Job Tenure and the Myth of Job Hopping

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Companies have been in a panic over job turnover rates. It’s costly, and many point fingers at the ever-active pool of young workers as the main culprits. As a result, employers are going out of their way to keep fresh talent happy. But do modern workers really change jobs that often compared to previous generations?

Job Tenure by the Numbers

On average, people are staying in their jobs a little longer than they did a few years ago, according to the latest numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in 2014.

The report ignited a flurry of articles and blog posts on job hopping. Discussion focused on whether it’s bad for your career or bad for employers.

So how long do workers stay with their employers nowadays? The median number of years wage and salaried employees stayed with their current employer in January 2014 was 4.6 years. The same was true in 2012, and it was an increase from 4.4 years in 2010. In 2004, the average was 4 years.

The Myth of Job Hopping

Job hopping appears to be the norm today. Millennials are labeled lazy, self-entitled, and, therefore, responsible for high turnover rates in the labor market. However, the latest BLS survey shows the number of years people spend with the same employer has increased over the past decade. In 2002, the median tenure was 3.7 years. It went up to 4.0 years in both 2004 and 2006. And in 2008, it was 4.1 years.

To put that into historical context, in January 1983, according to the BLS report for the year, the median tenure of workers was 4.4 years.

The figures are clear -- on average, people today stay in their current jobs longer than in the past.

Tenure and Tech Careers

For those in computer and mathematical jobs, median tenure in 2014 was 5 years. That’s up from 2012 when it was 4.8 years. In fact, the average has remained steady for over a decade.

The only dips were in 2002 after the tech bubble collapse -- the average then was 3.2 years -- and again in 2008 (4.5 years.)

It's important to note, though, the BLS groups occupations. The computer and mathematical occupations group includes all computer-related occupations like software developers, network administrators, and database administrators. Besides computer-based jobs, it includes actuaries, mathematicians, operations research analysts, and statisticians. It is difficult to determine whether figures for computer occupations on their own would be very different.

Some reports, like these PayScale figures on job tenure at companies on the Fortune 500 list, suggest tech experts don't stay at jobs for long. But the industry is booming, so employee growth and recruitment practices play a big part in those averages.

Tenure in Other Professions

Tech is an obvious area of interest for job tenure trends. Gen Y/Millennials have grown up to be tech-savvy workers and are at the helm of today's hottest technologies.

They value job satisfaction so will move on to find it. How do other professions compare in terms of job tenure?

  • Employees in management occupations have been with the same employer the longest of any occupational category - 6.9 years, up from 6.3 years in 2012 and 6.1 years in 2010

  • Architecture and engineering occupations had a median tenure of 6.4 years in 2014. It dropped from 7 years on the previous tally

  • Sales positions had a median tenure of 3.4 years in 2014

  • Food preparation and serving had the shortest tenure, which was 2.2 years in 2014, down from 2.3 years in 2012

Tenure Among Younger Workers

Analysts cite the BLS survey as proof Millennials hop from job to job more often than older co-workers. But the statistics themselves don't address this. What the stats tell us is younger people stay with their current employer for fewer years than their older co-workers.

This should come as no surprise. A 22-year-old, for example, worked for the same employer for 1.3 years at the time of the latest BLS report. Those who entered the job market straight out of high school would have been in the workforce for less than three years, so a short time with the same employer is reasonable.

Conclusion

People have started to acknowledge the merits of job hopping. But the numbers prove people aren’t changing jobs so often anyways. Interestingly, the median tenure for all age groups in the 1983 report was close to what it is today. Only a couple of months separate most age groups. And even when workers leave for better opportunities, many tech companies today aren’t too concerned with high turnover rates. The abundance of talent in the industry means there’s always someone to step in and take the company further.

This article has since been updated by Laurence Bradford.

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