How Long Should an Employee Stay at a Job?

Employees brainstorming in a meeting.
•••

Hinterhaus Productions / Getty Images

The days have long since passed when people would stay at one job for their entire career. Workers now switch jobs several times in their careers, and employer-provided job security no longer exists.

Worried about being considered a job hopper if you change companies too often? You're right to be concerned, within reason. But it is also possible to stay too long at a job and suffer professional consequences as a result.

How Long Do Employees Stay at a Job?

What’s the typical employee tenure? The median number of years that employees have worked for their current employer is currently 4.1 years, according to an Economic News Release from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, this longevity varies by age and occupation:

  • The median tenure for workers ages 25 to 34 is 2.8 years.
  • The median tenure for employees ages 55 to 64 is 9.9 years.
  • Workers in management, professional, and related occupations had the highest median tenure (4.9 years).
  • Workers in service occupations had the lowest median tenure (1.9 years).

If you were to change jobs every three to five years, you would be right within the average, and the job switches may reward you with higher compensation and a broader base of skills than you'd acquire by working for only one or two companies during your entire career.

A History of Job Hopping

If you look at one year as a guideline for staying at a job, this can work for one job (or even two) in your total career history. Employers realize that, during difficult economic times, employees may be forced to leave a job within their first year through no fault of their own due to situations like layoffs.

However, if you have established a pattern of working at several jobs for only a year, you are creating a job-hopping work history and your resume isn't going to impress any hiring manager. If you're concerned about being considered a job hopper, here are some resume tips that may help.

Layoffs can't be avoided, but if you are moving on by choice, it's a good idea to consider what, if any, impact the move will have on your future prospects. Sometimes work becomes so toxic that staying may not be an option. Or, you could have been recruited for your dream job.

In those cases, you don't need to think too hard about what to do. In other situations, though, it can be simply a question of being bored or not challenged, and that's when it's time to think twice about leaving.

Staying Too Long at a Job

Staying too long at a job can also hinder your employment prospects, and a lengthy tenure with one company can give the impression that you aren't interested in growing your career. It can also lead employers to think that you may not have the flexibility or open-mindedness for success in a new role.

 So, when is the best time to change jobs? It's a question of balance, with enough years put in to learn and grow, but not so many years that your skill set becomes stagnant or entrenched in one company's way of doing things.

Decision-Making Questions to Ask

If you have several short-term jobs in your employment history, ask yourself some questions before you decide to resign and start yet another job search:

  • Are you leaving for the right reasons (better job, more money, more flexibility)?
  • Are you prepared to assure employers that you aren't a high-risk hire?
  • Is changing jobs now going to help or hinder your career?
  • Is there anything you can do to improve the situation at your current job if the timing isn't right?
  • Is this the right time to move on for both personal and professional reasons?
  • Will changing jobs now impact your chances of securing a new job later on?
  • Can you get more clarity on what you need in a job so that your next position might fit your needs for longer than one year?

The Bottom Line

There isn't such a thing as a perfect resume because there are so many reasons for leaving a job and for staying at a job. However, do be cognizant of the fact that your decisions matter on a long-term basis as well as a short-term one.