The One-Year Mark: Is the Honeymoon Over at Work?

Posted By Terri Williams on March 6, 2017 at 5:25 pm
The One-Year Mark: Is the Honeymoon Over at Work?

Landing a new job is typically a joyous occasion. But how long does that joy last? And how important is the one-year mark? According to a recent study by Robert Half and Happiness Works, workers are happiest during the first year on the job. However, from the first-year anniversary to the second year of employment, these individuals are unhappier and have less interest in their job than any other group of employees.

The chart below, based on a 100-point scale, with 0 being least happy (or interested) and 100 being most, gauges worker interest by levels of tenure:

Worker Happiness Worker Interest
< 1 year 73 73.5
1-2 years 69.6 71.4
3-5 years 72.2 73.5
6-10 years 72.3 74.3
11-20 years 70.2 73.9
21+ years 70.3 74.4


Why the one-year mark can signal change

Why are employees disillusioned after spending just one year on the job? Perhaps the newness of the job has worn off. According to Paul McDonald, senior executive director at Robert Half, “At the one-year mark, employees are familiar with the role and organization.” Usually, by this time, there has been at least one performance evaluation, and if so, McDonald explains that they may have become adept at performing their primary tasks, which could lead to boredom if they’ve met all of the job requirements and no longer feel challenged.

On the other hand, research has indicated that many millennial workers are unhappy at work because they’re not receiving feedback on a regular basis, “And if they are in a high-demand field, these workers may be getting calls from recruiters with new roles, and think the grass might be greener elsewhere,” McDonald adds.

As the chart indicates, this feeling of disillusionment typically subsides after the second year, and employees tend to bounce back strong from the slump that starts at the one-year mark. However, if these workers don’t know how to manage their emotions and behaviors, they could damage their career.

According to Rachel Ernst, director of employee success at Reflektive, “They may start missing deadlines; the quality of their work might decline as they start making careless mistakes.” Ernst says, “They may punch the clock and complete their tasks, but not provide that friendly customer service the company prides itself on.”

How to fight the one-year mark struggles? Employees have to recognize that they were hired to help – not hurt – the organization. Ernst warns that companies may be thinking, “Does their low performance pose a risk to the organization?  Will their poor behavior put us in jeopardy of losing customers?” And if the answer to even one of these questions is yes, that employee could be in danger of losing his or her job unless there’s a change in behavior.

Employee motivation tips

The key is to make it through the one-to-two-year period while remaining a consistently valuable employee. McDonald offers the following tips:

Think like an owner. It doesn’t matter what role you have in the firm – develop the mindset of the owner or CEO. Brainstorm options to save the company money, grow the business or be more efficient. Share the ideas with your boss and put them into practice in your daily work

Find your passion. Think about your company’s higher purpose: How is it making the world a better place? For example, if you work at a CPA firm, you aren’t only performing accounting functions – you are helping client businesses grow and thrive.

Deepen your connections. Having friends at work makes every day more fun. Go out of your way to socialize and build camaraderie with those around you.

Mix it up. Don’t wait for your manager to offer you new projects. Be proactive – talk to your boss about new assignments to broaden your skill set and contributions to the firm. This not only increases your engagement level but also your earning potential.

Focus on the positive.  Be grateful for what makes your job a good one. Do you use your best talents daily? Work with people you like and respect? Earn a good living to support your family and interests outside work?

Practice kindness at work – show kindness to everyone with whom you work. It doesn’t take much effort, but makes a big difference. Others will likely take your lead and reciprocate. Ask people about their weekend. Offer to lend a hand to an overworked colleague, or an ear to someone who’s experiencing a tough personal issue. Smile, say thank you, and be known for your optimistic approach.

Exhibit gratitude. Take the time to thank coworkers for their help and compliment others for a job well done. This will brighten their day while also giving your spirits a boost.

Sweeten the pot. Keep up with compensation trends and ask for a raise, if warranted, as you take on more responsibility.

One final warning: Being unhappy at work – particularly when you show it – isn’t necessarily the only problem. In fact, it has been suggested that smiling too much and looking too happy at work can actually be a detriment to career advancement. Sometimes it’s just hard to win.

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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