Job Tenure and the Myth of Job Hopping

Hop scotch grid on pavement representing the concept 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 2018. The report ignited a flurry of articles and blog posts on job-hopping. The 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 2018 was 4.2 years. In 2012 and 2014, the median tenure was 4.6 years. 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 slightly, though not by much, over the past decade.

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 about the same as they did 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 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 longer than most other occupational categories-- 5 years, down from 6.3 years in 2012 and 6.1 years in 2010
  • Architecture and engineering occupations had a median tenure of 5.7 years in 2018.
  • Food preparation and serving had the shortest tenure, which was 2.2 years in 2018, 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. However, since younger people have had less time in the workforce to establish tenure, the stats don't necessarily bear that claim out. What the stats do tell us is younger people have been 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 college 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 anyway. 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.