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More U.S. workers stay put in their jobs

AK Steel Corp. and Aleris Rolled Products in Cleveland top Ohio with most ‘loyal’ workforce.

U.S. workers are changing jobs less frequently, and many employees are staying put because of a lack of other opportunities.

The median length of time workers stay on their jobs has increased since 2000, and median employee tenure rose last year to the highest level since at least 1983, according to federal data.

Job-hopping has largely declined because workers do not have many other options, since hiring remains weak and the labor market has shown only minor improvement, some researchers said.

“It has nothing to do with loyalty,” said Peter Cappelli, George W. Taylor Professor of Management at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. “One can’t leave unless there is a job to go to.”

But some veteran workers said they made long-term commitments to their employers because they like their jobs and they receive fair pay, benefits and retirement plans.

Some industries are more adept at retaining their workforces than others, and some companies claim their retention success stems from valuing and rewarding experience and institutional knowledge.

In 2012, the median tenure of U.S. workers 16 and older rose to 4.6 years, up from 4.4 years in 2010 and up one full year from the late 1980s, according to survey data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Median tenure means half of U.S. workers had more tenure and half had less.

The median length of time workers stayed with the same employers fell in the late 1990s, when the stock market was booming during the Dot-com craze and unemployment was at the lowest levels in decades.

Job stability

But tenure began rising in the early 2000s, and it has reached new heights, at least in recent history.

The workforce is aging, and older workers are more likely to have job stability.

In 2012, more than half of workers between the ages of 55 and 64 had 10 years or more tenure with the same employer, while only 10 percent of workers 25 to 34 were in the same position, according to the bureau.

The median tenure of women has also been increasing, closing the gap in length of employment between men and women. Women have accounted for a growing share of workers in management and professional occupations, which are fields where workers typically have more tenure, the bureau said.

But employee tenure often increases when the economy struggles because there are fewer jobs available and fewer workers are lured into switching jobs by the prospect of higher pay and benefits and more appealing work, said Craig Copeland, a senior research associate with the Employee Benefit Research Institute, based in Washington, D.C.

“In some cases, when there are a lot of jobs available, you’ll see median tenure go down because people are changing jobs more often,” Copeland said. “Sometimes, tenure going up can be an indicator of fear — things aren’t going well, and people feel they have to stay put because there are not other opportunities.”

The downturn also caused some people to delay retiring after their finances and saving took a hit. People kept working, often at the same companies, to rebuild some of the wealth the recession destroyed.

“Some people aren’t retiring in the private-sector because they want to make up for a loss of income or 401(k) plan losses,” Copeland said.

The downturn has also helped employers retain workers without having to offer the attractive compensation and retirement packages they once did, because employers do not fear losing workers to other companies because the economy is lousy, some experts said.

Employers have shown no interest in hanging onto employees, and layoffs are as common as ever, said Cappelli, with the Wharton School.

“Attitude surveys indicate that the majority if employees want to look for a new job as soon as companies start to hire again,” he said.

A 50-year veteran

But many workers stay with their employers for long stretches because they like their jobs, and they do not see an advantage to jumping ship.

Mary Marshall has worked for Staco Energy Products in Dayton for 50 years.

She was hired at the company in 1963 as a receptionist back when the company was Standard Electric Products Co.

Marshall said she had no clue when she started working for the company at the age of 21 that she would still work there five decades later. But she never moved on because she was treated fairly and the work was engaging.

Staco Energy Products manufactures voltage controls, transformers, regulators and power conditioners for industrial and consumer markets.

“I’ve seen a lot of people go to work when they hate going to work and they only work because they need a paycheck,” she said. “I feel blessed that I was able to go to work and get a paycheck and liked doing it.”

Multiple workers in southwest Ohio with 10 years or more time with the same companies told the Dayton Daily News they made long-term commitments to their employers because they have good and stable jobs.

“Honda has been very good to me,” said Mark Sanders, who has worked for Honda of America for almost 30 years. “I have had many opportunities to leave Honda for another company, but stable and well compensated employment is more important to me than a maybe.”

Payscale Inc., which collects and analyzes information about employee compensation, found that Eastman Kodak Co. had the most “loyal” employees among Fortune 500 companies, with median employee tenure at 20 years.

AK Steel Corp., which is based in Middletown and West Chester, was one of only two Ohio companies to make Payscale’s list, and its workforce was tied for the 11th most loyal, with median employee tenure at eight years. Aleris Rolled Products in Cleveland ranked second on the list.

“At AK Steel, in a business like ours that is typically viewed as a commodity business, it is our people, our products and our approach that set us apart,” said Mike Wallner, company spokesman. “Indeed, we have incredibly loyal and dedicated employees who help differentiate our company from our competitors.”

Manufacturing firms dominated Payscale’s list of companies with the highest tenure.

Median employee tenure varies by industry and career field, and manufacturing firms had a median tenure of six years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Median tenure ranged from a low of 2.1 years in food services and drinking places to a high of 9.7 years in paper and printing manufacturing, the bureau said.

Public-sector workers have a median length of employment of 9.5 years, and often government workers are rewarded for longevity because they are members of unions and still are eligible for defined-benefit contribution plans, experts said.

“It’s the one area of the economy that still has the strong retiree benefits and pensions,” Copeland said.

Chuck Brewer, 64, of Monroe, worked for AK Steel for 33 years at the Middletown plant before retiring in 2006.

He said his longevity is attributable to the seniority he achieved and his desire to avoid forfeiting the retirement benefits he had accumulated. Companies that still provide traditional pensions provide workers with an incentive to stay, whereas 401(k) defined-contribution plans allow mobility, since workers can roll them over into their new employers’ plans.

“After you are there for so long, you are invested in the place,” he said. “There was one time I thought about moving to Florida… But going down there, I would have had to start at the bottom and lose my seniority.”

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