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.