change and someday I might come to a different conclusion. As I did.

There's plenty reasons other than work that you might resign a perfect job for. For some people, hobbies are more important than jobs, and those hobbies might include traveling around the world, living in a different country, etc. Similarly, some people value family over work, so if their family relocates they would go along as well, giving up their job.

But even in just the realm of money and career, there are companies that offer benefits beyond money - like a certain freedom and culture - so you might feel "properly compensated" there. A monetary crisis(children, health issues, accidents..) could easily force you to take a higher paying job and leave your dream workplace, though.

Depends on if you already know your compensation situation or not.

I had a job years ago where I was happy enough but completely unaware that I was massively underpaid. Once I realized that, I left as the pay difference did not warrant my comfort level I had with that job.

My current job is such that i could easily go find more money but there's no guarantee an offer would exceed my salary, let's call it the lower end of average. However I'm very happy. I'd consider leaving, but it'd have to be a lot of money, 10% isn't going to do it. There are certainly companies out there that could offer me a 50% increase though and while I won't go seeking them out I'd consider it if they came calling

Not really. Companies can easily offer wages far above the standard market rate (or what others can afford). That doesn't make it so anyone not earning the same as those in the top paying company are being underpaid.

Otherwise you'd be implying that the 'proper' rate is whatever the best paying company is offering in that field.

Everybody has different priorities.

I'd easily take a 20% pay cut (all else being equal) if I could find a job I don't need to commute into Seattle, Redmond or Bellevue for. Unfortunately, I've had zilch luck so far.

Another option could be to find a place with flexible hours, during NON-rush hours, the commute around the places you mention isn't that bad!

That depends on the lifestyle and income of that person. Beyond a certain point 50% more might be entirely meaningless.

I got the metaphor differently: People have natural shields to ward off thoughts about other possible (employment) futures. Actually considering someplace else means that some holes have been punched in this shield.

I mean, yeah, but...

Warding off thoughts about other possible futures seems like a classic bias: in order to protect your self-image, you handicap yourself when evaluating other offers. This may be "natural", but it seems bad, like a fully actualized person would not need to do that.

And then the author of the blogpost takes advantage of this psychological tendency in order to keep people working for him even when they would have better options. The whole metaphor gives off manipulative, cult-like vibes to me.

I am not sure I am agreeing with you here...

I mean, take, for example, learning computer related stuff. Learning six languages at the same time, togther with operating systems, shells, databases, network protocols, frameworks, all at the same time. For me, that does not work. It is better to find some area to grow in, and to stick to that area for a while. Pretend the rest of all-the-things-to-learn does not exist. Only after becoming fluent, it pays to take on a different thing.

I guess the same goes for relationships; with significant others as well as with employers.

I hate to break it to HN, but we are not the norm. We're here because we long for more, and have the skills to make that yearning reality. So while every anecdote in the comments is true I'm sure for that person, for the vast majority of people, this article is pretty accurate.

There's certain questions that you can ask, but you will almost never get an honest answer, because the downside of potentially upsetting someone far outweigh the upside of being completely frank.

It's the same reason HR never gives an honest answer when someone is declined for a position. There is no upside whatsoever for them to be honest about the reason, and lots of potential negative negatives.

Not always true. I'll soon leave my job in one of the biggest US software company. I'm very happy there and love working with so many clever minds.

But the reason I'm leaving is to pursue something else in my life. I want to own my destiny, reach for what I consider freedom and make something I'm passionate about and that'll make me proud even if I don't succeed. I'm creating my own company.

I didn't see that mentioned in the article and I don't think a company can do much about it to retain its talents.

To be fair that sounds a bit like number 2 on the list, with a broader horizon.

Things may be different this time around as I am now a business owner but I usually grow bored with any job at about 2 years. I've had many situations where I did not respect the person in charge which makes it hard for me to stay around. The times I did really like my boss his boss would usually change something that made work lose its appeal to me. I'm kind of at the mercy of the consulting work I'm doing but at least I don't have to report to anyone so maybe I will stay with it

Serious question: when did your shields go down at Palantir?

The article's title is bad but the core of it seems to be that IFF there's a perceived desires/offers mismatch on the part of the employee, then that employee will investigate the labour market.

If your company isn't aligned with the employee's process or life goals, that's a desires/offers mismatch. It may not be possible for the company to solve that, but it doesn't change the underlying pattern.

And then the person is not unhappy, but they look for a better match. To use the terminology of the article their 'shields[1]' would be down.

I don't think it's perfectly accurate, the core of the piece, mind. Because I go out with friends who work for other companies - so inevitably hear about them - as part of having a life. I've not had as many job changes as I've had coffees with friends. But it may be a reasonable heuristic.


1. As a language point, I detest the idea of calling it shields. It makes it sound like it's something that protects the employee, but of course it doesn't. It protects the employer for you not to be looking for something that better satisfies your desires.

I see a lot of people in this thread misunderstanding the "shields down" phrase. If you get a cold call from a headhunter you've never heard of before, are you less willing to consider their opportunity than when a good friend makes the same request? That's because your shield was active - it's a psychological way of coping with unwanted input.

