According to New York Times best-selling author Daniel Pink’s new book When, the first-year anniversary is when most people quit. The second most likely? Their second-year anniversary. Third? Their third-year anniversary.

Gartner’s HR and technology insights company Corporate Executive Board (CEB) delved deeper into the subject of employee attrition in a Harvard Business Review paper published in September 2016. The paper showed significant job hunting spikes on work anniversaries, big mid-life birthdays, and high school reunions. This happens because the end of an era or a momentous milestone nudges us to start afresh. The desire to reinvent is at its peak then.

However, there is another reason. The CEB white paper concludes that people gauge their performance by comparing with peers, or with where they thought they would be at a certain point in life specially when it comes to reunions which then end up catalyzing gentle envy into a strong call to action.

Pink’s research suggests that the ideal time to quit is after three or five years. That’s the time frame when past experience is long enough to be considered relevant but not too long that the candidate is married to the company.

Jack Ma, on the other hand, when asked about millennial job hopping at the World Economic Forum in Davos this year, said millennials should stay in their jobs for at least three years, learn and then think about moving on.

Ma has talked about his career path in the past. He trained to be a high schoolteacher, something he had no interest in, and was sure he would move on to other things after completing the teaching requirements. On the day of graduation, his university president met him and asked him to stick it out in the school for six years. Reluctantly he agreed and kept the promise. In retrospect, he says those six years calmed him down. He learned from his students and understood how to empower them to do their best, a skill that came to use when he become a CEO.

While research and advice from stalwarts like Ma and Pink have a lot of merit, it’s important that we remember that the time frames are suggestive, not prescriptive. It goes without saying that if the work environment is toxic or there is a mismatch of values, one should move on without batting an eyelid.

I spoke with 26 millennials who had quit their jobs twice or more in 2018. Although the sample size is small, it became clear that the dominant reason for quitting was mismatched expectations. The millennials, many of who had impeccable academic records, were just not right for the job or the job turned out to be very different from the description. In some cases, however, the millennial time-frame for making impact seemed unreal to me. If you have been in a company for three months, you may not have the contextual understanding to propose mega structural changes.

‘Pick carefully, stick diligently’ is my mantra for thinking about when to quit. You should be careful with your choices, especially early on in your career. If you choose sensibly, you are likely to have the motivation to follow through and not job hop based on micro-anxieties.

The rules of work and career are changing. It is acceptable and appropriate to quit if you’re demotivated at work. Things might backfire, you might have to quit again and find something new. That’s ok too but do consider Ma’s advice as you embark upon your next adventure: stay in the job long enough to really know if it works for you and don’t quit on a whim.

Millennial Matters is a column that recalibrates the skills needed to survive and find meaning in the workplace of tomorrow.

Utkarsh Amitabh is founder of Network Capital, a global peer mentoring community and a WEF Global Shaper.

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