The holidays are a prime time for catching up with old friends, and this year was no exception. Friends’ accounts of past year activities often include information about their children and their evolving careers. One story in particular caught my attention.
My friend’s son is a millennial, whose employment situation is somewhat unique, in that he’s voluntarily changed jobs three times in the last five years. As a project manager, he’s used this series of consecutive, new positions as an opportunity to enhance his skill set and to broaden his experience. And most notable, with each of those job changes, in exchange for an increased set of responsibilities, he’s been able to negotiate pay increases of roughly 20 percent.
So What... We All Know Millennials Are Job Hoppers
Maybe not. Or, maybe not as much as we thought. The recent recession seems to have had a good deal to do with influencing behaviors and unraveling this myth about millenials. During the 80’s, about half the workers in the 20 to 25 year age group changed jobs each year. In the post-recession period, that number dropped to about one-third. There’s been speculation about whether the Great Recession would modify the behavior of worker’s predisposition to change jobs. This certainly has been evidenced by the dramatic dip in voluntary turnover at the height of the recession for all workers – when those who had jobs were understandably reluctant to risk switching, given the economic uncertainty.
This seems to also be holding true for millenials, as the median time between job changes for this group has increased from 2.7 years in 2002, to 3.2 years in 2012. And while the recent overall unemployment figures have shown improvement, millenials are also likely influenced by an awareness of their good fortune of even having a job – where unemployment in this age category was estimated to be almost 13 percent in 2013.
If He Can Move For A Big Raise, So Can I
Maybe not. My friend’s son also appears to be unique, in that while not yet beyond the 27 year old threshold, and perhaps not one of the “1 percenters” for his age category (those earning a salary greater than 99 percent of others in his age group), from what I know, he does seem to inhabit the 5 percenter, or maybe the 10 percenter group.
Source: The Glass Ceiling and The Paper Floor: Gender Differences Among Top Earners, 1981 - 2012
The Reasons to Stay - The Drivers to Move
So, as a presumed high performer, why not just stay with your current organization, accumulate additional skills and experience, and advance rapidly internally? The further back story on my friend’s son reveals that with the median wages for his age category remaining flat, pay increases even for above average performers in his prior organizations still only hovered in the 4 – 6 percent range. Given projected average U.S. wage growth of 0.3 percent per quarter, coupled with the gradual elimination of the prior tools that helped enhance employee loyalty (i.e. pay increases, pensions, etc.), simple economics often drives the decision to change jobs for more money – if that option realistically exists.
Is Changing Jobs ... Changing?
An uptick in voluntary job changes is viewed as a positive economic indicator, and is usually a forerunner to a general run-up of wage levels – as employers respond to the tighter labor supply side signal. Job changes early in a career are also generally viewed as beneficial, as workers seek positions that are either a better fit, pay more – or perhaps both.
So, if advancement – including financial gains in the current economic climate - continues to provide constrained rewards to most workers, voluntary job changes may continue to be the most lucrative avenue for most workers to move up. What can’t be predicted will be the willingness of millennials – or workers of any age category, to leave an existing position and to take the risk of changing jobs in the future – given their experience and learned behavior, courtesy of the recent recession. Another unknown is even the availability of opportunities for the average worker to move up by changing jobs in the future U.S. economy. Or will these opportunities be so few that they will be claimed only by those who comprise the 1 percent group of top performers? If this does foretell the future, just remember that you heard it here first . . . or maybe second.
Everyone probably has a different perspective. What's yours?
Chris Dobyns, CCP, CBP, is Manager of the Office of Human Resource Strategies for one of the largest U.S. intelligence agencies. The Office of Human Resource Strategies is responsible for compensation and incentives, occupational structure, recognition and rewards, HR policy, and human capital program evaluation and assessment for his Agency. Chris has worked in the area of compensation for more than 30 years, and has been employed in various compensation-related positions by a number of large, private sector companies including, Sears, Roebuck, Arizona Public Service and Westinghouse Savannah River Company.
Image "Game of Chess" courtesy of zole4 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net