Which is worse - staying in a job too long or changing jobs too frequently? For most technology workers, it’s probably the former. Although excessive job-hopping used to be frowned upon and still is in some industries, in IT is has become harder to define what is excessive. With so many IT workers flitting from job to job like butterflies, it’s clear that the greater career risk appears to be staying in one job for too long. As with most things in life, there are exceptions to this observation.

When job duration times start to get below 18 months or so, prospective employers wonder if the cost of hiring a “butterfly” is worth it. Job-hopping raises issues in employers’ minds about the candidate’s stability, personality, and competency. Nonetheless, butterflies don’t usually face the level of career risk as do “lifers”.

Lifers stay with one employer for all, or the vast majority, of their careers. Today, a lifer in the IT world is as rare as a Whooping Crane – and probably as close to extinction. Unless you’ve been getting promotions every 2 to 3 years or so, along with significant increases in compensation and developing new technical and people skills, staying with an employer for too long can be problematic for finding a new job. Employers look at candidates who have been in the same position for four or more years and questions arise as to their drive, adaptability, and freshness of their skillsets.

Leaving a job or employer you like is never easy, but at some point, you might have to weigh your reluctance to leave against the long-term cost of staying. Of course that also depends on how important money is to you.

Here are some issues that can affect IT workers who stay in one job for an extended time:

  • The IT world is changing rapidly. New skills around big data, the cloud, mobility, and IoT, are in demand and will likely remain so for some time. If you’re not learning, you’re likely losing ground. The longer you stay in a position where your skills don’t evolve, the harder it will become to leave on your terms.
  • Staying in the same position or even with the same company for too long can cost you a lot of money. Raises in 2016 will likely be in the 3% range. A salary increase due to a job change can be 10% to 20% or more. Last year an article in Fortune estimated that staying at the same company for more than 2 years on average is going to reduce your lifetime earnings by around 50%.
  • In IT, there appears to be a stigma in staying in a job too long. Whether it’s accurate or not doesn’t matter, but a number of technology companies assume that the best performers will move around – not camp out with one employer for too long.
  • Feeling bored with your work or having the perception that you are not valued should serve as an impetus to think about moving on. You don't want to wake up  one morning and find that you have got a dead-end job and few career options.