Do I need to disclose near-term plans?
May 15, 2010 8:54 PM   Subscribe

What are the ethical implications (if any) of taking a job with no intentions of staying with the company long-term?

I'm coming out of college and have had a full time job lined up since fall. Prior to that, I had been contemplating graduate school. But at the time of the offer, I was burnt out and not sure I could handle an advanced degree. The job gives me the opportunity to gain experience in a good work environment, and save up some money while I figure out more longterm goals.

During the school year, I started doing research that made me second-guess my decision. I'm still excited to start my job but it's not an industry I want to be in forever, and I think I want to go back to some kind of school. Are there ethical issues with taking this position without plans to stay more than 4-5 years, maybe less? Important to note that the role I am taking on requires at least two years of training (during which I'll still be somewhat productive for the company.)
posted by ista to Work & Money (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
4-5 years? No, no ethical issues at all.

I imagine your contract doesn't guarantee you employment for 5+ years, either.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:59 PM on May 15, 2010 [7 favorites]

The unwritten contract of employment fell apart a long time ago. Your employer will cut your job if necessary, and if management won't take that step, they will be replaced with people who will when the time comes. If your internship in engineering were an investment worth protecting there would be a contract signed. All other employment is at will, not "till death do us part".

4-5 years is about average tenure for engineers. After that you either find a new company or a promotion. Having a plan to return to school in 5 years isn't betrayal. It's professional development that a smart firm will encourage and capture.
posted by pwnguin at 9:03 PM on May 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh goodness no. I seriously doubt your employer expects you to stay that long. The turnover among recent grads is pretty high, less so now with the job market like it is. In fact our generation is actually king of known for being ship-jumpers. People staying for 4-5 years is the exception not the rule. In fact, I thought your question was going to be more like you were planning on leaving after a few months.
Seriously, I wouldn't worry about it.
posted by ishotjr at 9:05 PM on May 15, 2010

Even if you thought this were your dream job and you wanted to retire there, do you think could you really predict what you will want 4 or 5 years from now?

Four or 5 productive years out of an employee? I would bete that in a lot of ways that is better than average.
posted by ian1977 at 9:06 PM on May 15, 2010


Your job has no ethical agreement to you does it? Employers will hire and fire as they see fit. You have to look out for your own interests.
posted by sanka at 9:13 PM on May 15, 2010 [6 favorites]

If this is a large company, and they are telling you there's a two year training period (btw, that usually translates, "don't expect any early raises, bonuses, or lateral moves), then they also expect some new hires to leave in that time. Four years is more than enough, lots more, and they probably expect to get there money's worth during the 'training' too.
posted by Some1 at 9:14 PM on May 15, 2010

4-5 years is longterm.

In the US at least, the idea that you'll stay at a job your whole life--or even a couple decades--is so dead it's not even funny. Personally, if somebody stays at a job for two or three years, I consider that an average tenure. In software (my field), two or three years is pretty much average.

This is also mirrored on the employers' side: there's almost no chance that they'll offer you the kinds of raises and promotions that would keep you there twenty years. They just don't do that shit anymore... there is no working your way up from the mailroom anymore. Everybody I know gets their raises by finding new jobs. Otherwise, you're often lucky to make cost-of-living.
posted by Netzapper at 9:15 PM on May 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

4-5 years is a long time to be at one place. Employers expect people to move around. As others have mentioned, the days of lifetime company allegiance are long over.

Of course this depends on the industry you are in. In finance, for example, people regularly hop around between jobs at much smaller time intervals. There was a lot of musical chairs going on in the first 3-4 months after my master's class graduated - and these were first jobs for most of my classmates.

I would hardly be worried about the ethics of leaving a company at any time (let alone after 4-5 years) given that it's a two-way street and they can boot you anytime if it's in their interests.
posted by pravit at 9:26 PM on May 15, 2010

If they needed you to stay, you'd be offered a contract. They didn't and retain the right to fire you at any time, so you retain the right to resign at any time. It's a fair trade.
posted by inturnaround at 9:29 PM on May 15, 2010 [5 favorites]

Oh man. I've had a similar ethical dilemma about a job I may stay at for 4-5 MONTHS.
posted by signalnine at 9:31 PM on May 15, 2010 [6 favorites]

sanka: "Your job has no ethical agreement to you does it?"

