Employee Tenure: 2-3 Years and Gone?

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I'll admit I found it shocking and unsettling when I previously quoted HR consultant Peter Weddle on the 2011 job market:

We used to tell people that they would likely go through seven or eight job changes during a 30-year career. Well, that's now old news. In today's world of work - in the 21st century - people are likely to go through 15 or 20 job changes during a 50-year career. To put it another way, they are now likely to be changing jobs every three years or so.

The Jobvite Social Recruiting survey, which I wrote about yesterday, seems to bear that out. Among the questions answered by 800 U.S.-based human resources and recruitment professionals: How long do you think your average new employee will stay with your company? The answers broke down this way:


  • 6 months or less, 0.9 percent
  • 1 year or less, 4 percent
  • 18 months or less, 6.7 percent
  • 2 years or less, 19.8 percent
  • 3-5 years, 47.7 percent
  • More than 5 years, 13.7 percent
  • Don't know, 7.3 percent


So nearly a third expected an employee to stay two years or less. During an interview, I asked Jobvite CEO Dan Finnigan about that. He told me:

It used to be that when you were looking at someone's resume and they changed jobs more frequently than every five to seven years, they'd be labeled as a job hopper, unstable, greedy or selfish, unable to hold a job. Whatever it was, it usually flagged them and pulled them out of the stack.
Now, in some regards, I think it has flipped. Now when recruiters look at someone who has stayed in a role for more than three years, the question is why? What have they been doing? ...
The world is changing really fast. There's this intuition that if you're doing the same job for more than three years and your job didn't change, that means either your company's not that dynamic or you are not that dynamic. I'm not saying that's always the case, I'm just saying there's this increasing perception.

Clearly, this means that if you have been in a job for several years, it calls for you to explain what you've been doing - and to specifically state your accomplishments, not just your assigned duties.


Continued Finnigan:

[As] we all know, is the bond between companies and employees - the bond that said that if you stay and invest more of your career with a company that you'll be rewarded with a career path - I think that implicit agreement was completely severed in the most recent recession, when we lost 8.4 million jobs in a matter of months. I think it has permanently shocked all working generations into looking out for themselves and making sure they're always looking out for what their next "gig" or next opportunity is going to be.
And especially if we're talking about people who are skilled and in demand, they're thinking that their best career path will come from leaving their current employer. What this means is that companies have to continuously recruit.

Vincent Milich, director of the IT Effectiveness Practice at Hay Group, told me earlier this year that IT pros especially want to be able to see a clear career path for themselves at their current company. Too often, he said, a recruiter approaches them and can lay out what their next move will be after the position being offered, as well as the one after that. The employee being wooed usually doesn't have that information about his or her current employer.


Milich said providing that vision of a career path - especially for technologists who don't want to be managers or aren't cut out for it - is a key way companies can hang on to top talent. (Of course, you can't promise things, then not deliver.)


Weddle, meanwhile, for quite some time has been advocating looking out for yourself by continuous improvement. Using a new-car analogy, he says skills become obsolete every two years:

A new car loses 10 percent of its value the minute you drive it off the dealer's lot. It doesn't matter whether you've bought a Mercedes or a Chevrolet, your vehicle's worth starts declining as soon as you start to use it. The same is true with training and education in our careers. Its employment value begins to degrade the nanosecond we complete the coursework.
Historically, we've been able to invest episodically in our occupational education and training. We could do it every now and then because the pace of change in the workplace was relatively slow. Today's it's not. ...
No matter what level of academic degree we have or how much seniority we've attained in the workplace, we must be continuously engaged in self-improvement. Adding skills is now table stakes in the workplace. We aren't even in the game unless we are getting better. All of the time.