Employee Tenure Averages Four Years

by Jessica Nelson

November 23, 2016

How long do workers stay in a given job? Nationally, the average employee tenure in January 2016 was 4.2 years. Data to address this question isn't available for Oregon, but every two years the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes this information for the nation, which results from supplemental questions in the Current Population Survey.

Data back to 2006 show little variation – job tenure has been fairly consistent over the last decade. A slight peak was reached in the January 2012 results, which is probably the effect of workers staying longer in the jobs they held – if they managed to hang on to them – when the nation entered the Great Recession, which lasted from late 2007 to the middle of 2009.

Public-sector workers tend to stay in their jobs longer than the average in the much larger private-sector workforce. The January 2016 median for public-sector workers was 7.7 years, compared with 3.7 years among workers in the private sector.

Older Workers Have Longer Tenure

Age seems to be the major determining characteristic in employee tenure. Younger workers have far shorter tenure in their jobs than older workers, which is somewhat obvious due to their shorter work histories. Teenagers average less than a year in each position, and for those ages 20 to 24 the average tenure is 1.3 years. With each successive age group the median tenure rises, topping out at a median of more than 10 years for workers ages 55 and over.
Older workers have the longest tenure, and they've also seen the most change in their tenure over the past decade. Back in January 2006, workers ages 65 and over had a median tenure of 8.8 years – below the median of 9.3 years for those ages 55 to 64. By January 2016 the median among those 65 and over had risen to 10.3 years. That was the only increase of more than an additional year on average in tenure. The next-oldest age group, workers ages 55 to 64, saw their median move from 9.3 years in 2006 to 10.1 years in 2016.

Workers Stay Longer in Some Types of Jobs

It may come as no surprise that management occupations have the longest tenure among occupation groups. Workers in management occupations had a median tenure with their current employer of 6.3 years in January 2016. That doesn't mean they were necessarily a manager for the entirety of their tenure – this would include workers who began in another role and moved into management with the same employer, because the data measure a worker's time with an employer, not their time in their current role.
Protective service occupations had a median tenure of 6.2 years with their current employer. That's up from a median of 5.5 years in January 2006, which may speak to the aging of the nation's protective service workforce.

On the lower end of employee tenure, two occupation groups had median tenure of less than three years. Workers in food preparation and serving occupations had been with their current employer for a median of just 1.9 years. Personal care and service occupations had a median of 2.9 years. Both of these occupation groups have a lot of part-time and low-paying jobs. Many workers have their first jobs in these occupations, but move out of these jobs as they gain education and experience.

Education and Sex Don't Explain Employee Tenure

There's not much difference in the employee tenure of men and women, though men's tenure has consistently come in just slightly above women's tenure. Women's median in January 2016 was 4.0 years, and men's median was 4.3 years.

Another characteristic that doesn't hold much power over tenure is education level. Keep in mind that the youngest workers aren't included in these calculations – the data only includes workers ages 25 and over, because education levels aren't expected to change much, on average, after age 25. Workers with less than a high school diploma had the shortest tenure, at 4.7 years. Workers with master's degrees had the longest tenure, at 5.9 years. All other education levels were clustered right around 5 years of tenure.

Overall, workers averaged 4.2 years with their current employer in January 2016. About 23 percent of workers had been with their current employer for less than one year. Another 30 percent had worked for the same employer for one to four years. Workers who'd been at the same job five to 14 years accounted for 31 percent of the workforce and 17 percent of the workforce had been with their current employer for 15 years or longer.

Employee tenure has been very steady on average; it averaged 4.2 years in January 2016 and back in January 2006 the median tenure was 4.0 years. Tenure for older workers is longer than for younger workers, and tenure among older workers has seen the biggest change over the past decade, with older workers staying in the workforce longer than in the past.

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