Job-Hopping Trends … Not What You Think … and Why

job hopping comic

There’s lots of talk out there about restless employees leaving companies … young workers looking for purpose … dissatisfaction with managers and jobs and perks. While job hopping may indeed be on the rise in some demographic segments, that’s not what U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) cumulative numbers show.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there has actually been little change over the past 10 years in employee tenure. The average number of years that workers across all industries have been with their current employer has risen from 4.0 in 2004 to 4.6 in 2014. In fact, for the past 30 years, tenure has increased!

Viewed by age, statistics show that young workers (ages 25-29) have always been the most restless, with only 2.4 percent having 10 years or more of tenure in 2004. The 2014 number is almost steady at 2.5 percent. As expected, with age comes increasing tenure. See DOL Table 1.  

The highest median years of tenure with a current employer is for workers 55 to 64 years old at 10.4 — a number that is actually higher than the 2004 number. See DOL Table 2

employee tenureIf you review the numbers by industry, workers in manufacturing have been there the longest at 5.9 years in 2014. The lowest was 2.3 years in the leisure and hospitality industry. According to the DOL, these differences reflect several factors, but a major contributor is again age — workers in manufacturing tend to be older than those in the leisure and hospitality industry.  See DOL Table 5.  

Another interesting trend, workers with more education tend to stick around longer. A 35- to 44-year-old employee with no college experience stays with a company on average 5.1 years. That same 35- to 44- year- old with a master’s degree stays on average 6.4 years. See DOL Table 4.  

From another source, The Talent Equation confirms the long-range view of employment tenure. “Until the 2001 recession, average tenure had remained fairly stable. Employees stayed at their firms for about 3.5 years or slightly longer before moving to a new job. For instance, tenure in 2002 was only two-tenths of a year longer than it was in 1983. But in the 10 years from 2002 to 2012, the national average rose by about one year. The climb continued throughout the 2007 recession. Average tenure was 4 years in 2004 and 2006. But by 2010, it had jumped to 4.4, and by 2012 to 4.6.”

So, with all this data, why is there a widespread belief that the opposite is true?

The official data doesn’t tell the whole story. In an effort to get a clearer picture, sociologists Matissa Hollister of McGill University and Kristin Smith of the University of New Hampshire separated job tenure trends for men and women by marital and parental status. Their breakdown shows that in fact tenure for men and never-married women has declined. Their study further reveals that this trend has been masked by an increase in the job tenure of married mothers. These divergent patterns were not separated in the DOL statistics, and have kept overall average job tenure figures stable.

These two patterns reflect shifts in thinking. First, that workers and employers no longer expect or feel obligated to seek long-term employment. And second, that married mothers continue to find identity in work and are less likely to leave because of the birth of child.

In conclusion, Hollister says, “The consistent pattern of declining employee tenure among men and never-married women supports the popular perception that there is an underlying shift in the labor market toward short-term work arrangements and employment instability.” This gender difference in tenure is present in the DOL statistics. See DOL Table 2.  

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