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Startup founders are rockstars. Many of them have built businesses, given us reasons to say “disruption” on panel meetings, and shaped entire sectors. Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg are household names. These are the people we want to be when we grow up. In Nigeria, which had a slower start to the startup scene than America, the image of startup founders as rockstars is fairly recent.
Many of these founders are relatable 20-30-40-year-olds who are savvy enough not to write those incredibly lame posts on LinkedIn. Instead, they bestride the narrow world of Nigerian Twitter like a colossus. With tens of thousands of followers on Twitter, they enjoy more influence than many of the media publications that write about them or their companies. For a lot of young people, these founders are something to aspire to.
For years, while Nigeria’s tech sector looked something like a club for members only; the language and jargon constrained people in other sectors from publicly taking on founders in debates. But as the sector grows more inclusive and less mysterious, and as the employees there start to gather global experiences, people are more willing to disagree with our rockstars. The global flattening of how talent is hired has shown the Nigerian proverb to be true: it’s easy to claim that your father’s farm is the biggest when you’re not well travelled.
The first disagreements over the size of the said farm started last year when a conversation on remote work started by Iyin Aboyeji generated interesting comments. For this newsletter, it led to these articles here and here. But in a broader sense, the conversation about the dynamics between employers and employees has become more pronounced since August 2021. If these conversations were happening two or three years ago, a lot of employees would hardly have chipped in.
For those who have not been following, some of the conversations are around salaries and how much money talent should command. Another is on the quality of Nigerian talent and the infamous, “are Nigerian developers world-class?” Some of the contentions are that Nigerian employees now expect 3-5x what they were once paid (how dare they?) without having the commensurate skills. Others push back by arguing that, if startups are raising record amounts of $$, why can’t talent also ask for more?
But the latest sub-topic is about the propensity of Nigerian employees to job hop and refuse to put down roots for long periods at companies. Employers say that it’s a bad look and that if you job hop, it makes them distrust you; one startup in Nigeria says it does not employ people who have not stayed at their previous roles for up to two years. Job hopping is an inconvenience for Nigerian employers because hiring is expensive. Also, the time and money spent on training the employees go right out of the door with them. A high employee turnover also affects staff morale and has been shown to have a direct impact on revenue.
But the conversation is more than the organizational cost of employee turnover, so the tweets and opinions of founders—which is understandably anti-job-hopping—feel like they’re trying to guilt employees into “acceptable behaviour.” It’s hard to miss the irony here, of startup founders who cut their teeth by disrupting the existing status quo and arguing against the inefficiency of legacy systems, refusing to see that the same thing is playing out in the job market. The years when employees were “company men and women,” content to hold the same roles for thirty years and then go home to a pension are long gone. The economy is in shambles, no one trusts that the government will not have frittered away our pensions by the time we’re retired, and frankly, no one wants to stay in a boring job forever.
FOMO isn’t restricted to NFTs and Wordle. Today, there are job roles that didn’t exist twenty years ago, and even people with good jobs sometimes stare out the window and wonder if there’s a better role out there that they’re missing.
Gen Z’s (age 6-24) average length of time spent at a job is 2 years and 3 months. For millennials (25-40) that figure is 2 years and 9 months, while Gen Xers (41-56) were at a job for an average of 5 years and 2 months, and baby boomers (57-75) spent 8 years and 3 months at a job. - CareerBuilder.
Yet these are even for the best of companies. The experiences of workers at many startups are entry-level salaries that can’t compete with the often-criticized banks, 5% salary bumps that take 2-3 years to get and a lack of structure that makes career progression unclear. This survey—far from representative of Nigerians—shows that the top reason people switch jobs in Nigeria is for better pay.
“They’re looking for the same things that everyone’s talking about – better pay, better benefits, more flexibility and frankly, a lot of these millennials and younger generations are really just evaluating what’s most important to them,” - Career builder.
The conversations are also interesting for me, albeit from the sidelines. Having been at companies where promotions or raises were hard to come by and experiencing decent pay in a company with poor culture, I understand the issues a little differently. When your pay is shit, it’s normal to prioritize moving for the money, and the odds are, you won’t get said money at a company where you’ve been stuck for years. To be fair to these companies, it may be that you’re not just very valuable to them. So it makes sense to move to where your work makes an impact.
When you make your money move, you then learn that money isn’t everything. It becomes normal to question the company’s culture, values, and if you could be doing better work at a better run company. My sense is that for many people, long-term stability at a job role often happens later in the career, but for now, founders have got to suck it up. If your company is structured the same old way as companies of 30 years ago, no one’s sticking around for ten years. It’s also a time when there’s easy exposure to information. It’s never been easier to apply for and get remote jobs, and in the long run, it’s a net positive for Nigeria. The hiring landscape is more competitive than ever and Nigerian workers in tech are starting to command salaries that are better reflections of the value their companies place on them. What’s not to like?