Employee tenure, or job tenure, is the length of time a person has worked for a particular employer. HR professionals usually categorize job tenure into two groups: long and short. Some employers view tenure as an essential criterion for hiring new people.

What is an average employee tenure?

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average tenure was 4.1 years in 2020. There are several factors affecting employee tenure, including age and industry. Younger people tend to change jobs more frequently than older people. People working in service industries usually have lower tenure than those in law, architecture, and engineering occupations.

Why is tenure important?

Job tenure is one factor that may give HR professionals insight into a person’s character and suitability for a job. While it’s not always true, some see employee tenure as an indicator of a person’s quality as an employee. Staying longer with a particular employer can indicate qualities like loyalty, stability, commitment, and focus. It also indicates that a person has had time to build expertise in their field.

That being said, shorter tenure does not necessarily mean a person lacks expertise or commitment. There are many reasons why somebody may leave a job, including compensation, job satisfaction, personal reasons, and a mismatch between the person and their role.

Types of job tenure

As mentioned above, there are two types of job tenure: long and short.

  • Long tenure: With the average job tenure currently sitting at around four years, long tenure is defined as five years or more with a single employer
  • Short tenure: Two years or fewer with a single employer is considered by most to be short tenure

What is academic tenure?

In academia, the word tenure is used slightly differently than it is in HR, sometimes confusing people as to the term’s actual meaning. As opposed to the definition of tenure we’ve given above, academic tenure is a distinction that a professor can receive after they’ve demonstrated their commitment to their role and institution. When a professor gets tenure, they have a certain type of job security in which their employer cannot terminate them except in extreme situations. 

The term is also used in the context of tenure track positions, a progression of job promotions from assistant professor to associate professor to professor.

Advantages of job tenure

For employers, advantages of people with long tenure include:

  • Loyalty
  • Greater expertise and knowledge in their field
  • A proven track record of motivation and commitment
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Disadvantages of job tenure

That being said, there are also disadvantages of long job tenure. For example:

  • Limited learning and growth
  • Stagnating without the opportunity for promotion
  • Complacency and comfort that creates lower performance
  • Burn-out and losing interest in one’s work

Why should employee tenure be a part of modern HR strategy?

The employee lifecycle naturally terminates with separation, meaning that people of any employee type will eventually move on from their current employer. But the length of time a person stays at a single organization (their tenure) can indicate many things, including the depth of their expertise and loyalty to their employer. As an HR professional, paying attention to a person’s average tenure at a job is one way to learn a bit more about them to help you make hiring decisions.