These days, few workers stay at one company for their whole career. So how long are we sticking around? In this article, we’ll discuss job tenure and how it can affect your career outlook.
Long-gone are the days when people spent their entire career at one company, retiring with a gold watch and a pat on the back. Many people these days move from company to company, whether it's to move up the corporate ladder, lack of job security, or a total career switch. But some workers are also worried about being viewed as a "job hopper," and wonder if it will harm their overall career. It's a fine line, but knowing when to stay, and, just as importantly, when to move on, can help you make the most of your tenure at your current employer and help keep your career on the right track.
In this article, we’ll discuss average job tenure, including:
What is a “good tenure” at a job?
How long do Millennials and Gen Z stay at a job?
What positions tend to have the longest (and shortest) average tenure?
When most people think of the word "tenure," they think of teachers or professors, who earn "tenure" after a certain length of time and a high level of job performance, which offers a certain amount of job security (but is not, as some people think, a “can’t be fired” job). But the word “tenure” can also refer to how long an employee has been employed at a company or organization. Generally, if you’ve worked for a company for at least five years, that’s considered a long-tenured position.
There are a few advantages to being a long-tenured employee, The first is job stability, as it costs companies more to hire and train new employees, as well as a higher skill proficiency, as you’ve been there long enough to not only hone your current skills but learn new ones. There’s also the respect and potentially stronger benefits package that comes with a long tenure. But it’s not all pros. There are some cons to being in a position for a long time, such as potential complacency and fewer opportunities for career advancement due to your value in your current position. And if you do decide to leave a job after a long tenure, potential employers might think your skills are stagnant or that you lack ambition, so if you're moving on you should be prepared to demonstrate your talents in an interview situation. So as far as "good tenure" is concerned, three to five years in the same position is a good amount of time to demonstrate success without looking like you've "stayed too long at the fair.”
While older generations may have looked for long-term job stability, Millennials and Gen Z appear to have taken a different approach. They are, in general, opposed to the idea of sacrificing for a job, and prefer to seek out a more balanced “work-life” situation. These younger generations seem to have an affinity for “career exploration” rather than upward mobility; in fact, a recent Gallup poll shows that 21 percent of Millennials report that they’ve changed jobs within the last year. Gen Z doesn't seem to want to stay put either. A 2022 Lever Report stated that 65 percent of Gen Z plans to stay at their current position for less than a year.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics:
The median tenure of workers ages 55 to 64 was 9.8 years.
The median tenure of workers ages 25 to 34 was only 2.8 years.
In workers ages 25+, those who had less than a high school diploma were 4.5 years for men and 4.3 years for women. Male and female college graduates had a slightly higher median tenure of 5.1 years and 4.9 years respectively.
Millennials and Gen Z are more prone to job-hopping because they're used to an environment of constant change, whether it’s the Great Recession or the COVID-19 pandemic. They understand that job security isn’t guaranteed, and they’ve prepared themselves to move no matter when or where opportunity strikes.
The average tenure of a Millennial in the workplace is 2.75 years, and Gen Z has an average tenure of 2 years and 3 months, and 78 percent of Gen Z workers only see themselves staying between two to five years with their current employers.
How long workers stay in a particular position often depends on the industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in early 2022, public sector workers had a median tenure of 6.8 years, as opposed to an average of 3.7 years for those in the private sector. And age is a big factor, as 75 percent of government workers were 35+.
Management occupations: 6.2 years
Education, training, and library: 5.5 years
Manufacturing: 5.2 years
Architecture and engineering: 5.2 years
Legal occupations: 4.7 years
Leisure and hospitality: 2.0 years
Food service workers: 1.6 years
There's no right answer to how long you should stay at a job. Many experts say two to five years is ideal, and definitely not less than one year. But there are other factors to consider. According to HR Digest, you should take into consideration your skills, your readiness for change, whether you see a future with your current company, or if you feel “stuck” or unfulfilled.
Ready to make a career change? Check out Career.io’s Job Search Strategy tool, which will help you create a solid career roadmap and give you strategies to stand out from the crowd.
Generally, if you’ve worked for a company for at least five years, that’s considered a long-tenured position.
The pros of a long job tenure include job stability, a higher skill proficiency, respect, and a potentially stronger benefits package. Cons include potential job complacency and a lack of upward mobility.
Millennials and Gen Z are more prone to job-hopping because they’re used to an environment of constant change, whether it’s the Great Recession or the COVID-19 pandemic.
The longest-tenured jobs include public sector jobs and management occupations.
Jennifer Inglis is a freelance writer and content creator with extensive professional expertise in advertising, media analysis, teaching, writing, and literature. Prior to working for Career.io, Jennifer was a public school teacher, teaching courses in college and career readiness, writing, and public speaking. Jennifer has a master’s degree in Teaching, and is the author of two published novels.