Adam, a 32-year-old architect in Denver, was nervous while looking for jobs in the spring of 2009. Though he was graduating from a top university in architecture with a high GPA, the economy was still reeling from the 2008 financial crisis and the job market was similarly hurting. He watched several applications go unnoticed until the local Denver firm he interned at the summer before offered him a full-time gig. Relieved, Adam found an apartment and went into work the following Monday.
Ten years later, nothing has changed. Every morning, he parks his car in the same parking lot, gets a cup of coffee from the same coffee machine and even still wears a few of the same shirts he had a decade ago, too. “The days just turned into weeks, the weeks turned into months and the months turned into years,” he tells me.
According to the data, this makes Adam an outlier. Most people his age and younger are known for leaving one job for another after just 2.8 years, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Be it for a change of scenery, a new boss or because it’s the only way to advance their career, millennials and Gen Z-ers tend not to stick around very long.
So why has Adam stayed at his company for more than 10 years? Is there a secret to such longevity? Or is it just inertia? I talked to both him and Kevin, another millennial working the same job since college, to find out.
“I spent a year without a job. So when I got my current job, I didn’t want to mess with the good thing I found.”
Like Adam, Kevin, a 31-year-old in Chicago who’s worked for 10 years as an in-house video producer for an international sales company, found an immense sense of relief after getting any kind of job post-recession. “I spent a year out of school without a job and no prospects,” he explains. “So when I got my current job, I was just happy to find something, which has kept me from looking elsewhere — I don’t want to mess with the good thing I found! Because one day I could be back to feeling jobless again.”
“I’m definitely an outlier for my age group at my company in terms of sticking around,” he continues. “Everyone who started around the same time as me is gone, and most new hires stay about three to four years max.”
Kevin doesn’t see the turnover as a generational thing, however. “There’s just not a lot of growth here, and what we do isn’t too sexy or exciting,” he says. “I’ve had a few more opportunities than other people, and I still feel kinda stuck where I am, so I can understand why people have left.”
“It freaks me out that I might soon be the second-most tenured employee in the company.”
While Kevin settled into his job right away, Adam says it took him about six years to feel comfortable. He’s in a very niche sect of architecture, meaning there’s always a new technique, a new technology or a new process to learn. It’s a bit of double-edged sword, though: Because while the job never really grows stale, it’s not exactly easy to transfer over his skill set to another company either. “I’d be able to take some base skills I’ve learned to other jobs, but otherwise, moving to another job would mean throwing away 10 years of hard work,” he explains.
Meanwhile, at his own company, Adam says there’s a good chance he could become its second-most senior architect within five years — a thought he finds frightening. In his mind, such seniority is reserved for employees who are in their 50s and 60s. “I wouldn’t say I have impostor syndrome,” he says. “But I do feel like the confidence and wealth of knowledge held by the current most senior people is so much more than where I’m at right now. So it freaks me out to think I’m not far from being put in their position.”
That said, he’s found real value in his work — and his bosses have found real value in him. “My first boss is semi-retired, but he always had my back and was really good to me starting out, especially when I was asking thousands of questions. And my new boss is someone I know and have worked with a lot,” Adam tells me. “We get along really well, and he’s always understanding about me sometimes needing a flexible schedule.”
“My hours are flexible enough that I can go to the gym for an hour if I need to during the day, I can leave to pick up my kids or work from home when they’re sick,” he says. “It’s been a huge perk.”
Adam’s company has also been “good about promotions, and working with me to not travel as much now that I have a family. It’s just too hard to be going out to jobs for weeks on end when I have a family at home, so them working with me there was big.”
“There’s always this fear that I’d be going to a job that’s a lot worse.”
Two years ago, Adam tested the job market. Like many people who stay at one company for an extended period of time, he witnessed a new CEO slowly winnow down benefits. “He needed to correct the path the company had been put on by the former CEO, which is fine and understandable, but one day, without warning, he laid off about 15 percent of the staff,” Adam tells me. “Out of nowhere, all these people I’d worked with for nearly a decade lost their job.”
With the layoffs came more cuts. “Small things began to get cut that changed the company culture a lot,” Adam continues. “The yearly company outing that everyone loved was gone, our health insurance got more expensive and they stopped matching our 401(k).”
Scared he was on the chopping block, too, Adam dipped his toe into the job market, but ultimately decided against making the switch. “My mindset has changed now; I value the stability, benefits and flexible hours at my current job more than I did before. Taking my chances at a new job — where I don’t have the wealth of knowledge I do here and where I may not be as respected and liked as I am here — is too much a gamble.
Not to mention, he adds, “I have two kids now, so I want to take care of them.”
Kevin doesn’t have kids, but the sentiment is similar. “I’ve realized I don’t need a lot from my job,” he explains. In fact, he’s mostly looking to get paid for a job he doesn’t hate — something that he can’t say for certain would be true of a new one. “There’s always this fear that I’d be going to something worse. I’m comfortable with where I’m at. I’m not always happy, but I know a lot of people worse off.”
“Could I be working harder, being more creative or more productive? Sure,” he continues. “But my bosses are happy with my production, and they like the work I do. So the benefits of not being completely overworked and stressed outweigh the desire to move on.
“As long as I’m able to earn enough and get enough vacation time to live my real life, I’m happy. So far, my company has provided that, and in return, I’ve stayed.”