Remember the days of the engraved gold watch, that special gift presented to loyal employees as a reward for long service?

Chances are that you don’t — especially if you started your career in this century. The world of work has changed so much over the past two decades that glittering timepieces marking long tenure at a single firm have become symbols of a bygone age: like acid washed jeans, rotary telephones or ads for cigarettes on TV.   

Unlike in previous decades, today’s workers expect to move between roles, companies and even career fields.

But just how often do they make these changes? Recently, Indeed conducted a study of U.S. workers across industries to learn just how often employees change roles — and why they’re doing it. Let’s take a look at the results.

What is the average tenure in today's workplace?

Listen to the hype and you may start to feel as though job-hopping is rampant, but survey results show that the average job tenure is actually around 7 years. Longer tenures are relatively common, with a fifth of workers saying they’re been in their current position for more than 10 years and more than a third reporting that they’ve been in their position for 5-10 years.  

A chart illustrating the length of time employees have spent in their current position.
This pie chart is broken out to show how long employees have spent in their current positions. 5.6% say less than a year, 16.7% say one to two years, 23.6% say three to four years, 34.1% say five to ten years and 19.9% say more than 10 years. That means 54% of employees have been in the same role for at least five years.

And while millennials are notorious for serial job hopping, it turns out that this much-maligned demographic may be getting a bad rap. The average 25-34 year old reports having worked in the same role for 4 years. This may not compare to the decades-long tenures of years past, but it isn’t that far behind Gen X — and you can contribute a lot to a firm in four years (as well as learn important skills).

As you might expect, the older workers surveyed were more likely to have longer tenures. Gen X employees (aged 35-44) report working in the same position for an average of 7 years, workers aged 45-54 years old have been in the same position for an average of 10 years and workers aged 55-64 have remained in the same position for 11 years on average.

Why do employees change roles?

Employee job moves don’t always involve taking on a position at a new company. Many of the workers we surveyed simply changed jobs within their current companies.

A graph illustrating the reasons people switch roles internally, broken out by percentage.
This graph shows the breakdown of reasons why people change roles internally, within the same company. More than two-thirds, 64.4%, list career advancement as a consideration. From there, the reasons in declining order are as follows: expand my skills at 41.8%, compensation/benefits at 38%, promotion at 36.5%, flexibility and lifestyle at 8.9%, work environment at 8.5%, new location at 7.6% and finally, other at only 1.3%.

The top reason cited for an internal move was a desire for further career advancement (64.4%), followed by an interest in expanding skills (41.8%) These reasons suggest that employers and department leaders can increase employee satisfaction by creating more opportunities for development and enrichment.

It may come as a surprise that most employees don’t make these types of moves to get better pay. Well under half (38%) of workers pointed to a desire for better compensation and benefits as the reasons for switching roles within their companies.

Why do employees change companies?

Employees who decide to change companies point to a slightly different breakdown of motivations.

A graph illustrating the reasons people change jobs and move to a new company, broken out by percentage.
This graph shows the breakdown of reasons why people change jobs and move to a new company. Career advancement and compensation are the most frequently cited, nearly tied at 41.4% and 41.2%, respectively. Trailing behind at 27.8% is work environment, descending from there in the following order: work-life balance at 24.1%, moved to a new location at 18.2%, better commute at 14.7%, switch industries at 13.1%, flexibility at 10.6% and finally, other with 6.7%.

Understandably, dissatisfaction with a manager or work environment played a much bigger role (27.8% for employees changing companies vs. 8.5% switching jobs internally), as it’s easier to escape a poor environment by moving to a new company.

Career advancement remains at the top, but this time it’s cited by fewer people (41.4% vs. 64.6%), which may suggest that employees start out looking for internal opportunities for advancement before they move to outside companies.

Coming in right behind career advancement, 41.2% of respondents say they’re interested in better compensation and benefits. It makes sense that this percentage is much higher among employees who leave their companies and who may feel that an internal move is less likely to result in significant compensation changes.

What does this mean for employers?

By studying the top reasons behind employee moves, we can develop more effective strategies for improving employe retention. To hold on to top workers for longer, companies should focus on compensating employees fairly and giving them more opportunities to develop and advance.

In other words, invest in your employees and they will be invested in your firm. Here are some strategies you can use to put this into practice:

  • Offer competitive salaries and benefits – Be aware of the salaries and benefit packages in your industry and geographical area to ensure that your offers are competitive. You’ll not only motivate top employees to stay, but you’ll attract a stronger pool of new talent.
  • Develop programs focused on skill-building – Give employees an achievable path to advancement. Offer support, structured programs and mentoring opportunities to help them hone the skills they’ll need to move to the next level at your company.
  • Cultivate a supportive corporate culture – A supportive, inclusive culture goes a long way toward retaining talent. While it helps to enact small changes, the best way to change your business’s culture is by starting at the top and incorporating these changes into the company’s hiring and personnel management programs.
  • Recognize achievement  – The survey shows that employees want to see tangible rewards for their achievement, and they report a slight preference for compensation over promotions. However, there are many ways you can recognize accomplishment, from outstanding achievement awards handed out on a regular basis (and it’s great to include a financial component here) to offering learning opportunities for top performers.

Companies that see the best retention success truly value their employees. By recognizing success, providing pathways for advancement and cultivating a supportive culture, firms will give their top employees more reasons to stay onboard for longer.