Each generation displays its own trends when it comes to retention, but younger workers in particular seem less likely to stay with their employers for the long term. Millennials are notorious for job hopping in pursuit of new opportunities, while Gen. Z has a reputation for growing bored within their existing companies.
It’s hard to blame individuals for leaving to pursue new endeavors, but high turnover rates can be taxing on the economy. In fact, Gallup estimates the turnover of millennials alone costs the US around $30.5 billion each year.
But is age really the only factor employers should consider when trying to retain employees? After the upheaval of 2020, hasn’t every worker’s tenure been shaken up?
At Skynova, we recently analyzed Bureau of Labor Statistics data to uncover employee retention trends over the past 10 years. Here’s what we found:
Younger Workers Spend Less Time in Their Jobs
When millennials gained a reputation for changing jobs frequently, many assumed it was a characteristic of that particular generation. However, job hopping may be driven more by age than generational cohort.
According to the BLS data we analyzed, younger adults in general spend less time in a job. Average tenure tends to decrease as you go down in age. For example, 25-to-34-year-olds spend an average of 2.8 years in a position, while 18-to-24-year-olds average between eight months and 1.3 years in the same position.
This means high-school- and college-age adults job hop the most. That makes sense: They’re often working on vacations to pay for school, testing out internships or apprenticeships, or finding jobs around their schedules. Young professionals under 34, who are relatively new to the workforce, tend to stay in jobs a little bit longer, likely taking their time to decide whether a position is a good fit for their skills and professional ambitions.
People Are Job Hopping More Than They Used To
When looking at the retention trends of male and female workers, we saw that both men and women are staying in their positions for less time than they were a decade ago. This might indicate that changes in society, job opportunities in burgeoning fields, or shifting professional goals are impacting job tenure.
Education seems to play a role, at least for men. Male professionals tend to have higher average tenures the more educated they are. The correlation isn’t as strong for women, with average tenures for more- and less-educated women being relatively similar. The gender gap could play a role in women’s overall tenure trends, although pay disparities were not investigated within this study.
Turnover Trends Vary Across Industries
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the field a person works in has a significant impact on their average tenure.
For example, workers in the public sector tend to stay in their jobs for much longer, with federal employees remaining in the same position for an average of eight years, state government employees around 5.6 years, and local government employees around 6.6 years. Public-sector jobs tend to offer strong benefits packages and stability of employment, so it’s not too surprising to see such high retention.
Other industries that showed higher-than-average levels of job retention (in terms of 2020 median tenure) include:
- Utilities (7.7 years)
- Telecommunications (6.6 years)
- Publishing, non-internet (5.4 years)
On the flip side, industries with the lowest levels of retention include:
- Accommodation and food services (2.1 years)
- Video and sound recording (2.7 years)
- Management, administrative, and waste services (2.9 years)
In general, most industries saw their average employee tenures shrink between 2010 and 2020, indicating an overall trend of Americans now spending less time in their jobs before moving on.
Rethinking Millennial Job Hopping
So, are millennials and Gen. Z-ers really chronic job hoppers? Our research suggests that, while each new generation brings its own trends to work, tenure is more a matter of age group than generational cohort. Younger employees across generations seem to job-hop most frequently. Education, gender, and industry also have implications for average employee tenure.
It’s worth stressing that average tenures have decreased across almost all industries in the past decade, regardless of age, generation, or education level. Americans are moving to new opportunities much faster than before, which suggests their current employers may be failing them in some way. Organizations may need to boost incentives, growth opportunities, pay, and benefit options to keep employees from leaving.
It’s tough to pinpoint a single factor behind increased turnover, but one thing is for sure: Decreasing retention rates are costing the economy tremendously and could have long-lasting impacts.
Mel Kasulis is a creative strategist for Skynova.