Mmm. There's a connotation with shields that they are just as you say, protective in nature. There's consequently a negative association with their removal. However, the person's still being protected from undesired input while they're looking for a job: The criteria for desirable/acceptable have changed. Their 'shields,' using those criteria, are still up.

It's a tricky analogy that, as you note, is easy to misunderstand. The writer may not have meant it in the sense that it was received.

In a way, it's like cheating on your spouse.

I know folks who had a perfectly happy marriage and everything they wanted, but when someone new said, "Hey, you're hot - let's get together," things went off the rails. Sometimes it's not about whether you're happy - sometimes it's just the temptation that grass is greener on the other side. (And hey, sometimes it actually is.)

The difference being that with your spouse you often have an explicit promise of fidelity. You don't owe your employer yourself, they pay you for your time. I think the assumption that "accepting the coffee" equates to an assessment that the current job is unsatisfactory is not as consistently correct as the author implies.

Sometimes accepting the coffee is just taking the opportunity to learn more about the ecosystem you're in. A job can satisfy you in terms of the work, the environment, and the pay, but it can't teach you what it feels like to stand somewhere with a different view. "Accepting the coffee" is an opportunity to stand there.

You don't start learning a functional language because you've made an assessment that you've reached the limits of imperative languages – you learn a new language because in part because it gives you new perspective that, critically, often cannot be gained without going there yourself.

Yes I kept reading that angle into it as well.

In fact, after a time I started wondering if the whole thing wasn't a remix of a relationship article as so many points it discusses can be easily related to them, too.

To give Rands the benefit of the doubt, I'm assuming the shields analogy is from the employer perspective. I don't believe he's suggesting that protective psychological barriers are consciously (or even subconsciously) raised to protect an employee from the temptation to join another employer.

Employers are unbelievably vulnerable. The single biggest commodity in the tech industry globally, is talent. When you employ people who do a good job you immediately become vulnerable. You attempt to cultivate and craft the perfect company culture. You try to ensure the work is pushing the boundaries and challenging the great people that are bringing you closer and closer to profitability. You convince yourself that its worth paying your staff ridiculous salaries because if you don't, someone else will.

The single biggest challenge in the tech industry globally, is retaining talent. You spend every waking hour questioning whether or not you are doing enough to keep your people happy. You assume they have shields when in reality, they just want to be happy.

Happy people leave jobs they love all the time. Not because you failed to keep them happy or because they believe another employer can make them happier, but because they are people. No-one will ever craft the perfect company where employee turnover is 0%, it's literally impossible but personally, I love the fact that so many companies are trying because ultimately, it means they are trying to make people happier.

'The perfect company culture' is all well and good so long as it is for the immediate benefit of employees and only secondarily the long-term benefit of the company. Too many senior managers maintain a top-down approach to culture and forget that employees care first for their own needs.

Friendly work environment free of inappropriate humor = Good thing. Happy employees = longer retention.

Forbidding any discussion of pay/raises during work hours to foster better cooperation across pay grades = evil. Keeping employees in the dark may increase retention, but does real harm to individuals. (Also probably illegal despite being a widespread practice.)

When an employee leaves, it's a collective failure. Failure of his mentor, his colleagues and the senior leadership.

Utter tosh! I actively encourage my employees to think about a future outside their present company.

Sometimes people take the job they need - not the job they want. If you're stuck programming databases for a bakery, and NASA asks you to help land a rover on Mars - what can the baker do to keep you employed?

That's not a failure - a person's needs doesn't always align with business desires.

Maybe a better phrasing is that when an employee leaves unexpectedly, it's a failure of management. Which it is, because the very purpose of management is to keep things managed.

So you can either pretend that employees will never leave and try to make that as true as possible, which is a poor way to manage the situation (but better than not paying attention at all), or you can try to figure out which employees are likely to leave and what you should do about it.

> what can the baker do to keep you employed?

Pay more, offer better benefits, and give more PTO.

Part of that collective is the employee. We all have influence over our situation and the employee is never blameless. This "victim complex" can be just as detrimental as the failure of any of the three people you listed. It's far easier to get your feelings hurt and leave than it is to find out the truth. Just like it's far easier to not spread the truth in fear of the consequences than it is to deal with issues if you are a manager.

It may be a collective failure but the collection is bigger than you think it is.


I would agree with this, though also add that I believe the rant is largely focused on the business aspects of why people leave their jobs. I understood the absence of this discussion as a concession that there are some decisions made in a business that have little or nothing to do with business, and as such, that business cannot influence as heavily.

Such decisions may indeed be bolstered by business choices (not getting enough pay anyways, no where to go anyways, and so on), but if the impetus is a non-business decision, then it's likely no amount of negotiation or "shielding" will change the outcome.

At least, in my experience, such tactics usually come more as a slap in the face rather than a tempting offer.

Corporate workplaces really are designed for humans who mimic robots.

