Six year itch: Is it time to look for another job?

There comes a time in everyone's career when it's time to look for another job. For whatever reason, things aren't working out as you'd hoped or expected - perhaps because you've taken a role that isn’t really suited to you, or there are limited promotion prospects. Maybe you're just fed up of staring at the same four walls day-in, day-out and are in need of a new challenge.

The question is, when does this phenomenon typically occur for UK employees? Are there any patterns of behaviour when it comes to the best time to look for another job and handing your notice in? Research conducted by OfficeTeam suggests that there are. The research discovered that employees commonly experience a 'six-year itch' in the workplace, working just over half a decade in their job before seeking a new career opportunity.

So why six years?

What is it about this six-year timeframe? Why is this the average length of time employees spend in a single job? Perhaps it is the optimum length of time they need to settle into their role, become a specialist at what they do, and then get frustrated by the daily norm. After six years in the same role, many employees may believe they have the skills and experience to do something else and move on up the jobs ladder.

We've seen a few examples of the 'six-year itch' in action already in 2014. Coronation Street actress Michelle Keegan, who played Tina McIntyre in the long-running-soap, recently left the cobbles following this length of service. City AM editor Allister Heath and Heathrow Airport's chief executive Colin Matthews - both of whom started work in 2008 - have also left their jobs this year. And Boris Johnson could also join the club, amid persistent rumours the Mayor of London will stand as an MP at the 2015 general election.

Effects of the downturn

The trend is one that may concern employers, given that the majority of UK employees have spent six years or more in their current role. During the economic downturn, fewer people took the time to look for another job due to the reduced number of vacancies. However, the labour market is now in full recovery mode. With employers looking to hire en masse - to deliver the capacity they need for growth - demand for skilled employees exceeds supply in many sectors.

Almost a quarter of employees surveyed by OfficeTeam (22 per cent) claimed they have stayed in their job for longer than they would have done had the economy been stronger in recent years. Only 46 per cent of employees said they were happy in their current role and made no attempt to move during the recession. This suggests voluntary turnover is becoming a major risk for organisations. If professionals believe a change is overdue, and there is the potential to advance their careers elsewhere, employers could face a wave of resignations.

Age group variations

Of course, not every employee feels it is time to look for another job after six years. Some stay much longer in their role, while others are looking for the exit door after just a few months. OfficeTeam discovered that female and younger workers are less likely to stay in jobs for long periods of time. On average, female professionals have worked in their present role for five years, and 18-34-year-olds for just four.

At the other end of the spectrum, older people are typically more stable employees. More than half (55 per cent) of workers aged 55 and above have been in their role for over ten years - more than double the average proportion (25 per cent). This may be because they have reached the senior position they were aiming for. Alternatively, employees may be less ambitious than in their youth, or think it will be too difficult to get another job elsewhere.

OfficeTeam found that workers are becoming less likely to stay in their first jobs for long periods of time. While the average worker stayed in their first job for four years, 35-54-year-olds stayed in their first job for five years and 18-34-year-olds for just three. Almost a fifth (19 per cent) of the younger age group remained in their first job for less than 12 months.

New war for talent is looming

With employers looking to build teams which can drive their organisations forward, the study findings have clear implications. They need to be aware of the risks of employee attrition, and take steps to minimise the chances of their most-valued staff leaving.

But in the improving economic climate, retaining talent is not easy. Rachel Stockell, senior manager at OfficeTeam, said the "double whammy" of economic recovery and the natural tendency to change jobs at six-year intervals is likely to herald a new war for talent. She said experienced staff will become even more in-demand than they are already over the coming months.

“We are beginning to see a real shift from a buyer’s job market, where employers have a wide choice of candidates, to a seller’s market where employees can pick and choose," she added. This means employers should expect to compete for the best performers, she noted.

Unless organisations are willing to offer attractive packages to prospective hires, then they shouldn't be suprised their employees feel it's time to look for another job elsewhere. The same goes for existing workers - employers may have to consider revising pay and offering further advancement opportunities to keep hold of their best people.