Potential reasons for increased employee ‘loyalty’

Workers may be staying put due to lack of opportunity

Brian Kreissl

By Brian Kreissl

I find it interesting how recent studies have found perceptions that job-hopping is at an all-time high to be completely false. However, it isn’t the findings I am surprised by, but the conclusions some people have drawn from those studies. While some experts believe this proves today’s employees are more loyal, I believe there are other possible reasons for the phenomenon.

There has been an awful lot of hand-wringing among employers in recent years about the supposed lack of loyalty on the part of employees. Generation Y employees in particular are often chastised for being too quick to jump ship when things aren’t going quite their way in a job.

According to the stereotypes, today’s young workers expect a promotion within the first six months on the job and are ready to leave a job if the organization’s values don’t mesh with their own or there is insufficient work-Iife balance. However, some commentators have said that the statistics on job tenure these days simply don’t support that belief.

I have personally warned against the dangers of stereotyping an entire generation in a previous post. But, while I am not saying Generation Y employees aren’t loyal to their employers, I believe there are other factors at play beyond loyalty, regardless of an employee’s age or generational cohort.

Increased job tenure

No doubt, it is interesting to see how today’s workers aren’t the job hoppers many people assume they are. For example, workers in the United States had an average job tenure of 4.6 years in 2012, up from 3.7 years in 2002 and 3.5 years in 1983.

Yet, I believe a couple of the reasons why employees are so “loyal” these days are the job market is still pretty bad and employers have become far too choosy. This has resulted in a whole lot of people staying in their jobs long-term when they would have preferred to move on.

In an article by Quentin Fottrell on MarketWatch.com, Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, commented that people are not changing jobs because of lack of opportunity, as opposed to a conscious decision to stay put. The same article points out that older employees have the greatest tenure these days – largely because many are delaying retirement. Yet job tenure is up among younger employees as well.

The downside of employee ‘loyalty’

There’s little upward mobility in many organizations today, with the result that even people who are fairly ambitious sometimes get labeled as being “steady Eddies.” Flatter organizational structures mean there are fewer promotional opportunities, and even lateral moves can be difficult to secure – especially when there is a great deal of competition for internal vacancies.

Many people realize that career paths today typically have more of a lattice pattern than the traditional ladder. Career growth and development today generally require a mix of promotional and lateral moves.

Because career change and lateral job transfers are easier to make internally than through external job changes, many employees are staying with their employers longer rather than changing organizations. That is fine as long as employees are getting the types of learning and development they need, but often they would be better off going elsewhere to further their careers.

But actually applying for and landing a job elsewhere has become more challenging in this day and age due to fierce competition from an increased number of candidates and the fact that employers have become much more choosy than in the past. I have commented on this several times, but part of this relates to applicant tracking systems and the way they’re configured, employers providing very little training to new recruits and insisting on hiring only “purple squirrel” candidates for vacancies.

While increased job tenure should be seen as a good news story, forcing employees to stay put because they don’t have any other options is hardly a recipe for enhanced employee engagement. It is important to remember that not all turnover is unhealthy, and keeping an employee in a job or an organization against her will doesn’t help anyone in the long-run.

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