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Job Tenure and the Myth of Job Hopping


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John Moore, Getty Images

On average, people are staying a bit longer at their jobs than they did a few years ago, according to a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The median number of years in which wage and salaried employes were with their current employer in January 2012 was 4.6 years, an increase from 4.4 years in 2010.

The report, which is released every two years in September, once again ignited a flurry of articles and blog posts on the issue of job hopping -- whether or not jumping from one employer to another is bad for your career, or bad for employers.

The Myth of Job Hopping

Despite the numerous articles stating that job hopping is becoming more the norm, the latest BLS survey shows that the number of years people spend working for the same employer has been increasing, slowly but steadily, over the past ten years. In 2002, the median tenure was 3.7 years. It was 4.0 years in both 2004 and 2006. In 2008 it was 4.1 years.

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

Tenure and Tech Careers

While there is a common perception that tech jobs are shorter-lived than other positions, the BLS report shows this may not actually be the case.

The median number of years those working in computer and mathematical jobs were with the same employer in 2012 was 4.8 years, which is the same level as 2010, 2006 and 2004. In 2002, following the tech bubble collapse, the average was only 3.2 years. It dipped again slightly in 2008 to 4.5 years.

It's important to note that the Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics categorizes occupations in groups. The computer and mathematical occupations group includes all computer-related occupations like software developers, network administrators and database administrators. In addition to computer-based jobs, it also includes actuaries, mathematicians, operations research analysts and statisticians. It is difficult to determine whether or not computer occupations alone would have a different outcome without those other occupations included in the figures.

Employees in engineering and architecture positions have been with the same employer the longest of any occupational category: 7.0 years in 2012, up from 5.7 years in 2010 and 6.4 years in 2008. Management positions had a median tenure of 6.3 years in 2012. Sales positions had a median tenure of 3.4 years. Food preparation and serving had the shortest tenure, which was 2.3 years in 2012, unchanged from 2010.

Age and Gender

Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics survey on job tenure is often cited as proof that Millennials (generally considered those born since the 1990's or even the 1980's) hop from job to job more often than their older co-workers, the BLS statistics themselves don't address this. What these statistics do tell us is that younger people have been with their current employer for fewer years than their older co-workers.

For example, someone born in January 1990 would be 22 years old in 2012. The number of years this person would have worked for the same employer would be 1.3 years, according to the median figure from the BLS statistics. Considering that those who graduated high school and did not go to college, have only been in the workforce for less than three years, 1.3 years working for the same employer should not be surprising.

According to the same survey, those between 25 and 34 have been at the same job for 3.2 years. Those between 33 and 44 have been at the same employer for 5.3 years. Employees between 45 and 54 years old have been at the same job for 7.8 years. The median number of years those 55 and over have been with their current employers is 10.3 years.

Going back to January 1983, the median tenure for these age groups was close to what it is today, with only a couple months difference for most age groups. Only in those aged 45 and older does the difference become more pronounced today than what it was 30 years ago, with the median tenure being about three years less than it was then.

In 1983, women stayed with the same employer only 3.7 years, while men were with the same employer for 5.1 years. In 2012, they are much closer. Women were with the same employer for 4.6 years, while men carried through for 4.7 years.

In 1983, the BLS did not have an occupation category specifically for computer-related occupations.

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