Them Job Changes

On May 16, 2013, in Data, HR Trends, HRExaminer, Industry Analysis, by John Sumser

Them Job Changes on HRExaminer

The smoke and mirrors about retention is beginning to lift. A new study provides examples of how new approaches to data and open minds discover hidden, important truths…

Ask anyone in the industry and they’ll tell you that job tenure has been decreasing for decades. The average time in a job is declining. Retention is hard because Gen Y and Millennial workers have no loyalty and don’t plan to stay long.

It turns out that it’s not true.

Most of us understood (at some level) that the average was really deceptive. As middle skilled jobs have been hollowed out, the workforce  polarized into low skilled and high skilled ghettos. Either a job has generic skills (retail and service) or they are complex (STEM). Average tenure in the high skilled segment is increasing. The service end is stable from a tenure perspective. But the number of service jobs is growing.

Average tenure drops if that scenario is true. But, it means that more people have jobs where tenure is shorter and jobs require lower skill level. The change in the average is caused by the jobs and not the attitudes of the people. The change in average tenure essentially reflects downward mobility. But it doesn’t mean that people are staying in their jobs for less time.

This week, the Federal Reserve published a paper which suggests that the number of times a person changes jobs is declining. The paper, Declining Migration within the US: the Role of the Labour Market, is a complex analysis of a range of scenarios in an effort to understand why US workforce mobility has plummeted.

In the 90s, 3.5% of the workforce moved for work every year. Today that number is around 1.5%. The number has been declining for 30 years.

The paper presents a painstaking proof of the idea that mobility is in decline because people change jobs much less frequently than they used to. The basic idea is that the wage differentials between states have disappeared and that opportunity is available ‘at home’.

In a longer piece, we’ll tackle the unasked question, is the ‘guild city phenomenon’ at the heart of this issue.

At any rate, the smoke and mirrors about retention is beginning to lift. The study is a clear example of the way that new approaches to data and open minds about questions can discover hidden, important truths.

I wonder how long it will be before the conventional wisdom shifts in this direction. People change jobs less often than they used to. It’s a trend that’s been maturing for 30 years.


  • Very interesting. Thanks

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  • Fascinating stuff. I’d be curious if the stats vary for higher vs. lower performers.

  • marenhogan

    What? Couldn’t one of the reasons that people move for work less often is because more people are working from home and telecommuting and working for companies outside of their traditional geographical area? Did they control for this?

  • They did. The paper is pretty persuasive if a little hard to read. I think stories like this point to our future. We’ll be rethinking fundamental assumptions as the data gets better and better.

  • Afton Funk

    I think a lot of this also has to do with the changing corporate attitude toward “Talent Management” and what the evolving definition of career opportunities look like. People get bored if they’re doing the same thing for years or if it’s not what they really want to do, and the most effective organizations realize this and proactively manage that talent into roles that better suit both the employee and the company.

    Fundamentally, it’s about flexibility. If you’re hiring people that you think are A players, you’d better plan on having something different for them to be doing in 18-36 mo and let them know about it, or they’ll assume they’re stuck in a dead-end position and look elsewhere.

    This requires more feedback, sooner, and more targeted, and a willingness on the organization’s part to find a new role for this A player to keep them on board that’s different from the “job description” for which they were originally recruited.

  • hrpimpernel

    Enjoyed reading the article. Interesting ‘stats’.
    Without looking deeper into the control aspect of their studies, I would
    be curious to find out the numbers by job category, title, location, industry
    segment, et al. Fluctuations vary greatly by these type of demographics.
    Also, was there any weight applied or investigated on the economic factors
    which also play a large role in whether or not jobs are available, and what the
    criteria may be during those economic phases. Recruiting paradigms and
    job ‘requirements’ have shifted dramatically since 2007 and during the ‘jobless
    recovery’ (playing into the theory of change being driven by jobs versus people’s attitudes).
    If consumers are hesitant to buy, if the housing market is
    less than friendly to consumers, if households have experienced single or
    double digit lay offs affecting their total family incomes, (think about the connection/relationship that aspect has to the middle income/skilled bracket), then it could be plausible to think that people may be conservative on making or considering job changes. Taking the risk to generalize, lower end compensation ranges may see ‘more’ jobs available, but may not have the ability to make the transition due to location and lack of ‘disposable’ income. High end comp ranges may see fewer job opportunities in the broad sense, but many times have golden parachutes, or bigger nest eggs to fall back on to wait it out, or disposable income to support a move to a different location. I would offer the suggestion that these type of factors create pertinent, if not significant impact to this type of report; so the theory that it’s based on the homogenization of wages across the states seems secondary. The perspective that the tenure changes are/were driven by jobs and not people’s attitude, also seems a little bit like a “which came first, the chicken or the egg” phenomenon.

  • Shannon Erdell

    Interesting article. Thanks for sharing. I wonder though…would the stats be different if the economy were better? I get calls and emails daily from disengaged and disenchanted professionals who would leave there jobs for a new opportunity it were available.

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