Employee Tenure Averages Four Years

by Jessica Nelson

October 19, 2020

How long do workers stay in a given job? Nationally, the average employee tenure in January 2020 was 4.1 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.

Data back to 2006 show little variation – job tenure has been fairly consistent over the last decade plus. 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 2020 median tenure for public-sector workers was 6.5 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. Younger workers face a lot of transitions in a short timespan that also work to reduce job tenure – from short-term summertime jobs to leaving for college in a new city or state. On average, teenagers spend 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 about 10 years for workers ages 55 and over.
There’s been very little movement in average tenure among the different age groups over the past decade. Teens are just as likely to be transitioning between jobs (and holding a lot of jobs as they gain experience) as they were a decade ago. Older workers are just as likely to have been with their employer for a much longer timespan.

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 5.8 years in January 2020. 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. Legal occupations also averaged 5.8 years. Protective service occupations averaged 5.3 years.

On the lower end of employee tenure, workers in food preparation and serving occupations had been with their current employer for a median of just 1.9 years. Health care support occupations had a median of 2.8 years. Personal care and service occupations averaged 3.1 years with their current employer. Food preparation and personal care occupations 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. For health care support occupations, the low tenure may speak to career pathways where workers gain health care experience in entry-level roles while pursuing more training.

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 2020 was 3.9 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 4.6 years. Those with some college but no degree averaged 4.7 years. Workers with doctoral or professional degrees had the longest tenure, at 5.5 years, and those with master’s degrees had a median of 5.4 years. All other education levels were clustered right around 5 years of tenure.

Overall, workers’ median tenure with their current employers was 4.1 years in January 2020. About 22 percent of workers had been with their current employer for less than one year. This group is disproportionately young and thus more likely to be new to the workforce. It also includes those who have lost jobs and found new jobs in the past year, as well as workers who voluntarily moved to a new job. Another 31 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 30 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 4.1 years in January 2020 and back in January 2010 the median tenure was 4.4 years. Tenure for older workers is longer than for younger workers. The relationship between age and tenure has held over time and age seems to be the only individual characteristic with much power over median job tenure. Today’s young workers – and older workers – are behaving much as those groups have in the past in terms of how long they stick with their employers.

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