Updated July 26, 2016

Corey Heller often finds himself ordering fresh business cards. The human resources executive has switched employers nine times since 1996—and spent less than three years at six of those workplaces.In any other era, the 51-year-old Mr. Heller would be viewed as an unstable job hopper. But today, that stigma is starting to fade amid greater pressure for rapid results and decreased workplace loyalty, according to executive recruiters and coaches. The change suggests that companies increasingly believe high-level hires with multiple recent employers bring fresh insights and a mix of experience.

Mr. Heller took the top human resources post at Intermountain Healthcare, a large health-care system, in 2015. High-performing managers leave within three years "if they don’t continue to grow professionally," he explains. "That’s exactly what I did."

Senior managers are often among the first to chide millennials who jump from companies after a year or so, but those young people are changing perceptions as they progress into management. Workers aged 25 to 34 years old in 2014 had worked a median of three years for their current employer, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported. That compared with 5.5 years for all employees 25 and over as of 2014.

Executives’ average tenure at a company has been on the rise over the last decade, from 3.4 years in 2005 to 4.1 years in 2015, according to ExecuNet. (The executive career and business network began conducting this poll in 2005.) But Rose Fiorilli, a New York executive coach, cautions that it has become risky for managers to stick with the same employer for longer than a decade. "There’s a concern they won’t be able to play in a new sandbox."

Nearly 80% of U.S. recruiters are more willing than they were a decade ago to consider executive prospects who stay less than three years, concludes a July survey of 52 recruiters by the Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants for The Wall Street Journal.

Brief stints will spread "because of the explosion of online recruiting and opportunistic offers to candidates with strong profiles," predicts Stefanie Smith, a New York executive coach.

Jena Abernathy, a managing partner at recruiter Witt/Kieffer, used to promise clients a new search free of charge if a placed chief executive officer quit after three years. She now prefers to guarantee only two years because "people are moving quickly," says Ms. Abernathy, author of "The Inequality Equalizer," a book about career strategies. Among other things, she proposes in her book that professionals change jobs if they’re not achieving three-year and five-year goals at a current employer.

Senior managers are even hopping from big businesses once considered coveted career destinations. Three of four executives launching startup Noodle Analytics Inc. earlier this year joined after less than 21 months with International Business Machines Corp., General Electric Co. and MicroStrategy Inc.

Co-founding a business focused on artificial intelligence fulfilled a career goal "to do great analytics quickly and affordably," says Noodle CEO Stephen Pratt, a short-lived IBM executive. "In life, you have to do what makes you happy."

Mr. Pratt’s February exit from IBM after eight months wasn’t exactly a happy occasion for the technology giant "because there was quite a bit of fanfare when I went to IBM," the 54-year-old executive says.

The company had recruited Mr. Pratt from Infosys Ltd. in 2015 to lead its new Cognitive Business Solutions Group. The unit sells data analytics and artificial-intelligence services to business customers. IBM is betting its future on such new-breed offerings.

An IBM spokeswoman declined to comment about Mr. Pratt.

Certain companies still hesitate to pick executives following their short tenure at one workplace. Rovema GmbH, a German maker of packaging machinery, interviewed John Panaseny in 2014 about becoming CEO of its North American subsidiary.

He had then been second in command of a small manufacturer for a year. "I always wanted to run a business," Mr. Panaseny says.

Rovema’s owners asked Mr. Panaseny if he was "going to come here for a short period of time until the next opportunity is presented.” He assured them that wasn’t his intention. Based on his reassurance and strong record, Mr. Panaseny won the job. He has been "very successful at it," says Steve McClatchy, his executive coach.

Swift job hoppers sometimes get hired by citing workplace switches as evidence that they excel fast and offer broad experience. Intermountain’s Mr. Heller has worked in seven industries since 1990, for instance.

The HR executive believes his knowledge about a range of best practices has helped him adapt to change and build resilient organizations. Mr. Heller says his desire for a fresh challenge persuaded him to join Intermountain in Utah after a year at a Florida health-plan insurer. The state’s largest employer, Intermountain includes 22 hospitals and 180 clinics.

Ironically, Mr. Heller now aims to reduce turnover among high-potential Intermountain staffers—mostly individuals under 35 years old. Millennials with high expectations for job satisfaction frequently quit "unless we provide that growth opportunity," he notes. He recently inaugurated a pilot project that intends to give such employees a challenging lateral move or promotion every 18 to 24 months, starting next January.

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