Your 'loyal' employees? Always looking for the next job.

Bernardo Bieler, a 37-year-old civil engineer, worked on the Palmetto Expressway near Miami back in 2010. He's worked for two other firms since then. "I never planned to be for a short period of time in a particular company," he says.

Bernardo Bieler and his wife, Noemi, who is also a civil engineer and works from home, with their new baby, at home in the City of Doral, Miami-Dade County.

The prospect of getting a ‘career job’ has dwindled for many American workers over the past several decades.

In particular, men over the age of 25 have seen their job tenure decline: from a median of nearly six years at a single job in 1983, to 5.5 years in 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Median job tenure bottomed out around 2000, and has increased somewhat since the Great Recession. Workers are trying to hold on to jobs longer now, in response to persistently high unemployment -- not to mention the difficulty of getting a new job after voluntarily separating from one's current employer.

The decrease in job tenure is most notable among older male workers, according to a report from the Employee Benefit Research Institute. Back in 1983, more than 60 percent of men in their mid-50s had been with the same employer for ten years or more. By 2010, just over 50 percent had. For men in their mid-40s, the percentage with ten years or more in the same organization had fallen from 58 percent to 44 percent.

Many of today’s new workers face extremely short job tenure, in temp work, contract work, and project work. Meanwhile, young professionals are using LinkedIn, Facebook and other social media to network and hunt for new job opportunities online, 24/7. They do this from their current jobs, even if they like the job, consider it a career-builder, and plan to stay for a while. They make and maintain professional connections with fellow bankers, or software engineers—or hiring managers—inside the organizations of customers and competitors. These job-holding job-seekers are always on the hunt for the next better thing.

"If you’re under the age of thirty, you’re likely to hold upwards of 15 to 20 jobs throughout your career," says Dan Finnigan, CEO of the employment recruiting site Jobvite, and former general manager of Yahoo! Hotjobs. “If you do the math—that means you’re going to be changing jobs about every three to four years.”

Finnigan says recent recessions have led to massive layoffs, followed by weak job recoveries. So employment—even for well-educated and -trained professionals—is never a sure thing.

"Employees must be prepared in case anything happens," says Finnigan. "So job-seekers are always shopping for the next job. They don’t believe any one company’s going to provide them a career."

If Dan Finnigan has the view of these labor-market trends from up on the overpass, Bernardo Bieler sees them from the ground up.

He’s 37, a civil engineer, originally from Venezuela. His field of expertise is transportation and water resources, and he showed us one slice of infrastructure he worked on a few years ago—the Palmetto Expressway expansion near Miami. Bieler designed drainage ponds for rainwater.

“I performed a lot of modeling using different storms—a storm that happens every five, ten, twenty-five, fifty, one hundred years,” Bieler explains, surveying the completed project, a ten-minute drive from his house in Miami-Dade County. "I have driven here on a rainy day, and I see it working."

Bieler’s proud of the drainage pond, proud of the work his technical team did on the expressway expansion.

But when we sit down back at his home, he tells us that he didn’t stick with that company for very long.

"Since 2008, I have worked in three different companies," says Bieler. "Honestly, I never planned to be in a particular company for a short period of time. But different circumstances encouraged me to change employers."

Bieler didn’t like the way one company treated its employees. Another was losing business and breaking up teams of engineers as it trimmed expenses.

Bieler has two young children (his wife is also a civil engineer who works from home). He says he very much wants job stability now. Still, in a time when the economy and construction are picking up, he and other engineers get headhunted regularly.

"That might be uncomfortable, because you’re not looking for a change, you really want to develop a strong relationship with your current employer,” Bieler muses. “So having that interrupted is never part of the plan."

But actually, it is part of someone’s plan: the employer trying to steal someone else’s employees away.

Scott Schaefer knows this game first-hand. He’s Enterprise Director of Human Capital Strategy in the human resources department at Sanford Health, based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. It’s a fast-growing nonprofit medical network with 26,000 employees in the Upper Midwest.

“The age of LinkedIn and Facebook—all this social media—has really expanded our ability to recruit,” says Schaefer, “but it’s also expanded our employees in terms of looking for other work as well.”

Schaefer readily admits that his trolling on all those social-media sites, looking for professional talent to poach all over the country, creates something of a loyalty paradox.

“We want those folks to jump ship,” Schaefer says, “and we want that talent here. So we recruit them. But that’s also why we invest in things like employee engagement, so that they want to stay here, so that they are loyal to Sanford once they’re here.”

Maybe he shouldn’t count on it, though.

Even professionals who like their jobs are on the lookout for new opportunities pretty much all the time these days.

