The average tenure of a US worker is at its longest in history. This is according to the latest figures from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The figures, which were released in September 2014, revealed that a US salaried worker spends an average of 4.6 years on a job.
This is the longest in recent history. In 2002, the average tenure was 3.7 years, and in 1983, the average was 3.5. The 2014 figure is the same as that of 2012 (which was also 4.6 years). When the trend is tracked from 1983, it shows that employees are staying longer on each job.
For employers, such figures should mean good news. It means that they can hang on to their talent for much longer. However, if from recent surveys are anything to go by; the BLS figures aren’t allaying employers’ fears.
Employers Wary of Losing Talent
A survey released by Globoforce in July 2015 found that employee retention/turnover is one of the main challenges facing HRs. The survey – which was carried out in conjunction with the SHRM – found that 40% of HR leaders consider loss of personnel as a top challenge.
The survey also found that 29% of the HR leaders are concerned about finding replacement talent – in case their personnel leave.
Now, for employers, harboring such fears is quite normal. After all, any HR leader worth her salt would definitely worry about their talent. But then, when such fears are looked at in light of the BLS figures, they seem quite misplaced.
However, they are not.
Employers Right To Be Wary
The fact that employees are spending longer on jobs is purely circumstantial. It has nothing to do with job satisfaction, employee engagement or any other known drivers of employee retention. It is simply because they have no choice.
According to Anthony Carnevale – the director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce – today’s employees feel their options are limited. In an interview with Market Watch, Carnevale said:
“People are holding on to their jobs not because they want to, but because they don’t have as much opportunity as they once did.”
This quote should be grounds for employers to get worried. It means that they cannot guarantee that their employees are remaining with their organization out of choice. It also means that given an opportunity, employees will possibly leave. This is because of how employees view their current jobs.
Employees View Their Jobs As Temporary
There is a high possibility that many employees view their current positions as temporary. Basically, they are holding on, while seeking for better opportunities. And as soon as such opportunities present themselves, they will leave.
Now, there are no research studies which directly support this hypothesis. However, if employee engagement statistics are anything to go by, this idea isn’t at all far-fetched.
According to figures released by Gallup in January 2015, less than one-third of US employees (31.5%) are engaged. 50% of employees describe themselves as “not engaged” and 17% as “actively disengaged.”
A number of studies have proved is an inverse relationship between employee engagement and turnover. When engagement levels are high, turnover is low. When engagement levels are low, turnover is high.
Even then, disengaged employees seldom quit immediately. They sometimes remain on the job while waiting for a better opportunity to come along. During this period of waiting, they consider their current position as temporary.
What Would Make Employees Leave
Sometimes, employees leave even though they haven’t necessarily found something better. In such cases, they are pushed out by certain conditions within the organization.
Among the issues which prompt employees to leave are the following:
- Poor management: the most common reason employees give for leaving is “having a bad boss.” Bad bosses are usually poor managers i.e. they don’t know how to handle employees. Examples of bad management habits include using verbal abuse from bosses, sexual harassment, taking credit for employees’ contributions or ideas and embarrassing employees in public.
- Limited career prospects: when employees don’t see the prospect of building their career within the organization, they leave. In most cases, this occurs when there aren’t opportunities for training, growth, development or promotions within the organization.
- Unfavorable working conditions: when employees feel that the working conditions aren’t favorable, they can leave. Unfavorable conditions include unsafe environments, excessively long hours, and schedules which don’t offer a work-life balance.
- Poor remuneration and benefits: when employees perceive that the pay structure isn’t equivalent to the work done, they feel exploited. In such cases, it becomes easy for them to leave.
- Lack of a compelling vision: most employees prefer to find a sense of meaning in their work. They want their work to contribute towards something big and exciting. The only way they can feel this is if they buy into the vision of the organization. If employees don’t understand the vision, or don’t find it compelling enough, then their work feels pointless.
What Employers Can Do
Each employer needs a strategy for retaining their employees. In most cases, retaining employees isn’t difficult. It is a matter of addressing the issues which make employees to want to leave. As soon as those issues are addressed, the majority of employees will be happy to stay.
There is a three-step process which employers can use to increase their chances of retaining employees.
- The first step is to find out the exact reasons which could drive employees away. This can be done through workplace surveys or stay interviews.
- The second step is to design and execute a plan to encourage the employees to stay. The plan should address the reasons found out in the first step. For instance, if the reason discovered is “bad bosses”, possible solutions can include retraining the managers, and establishing a strict code of conduct for them.
- The third step is to evaluate. Upon executing the plan in the second step, an evaluation needs to be carried out. The goal of the evaluation is to gage whether the plan has worked. If it hasn’t, then another plan can be created.
In a nutshell, many employees currently view their jobs as temporary. Fortunately for employers, the numbers of viable opportunities are currently limited. As such, employees have to stay longer at their current jobs. For employers, this provides a unique opportunity. It means that they can change things for the better, and thus increase their chances of retaining employees.
BLS (September 18th, 2014) – Employment Tenure In 2014 (http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/tenure.pdf)
Globoforce (June 22, 2015) – SHRM/Globoforce Survey Reveals Employee Turnover is Top Workforce Challenge Facing HR Leaders (http://www.globoforce.com/news/press-releases/shrmgloboforce-workforce-challenge/)
Market Watch (January 12, 2015) – Typical U.S. worker now lasts 4.6 years on job (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/americans-less-likely-to-change-jobs-now-than-in-1980s-2014-01-10)
Gallup (January 28th, 2015) – Majority of U.S. Employees Not Engaged Despite Gains in 2014 (http://www.gallup.com/poll/181289/majority-employees-not-engaged-despite-gains-2014.aspx)