Why Is Employee Tenure Not What It Used to Be?

In today’s workplace, employee tenure is shorter than ever before. While the goals of past generations were to gain stability with an established company in order to support a family and begin saving for retirement, the goals of today’s workers are somewhat different. So why the change? What has caused present-day employees to forego employer loyalty for immediate gratification?

To understand the job-hopping mentality, we must first look at the demographic that comprises today’s workforce. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the nearly 80 million young adults born between 1976 and 2001 known as Millennials currently make up 36 percent of the U.S. workforce, with the number expected to grow to 46 percent by 2020. This generation has grown up with immediate gratification. As adults, they never had to rely on communication sent through the U.S. Postal Service or waited days to reach someone by phone who wasn’t home or relied upon encyclopedias or libraries as a source of gathering information. The world is at their fingertips…so why should job satisfaction be any different?

According to Jeanne Meister of Future Workplace, in a survey entitled “Multiple Generations @ Work,” 91 percent of Millennials expect to stay at a job for less than three years. This would result in working between 15 and 20 jobs throughout their careers. This is quite a departure from the mindset with which their parents approached employment a few decades earlier. Let’s explore Millennials’ motivation behind job-hopping.

Higher salary:

The average raise an employee can expect to receive from his or her employer is three percent each year. Regardless of the employee’s performance, most companies put a cap on raises based on a percentage of the employee’s salary due to budget constraints. However, according to the Consumer Price Index published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the current inflation rate is 2.1 percent. This means the average yearly raise received by the employee is less than one percent.

In contrast, an employee who leaves his or her job for a new one can expect an average salary increase of between 10 and 20 percent. Employers are often willing to pay more in order to recruit new talent. Therefore, provided that an employee has marketable skills, changing jobs allows the employee to circumvent the percentage cap on salary increases and jump to a whole new salary that would have only been attainable after several more years of work at his or her present company. The unfortunate result is that employees are penalized for remaining at their present company and rewarded for changing jobs.

Upward mobility:

Frequently changing jobs provides employees a faster path up the corporate ladder. Not all employers are looking to promote from within. Many make it a point to recruit new blood for open positions. After all, promoting from within leaves another open position the employer must backfill. Changing companies allow employees the ability to achieve their professional goals more quickly, without having to wait for positions to open up at their current company or to be offered a promotion.

In addition, many employees are indecisive about their career path when entering the workforce. Changing jobs allows them to experience a variety of roles, responsibilities, and workplace cultures, often in a variety of industries. It also allows them to gain valuable experience and skills in each, which can then prove valuable in their chosen career.

While many hiring managers and recruiters still frown upon the practice of frequent job changes, certain factors such as today’s economy and the mindset of the younger generation have mitigated the job-hopping stigma. Some will look at the resume of a job candidate who has held numerous positions for less than two years each and see an employee who lacks commitment and will soon move on to greener pastures, leaving another open position at the company that needs to be backfilled, with another new employee who needs to be trained. Yet others see shortened tenure as an acceptable form of achieving one’s goals, attaining a more prestigious position with a higher salary in far less time than those who are less motivated and less inclined to seek them out. So where do you stand on the great job-hopping debate?

By John Feldmann

John Feldmann is a Senior Communications Specialist for Insperity in Houston, TX. With over a decade of marketing and employment branding experience in the recruiting and human resources industries, John specializes in employment- and HR-related content development for a variety of media types in order to communicate Insperity's brand to both business professionals and job seekers. Follow John on X @John_Feldmann.