Welcome to the Era of Job Hopping: The Lifecycle of the American Worker

Business.com / Strategy / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Americans are more frequently switching jobs, taking advantage of the 10-20% pay raise from switching companies.

The conventional wisdom on job tenure in the United States is that it is shrinking. While it is true that a forty-year career at one company is increasingly becoming a thing of the past, the numbers aren’t as startling as you might imagine.

The Great Recession left many workers reluctant to look for greener pastures in the form of new jobs. In the wake of the downturn, however, younger workers are, in fact, job hopping at increasing rates. 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median number of years that wage and salary workers had been with their current employer was 4.6 years as of January 2014, unchanged from January 2012. This is the most recent data available, based on a survey of 60,000 households in the United States.
 
Median employee tenure was higher among older workers than younger ones. For workers ages 55 to 64, the average length of time spent at one job was 10.4 years—more than three times that of workers ages 25 to 34 years (3.0 years).
 
The lifecycle of the American worker varies by industry. Employees in the leisure and hospitality industries tend to have significantly shorter job tenures than those in manufacturing, and the tech industry is also notorious for its on-the-move workers.

Employees may shift between companies more frequently in the technology startup world as businesses close, reorganize or pivot to capture new markets. According to the BLS, wage and salary workers in the public sector nearly double the median tenure of private sector employees, 7.8 years versus 4.1 years.

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Why Do Employees Leave Their Companies?

There are good reasons for talented employees to seek out opportunities at new companies. According to Forbes, workers who stay in companies for longer than two years can expect a significantly lower salary over the course of their careers than those who keep moving.

The reason? Raises average only a three percent increase in salary while starting a job with a different company can lead to a ten or twenty percent bump. Adding this up over ten years yields some eye-popping numbers—those who frequently change their jobs are reported to earn a whopping 50 percent more.

Millennial employees—those born between 1977 and 1997—are expected to have more than 15 jobs in their lifetimes. According to a survey conducted by FutureWorkplace.com, younger employees want the opportunity to express their creativity and look for corporate values that match their own. They value companies that create opportunities for career progression.

“Every American worker needs to take a step back and look at the world of business from the vantage point of the CEO of a public company,” says Bill Fish, the founder and president of ReputationManagement.com.

“At the end of the day his or her singular task is to increase shareholder wealth. They will take just about any and all steps to achieve that goal, and if that means eliminating positions or terminating employees, the shareholders expect them to do just that.”

Savvy employees are aware of this reality after enduring the rough years of the financial crisis. As a result, they’re more likely to jump ship if a better opportunity at a different company comes along. 

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Does Job Hopping Equal Resume Killer?

When it comes to job hopping, there’s a careful balancing act employees of all ages and in all industries must maintain. Switching companies can help a worker’s bottom line, but if it’s happening every year, they might have some challenging questions to answer when it comes to the next interview.

“While a series of jobs on the resume is not the automatic red flag it used to be in the job search, hiring managers are still nervous if they see a candidate who can’t stay more than 18 months in the same company,” says Lynne Sarikas, Director of the MBA Career Center at the D’Amore McKim School of Business.

“Taking on new positions within the company is seen as a positive, but jumping too often and too soon can raise concerns. For candidates with multiple jobs, be sure you can tell a story of why you made each change and what you gained in experience from each successive job.”

To navigate a career, employees would do well to think of themselves as independent contractors even as they take on regular full-time roles.

“To have a successful career you need to be continually managing your career looking at what you are learning, what skills you are developing and what brings you satisfaction at work,” says Sarikas. In other words, you should be constantly growing, just like the companies you’re working for.

“You aren’t going to receive unconditional loyalty from your employer, thus you shouldn’t provide it to them,” concludes Fish. “While people shouldn’t be moving from position to position constantly, it is in your best interest to always be looking for the next stepping stone in your career.  Not only will this diversify your skill set, but being cognoscente of your next employment move could help your wallet as well.”

With Millennials at the wheel, the lifecycle of the American worker is speeding up. Are you ready?

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