Some people can do a better job mimicking robots that others and some can keep it up for longer. For most, the longer you keep it going the more robotic you become. People leave because they need to feel human again. No one likes to admit this truth because once they do they have to live with it.

I can even see it in the authors writing; on two occasions he refers to his employees as "humans" as opposed to just 'people' or 'employees'. That's typical dissociative behaviour and the kind of stuff that leads to people feeling less than human and eventually leaving via whatever alternative reasoning.

I remember back when I was in the valley, I'd go to a job interview and be pitched by one or more of the interviewers about side projects or equity only opportunities on the side. It happened more than once. That place is or was crazy and I loved that about it! The cost of real estate is high which is why we left but traditional companies elsewhere in America could learn a lot about running like an entrepreneurship in the valley than a staid corporation.

I don't stay in any programming job more than 2 years max.

When you start at a new job you want to prove yourself. Learning the code base and the system is new and exciting and a bit scary. After two years you feel like you have a good grasp of everything can relax, but then the fear and excitement is gone. The motivation is gone. I start slacking off, looking for the next job.

I have left jobs I was happy with because they paid below market and were not taking into account how expensive living in the San Francisco area has become. It is absurd to me that even now companies will negotiate salary down by amounts like $5k or $10k when to the employee this delta could be significant.

So true, "Humans Never Forget"!

It's interesting reading this having recently moved divisions. Four years where I was, love the business domain, but certain things happened and, as the author said, shields went down. Then there's a couple of really great leaders setting up a new division looking for talent.

I'm glad I'm not a manager. Humans are too complex.

I'm suffering a bit now due to this happening to me recently....

I had a great work from home job... one that was allowing me to learn a ton of new skills (im an expert html,css, photoshop front-ender yet my JS skills are still at a beginner level). All my co-workers were awesome .. they liked me.. i liked them and they would give me kudos for the hard work I loved doing for them and the company.

Then...Knock, knock, knock .... is heard at my door from a casting director for a new startup/inventor reality TV show. They sent me a message saying we'd love for you to be a contestant on our show you are perfect. These people arent small no names and I initially said no thanks I dont want to risk my job. Though they chased me; made me think this was the way to fulfill my ultimate dream job/professional life goal...a successful & prosperous inventor.

Needless to say, I gave up my job for the reality TV show and well now I am jobless and the TV show was another losing hand!

My New Years and forever year resolution is I WONT EVER RISK STABILITY again FOR ANYONE ELSE WHO KNOCKS ON MY DOOR UNLESS THEY ARE HANDING ME TONS OF MONEY. A few similar and outlandish opportunities knocked previously on my door, yet they too all left me in the long run with a losing hand!

Here's an upvote.

Consider your audience. This is a message board with the startup crowd as their target audience. They are not risk averse by definition.

If you have certain obligations where stability is an absolute must then I understand, otherwise you got to take chances in this world to grow.


I've lived my life for years not adverse to risk, but at my age and with my startup war wounds and no financial success yet..I must tweak how I deal with risk.

There is a time when you get fed up with being the nice inventor who jumps at outlandish opportunities yet gets nothing in return.

I've gotten to the point where NO I WONT DO YOUR TV SHOW ... no Google I won't demo my tech to you, etc ... YOU PAY ME AND YOU PAY ME NOW, before I risk any stability in my life for your advances!!!

I love this story, it's way more interesting than a lot of your peers. I'm sure you'll survive and move on. Although, I question whether you really thought being a reality TV star would ever pan into a engineering career.

I had someone reach out to me on LinkedIn to try to recruit me to be a on 'brogrammer' reality show..

Thank you!

My former self would have told you .. you should have done that reality TV show. You only live once! Now I say ummm i did all that and the aftermath is painful.. you must demand money for your time and efforts.

Why the downvote?

This is on topic .. a different perspective on why you may not want to leave the job you love for the unknown PROSPECTIVE better opportunity...

---------- More downvotes...is my thread here not on topic?

I always hate a job after a year, when a manager or boss eventuallu forces my hand and we do something that is stupid or leads to failure.

High salary and perks could never fix this for me.

So, i startd my own company about 5 years ago, and never looked back. I'm working more, but I'm the happiest I've ever been and never get tired of it.

It helps that my wife not only supports me 100%, but helps me run tje company.

That's awesome. I'm the same, after a year or so I lose interest in my job. Everything is done, and just working. I've been trying to devise a plan to start my own company, and I would love to have my wife on board to help :)

My wife does all of the the financials and product management, while I Concentrate on the tech side of things.

It really made our relationship stronger. We also see each other 24/7, which could be a problem for some couples.

Happy people don't leave a restaurant they love.

Happy people don't leave a pair of jeans they love.

Happy people don't leave a city they love.

Happy people don't leave a way of being they love.

Wait a minute, is he saying that happy people are averse to change? And that change is bad.

I can't believe this got so many up votes and comments. The premise is that if you are happy then you don't like change.

The only relations a happy person won't leave are those which continuously both challenge them and nourish them, and that's deacribing a vested familial relationship, not a f*cking job.

I left a job I loved to follow my wife in her career.

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