Well, engineers do have a duty to the public and to their clients. And to their employers. But I don't think these obligations extend to refusing at will employment agreements.
posted by pwnguin at 9:32 PM on May 15, 2010

Yeah, what everybody else said. If your conscience still pricks you a little, remember that by leaving your entry-level position you are giving somebody else an opportunity to get their first job in your field.

I once worked at a company for 7 years - the longest stint of my career. There was plenty of turnover; I used to save the company phone directory sheets and one day I plotted the approximate tenure of everyone who was there at that time. It was a beautiful half-life decay curve, with the half-life being about 2 years. Science!
posted by Quietgal at 9:34 PM on May 15, 2010

None. Job applications don't have "till death do us part" vows.

(Less snarkily: do you honestly think the corp would hesitate to lay you off in a downturn? If they can sever the relationship for purely selfish reasons, so can you.)
posted by IAmBroom at 9:46 PM on May 15, 2010

Best answer: Nthing what everyone else says. My main advice would be for you not to be too surprised if and when, down the road, the company shows that it's not giving you the same consideration that you're giving it right now.

Here's the thing. Companies care much, much less about you than the impression you have probably received during the interview and hiring process. Ideally -- from their point of view -- you are being brought on board to make an unfixed amount of profit for someone else, in return for a fixed amount of compensation. This is capitalism in a nutshell. Their loyalty is to the executives and to the shareholders, NOT to you or any of your coworkers. They'd lay you off in 4-5 months if they needed to (or, alternatively, they'd lay off your coworkers and expect you to take on the additional labor without any additional pay).

So take the job and make your own plans with an absolutely clear conscience. Your company almost certainly doesn't give a damn about your best interests; that leaves it up to you.
posted by scody at 9:56 PM on May 15, 2010 [6 favorites]

Even if you weren't staying longterm -- which you are -- stuff comes up all the time that people don't foresee that requires their employer to replace them. Employers deal with employees leaving earlier than they'd like all the time. Don't feel bad about it.
posted by Nattie at 10:32 PM on May 15, 2010

There is no ethical issue here. Employers fire employees for any reason at any time. Employees should feel no abstract loyalty.
posted by OmieWise at 6:52 AM on May 16, 2010

If you were talking about a year or less, I would consider there to be an ethical issue. 2 or more years, no ethical issue whatsoever. Between 1-2 years, it's a gray area and I'd make a decision based on how long it would take to train me, etc. For example, if it took 9 months of training and I was only planning to stay 18 months, that would be very different from a job I could do productively from day 1.
posted by selfmedicating at 7:08 AM on May 16, 2010

Just have to chime in with the chorus--any company that hires you will be perfectly delighted to kick you to the curb if it makes them a dollar. Don't worry about hurting its feelings.
posted by TrialByMedia at 7:31 AM on May 16, 2010

4-5 years is very loyal. I was happy when I could tolerate the same job for two years. My last contract was to be for 6 months.
posted by jrockway at 8:47 AM on May 16, 2010

There is definitely an ethical issue if you have to lie to them - i.e. if you specifically tell them that you plan to be there more than 5 years, while simultaneously planning the opposite, then that would be dishonest and unethical. But they're not going to ask you to plan your future with them four years in advance. In the unlikely event that they do want to insure that you stay so long, the right thing for them to do isn't to try to extract a prediction or promise from you, it's to write you a long-term contract and compensate you appropriately.
posted by roystgnr at 9:06 AM on May 16, 2010

Yeah, I assumed you meant a matter of months, like they'd spend more time training you than you'd spend working. When I saw '4-5 years' I laughed. There's no problem here.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:01 AM on May 16, 2010

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