Elizabeth Shapiro is 28, she graduated from the University of California-Santa Cruz and now lives in Los Angeles. She just got a new job in business development and investor relations at a regional business organization. She's held four jobs since college. The most recent--at the San Francisco Food Bank--lasted five years.

Shapiro likes her new job a lot. She says it’s challenging, and promising, and she hopes it lasts at least another five years.

Still, she stays active on LinkedIn, and she knows potential employers might look her up.

“I don’t think it undermines my commitment or loyalty to my current employer,” she says, “because that relationship is a two-way street. At any time they could fire me for whatever reason that they needed to. And at any time I could quit and go do something else.”

Shapiro has a philosophy about the current work world.

“As employers continue to show less loyalty to their employees over the past fifty years, employees kind of reflect that,” she says. “They know they need to keep their options open. Because your pension might not be there, your benefits might not be there, you could get laid off at any time.”

About the author

Mitchell Hartman is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Entrepreneurship Desk and also covers employment.

Bernardo Bieler and his wife, Noemi, who is also a civil engineer and works from home, with their new baby, at home in the City of Doral, Miami-Dade County.

Log in to post6 Comments

When I was a rookie IT recruiter 30 years ago in Toronto, prior to mass layoffs by supposedly paternal corporations like IBM and AT&T, it was very difficult to get people to pull people out of companies due to their strong loyalty to those companies. This necessitated that we address the question "will you actually leave?" from the very first contact and throughout the entire interviewing and offer process. I vividly recall the answer I received from a long time GM employee: "I have a bi-weekly exchange of loyalty with GM, I work, they pay me and beyond that we don't owe each other anything."

I've had 10 jobs so far, so 15 to 20 jobs for my kids sounds like a potential average. And I've been loyal to the end, first moving before the business died and lately being RIF'd before the business died. I've been RIF'd four times in the past 4.5 years, so I'd say my kids will not be loyal. Anyone thinking that anybody or anything is loyal is really kidding themselves. LinkedIn exists because public and venture backed companies care more about their quarter than their employees.

While it is certainly true that American workers have been reduced to a dispensable commodity in today’s workplace and global economy, it is certainly not true that loyalty cuts both ways or that employees and employers are equally empowered. Here are a few examples of why:

1) Workers are expected to give notice when they decide to move on, and have good reasons, which must be justified to future employers and state unemployment agencies; employers may terminate with no notice at all, and don’t have to explain anything to anybody.

2) When a worker is unemployed, he or she is at the mercy of private employment agencies, which make no secret of the fact that their “clients” are employers. These agencies will honor the requests of their clients, even when those requests are discriminatory. The latitude for conflict of interest in this arrangement is wide; in my personal experience, I have had to reveal my current place of employment in order to satisfy an agreement by several employers (clients) not to hire each others’ employees, in the interest of keeping wages down.

3) We live in a global economy—a world in which there is an oversupply of labor—and our immigration laws are not enforced. Also, companies are constantly lobbying Congress to boost the legal level of H1 visas, making the excuse that domestic labor isn’t skilled or educated enough. Labor has no such advantage, and can only go into debt for tens of thousands of dollars in hopes of becoming more “marketable.” As both parties cave in to this specious claim, labor continually loses out to capital, with financiers laughing all the way to the bank. (The argument that unions will prevent us from becoming globally competitive needs to be countered with one that calls for a globally unionized workforce, as a way of checking full-on corporate rule devoid of democracy and the democratic rights of individuals.)

4) The ’08 financial collapse has brought on an employers’ market that has allowed employers to make more demands on employees (and that isn’t going away until governments start expanding their public sectors—an alternative way of empowering employees). Over the last thirty years, we have developed an anti-government/pro-informal workplace culture, with many employers (corporations) feeling empowered to play one employee, state, or country off against the other. Benefits, holidays, pensions, health care? Are you kidding? I’m happy to find an employer that doesn’t insist on paying under the table and will send me a W2 form at the end of the year.

Personally "at will" employment allows both the company and the individual to best manage the dynamics of a job market. Unless you are a core leader within a company most companies do not do a good job of retaining key talents, which is their own problem, usually related to greed. Thus, most companies are forced to parse work loads so that people become a commodity...which may or may not work, depending upon the business and business model.

Smart companies do what is needed to keep key players...key players do what they need to do to grow their careers. So the free market system does work I think.

You are only fooling yourself if you are a manager and you are keeping your pay scales low with key people. You will lose them, and it's your fault.

Companies and HR people need to 1) get over it and 2) modernize and get with the times. Here's why all this is happening:

1) Even for entry-level jobs, companies want some experience. Graduating in '01, I had a hell of a time finding a job because of the dotcom implosion, 9/11, and lack of internships - even small businesses hardly gave me a shot; it took a while wandering the desert before locking things down -- the conditions in '01 are exactly the same now and have been since '07 - so employees gotta fend for themselves
2) At Will - works both ways. You the employer can fire at any time - likewise we the employees can hunt for better pastures and leave at any time. Why expect loyalty when you give none?
3) On Loyalty - company loyalty gets a worker WHAT exactly? Guaranteed raises? Guaranteed bonuses? Guaranteed pensions? I have a friend who worked for a company, put in 7 years especially while they transitioned after the dotcom implosion - then, they let her go. She was livid at first, having put 7 years there. She moved on to bigger and better pastures. She got no pension for those 7 years - only a 401K which SHE puts into.
4) Economic forces on companies - my friend's experience segues into this point nicely: companies watch out for their bottomline - and that means trimming the workforce - the BIGGEST operational cost for a company. Which then leads companies to cut off experienced workers/managers who may be paid a premium - in favor of a cheaper worker/manager who can be promoted and is "hungry" for the opportunity. Thus if a company is quick to trim off expensive though seasoned workers, they should not expect any loyalty
5) If you are pushing less experienced workers into taking more responsibilities and "wearing different hats", in the hopes/expectations of them stepping up and being hungry - well expect that hunger to be fed continually. Just like a company needs to keep setting higher sales and conversion goals, the worker has higher and higher goals - especially if you put him/her in a position of more responsibility -- after all, why should the worker doing everything that a manager does, but not make manager money?
6) Salaries - while young people increasingly have ridiculous expectations of getting high salaries right away, seasoned workers have even MORE rights to expect higher salaries. And if companies can't offer that, what's the point? If companies can't offer salaries and other compensation - guaranteed bonuses, stocks or stock options, etc - what is the point?
7) "He's not that into you" - Many companies try to market themselves as some great place to work for or work at. But the truth is, there are virtually no companies that are exciting enough for someone to say "gosh darn it, i love it soooo much. i wish i can work here forever!". Even Marissa Meyers, one of the founding group of believers of Google at its inception, eventually bolted for Yahoo.
8) Resume builders - most companies are nothing more than resume builders. that's how workers see it, that's how they approach it.
9) Who's Number One - Worker or Company? - That's a simple answer - always, the worker is number one to himself or herself. Period. He/she has to look out for himself/herself. Whether the reasons are for money, opportunity, lifestyle change or all of the above - the worker is out for him/herself. Take Marissa Meyers again as example. She was one of the early founding employees of Google - and she had it good, and is already filthy rich. Yet she still bolted for Yahoo. Why? Because her name is bigger at the head of Yahoo than a cog in Google.
10) Free Market or Socialized Unions - Reality: it's the free labor market. Workers are free to go where they please for their own reasons. Accept that bouncing around jobs is part of the game. The NFL with the free agency, lets players test the market - and go to the highest bidder. Peyton Manning went to Denver when Indy didn't want to afford him anymore. Joe Montana, Brett Favre, and others all stayed at one team for a while but then was forced or elected to go to another team. That's the free labor market. If you want guaranteed loyalty, you need to make guaranteed contracts.

If you can have CEOs sign contracts for x-yrs with this and that compensation, you should do the same thing, especially for seasoned talent. And this will also work for entry level talent as well - guaranteeing that you get to get your money's worth for the investment you make into the new talent.

And I believe seasoned, experienced workers, should be treated like CEOs. Those who are managers, specialty department managers, should be treated like CEOs, offered set contracts with no-compete clauses, guaranteed bonuses, stock options, benefits, etc. You guarantee yourself a leader and experienced manager for the next x-yrs until the contract is up. That's how you retain talent.

And this will work for entry-levels: guaranteed tenure, with them getting all the experience to prepare them for their next move. and if they prove to be exceptional and love it at your company, then you can promote them within.

But in short - this is the new paradigm. Accept it.


Dear Mitchell,

Good day !

Job loyalty cuts both ways and John M Capozzi has rightly coined these business maxims :

1. "No job has a future. Only you have a future".

2. "Management recruiters like to offer good jobs to people who already have good jobs".

3. "We can't all be executives. Someone has to actually do the work".

4. "Americans don't like to buy something they can't pronounce".

5. "You know it's time to retire when nobody knows the difference".


FCA Prashant Chavan
Partner - Risk Assurance
P S Chavan & Co
Mumbai, India

With Generous Support From...