While the goal of employers should be to support employees throughout the employee lifecycle from hire to exit, the reality is that this isn't always the case. Think about the internal employee processes in your organization. Where does your organization extend the most support for employees during their lifecycle?
If you’re like most employers you probably have a fairly robust new hire orientation that aims to integrate and support employees during their first few months of employment. A lot of attention is typically given to new hires to make sure that they have the training and resources to be successful and that the hire is a good investment for the company. But as it relates to support, attentiveness to needs and management focus, what’s happening after the new hire period is over?
Results from our employee wellbeing research conducted between 2022 to 2023 with 900 individuals from a convenience sample of five small to midsized organizations suggests that if there is an employee tenure group to pay more attention to it’s the 4 to 6 year tenure group. Compared to those with the organization for less than a year, the 4 to 6 year tenure employees scored lower in every aspect of employee wellbeing assessed: Basic Needs, Psychological Safety, Belonging and Esteem.
The results for the 4 to 6 year tenure group were most stark for psychological safety, with 35% of 4 to 6 year tenure employees reporting that they feared negative consequences if they expressed their opinion, compared to 10% of those with the company less than a year. Eighty-two percent of those hired less than a year ago believed no one in the organization would act in a way that undermined their efforts, compared to 61% of 4 to 6 year tenure staff.
Figure 1. Psychological safety results, Yes Wellbeing Works Employee wellbeing research 2022-2023
When it comes to belonging, 32% of 4 to 6 year tenure employees expressed feeling left out of key conversations and 28% often felt left out of the loop for receiving important information, compared to 14% and 11% of those with the company for less than a year.
The general belief by organizational leaders is likely that as tenure increase so does employee satisfaction and engagement, but research doesn’t definitively support this assumption. For example a 2016 study on the relationship between tenure and employee satisfaction mirrors our findings, that there is a negative relationship between employee tenure and satisfaction within an organization. The question is why does this relationship exist and what can you do about it as an employer?
We are still in the process of fully unpacking causality to answer the question: what is driving the less favorable experiences of 4 to 6 year tenure employees? But from focus groups we've conducted and exploring other research we have a few hunches about what may be going on.
One reason employee satisfaction at the 4 to 6 year tenure period may begin to wane is that employees at this stage are well beyond the initial honeymoon period of a new job and are beginning to learn how the organization works. The combination of experiential and observational data collected by the employee may begin to paint a picture about what the organization values, who gets rewarded and organizational norms. Unfavorable experiences and observations can be counter to core workplace culture components like psychological safety and belonging.
Questions to ask internally are: 1) What are our employees learning about our company the longer they stay? 2) Do their experiences align with how much we value their contributions and expertise? 3) Do we have internal mechanisms for understanding and discussing employee expectations (e.g. performance management system, surveys, town halls, 1:1 check-ins)?
There are two potential contributing factors related to employee basic needs that may explain why 4 to 6 year tenure employees report overall lower employee wellbeing scores – pay and learning and development.
Typically an employee’s biggest chance to receive a meaningful increase in their pay is at the point of hire. Once they are in the organization pay increases tend to follow a regular organizational cadence, unless an employee receives a promotion. However, internal promotions can sometimes be hard to come by and the rules of salary negotiations for internal candidates are different than those for external candidates. Research suggests that pay increases can have a positive impact on the negative relationship between tenure and job satisfaction.
Also, because training efforts within organizations are predominantly focused on new hires, the 4 to 6 year tenure employees, who are expected to know their job by this juncture in the employee lifecycle, may be overlooked for training and skill development opportunities. In our research 68% of 4 to 6 year tenure employees agreed that they had access to the learning and development opportunities needed to do their job, compared with 84% of those with the company for less than one year. Which means that about 32% of 4 to 6 year tenure employees are likely not receiving the learning and development support they need.
Questions to ask internally are: 1) What does our time to promotion data show for 4 to 6 year tenure employees? 2) How is our internal learning and development program serving mid-tenure employees? 3) Are mid-tenure employees given opportunities to participate in trainings, be mentored and grow their skills? Even if they are not on a management track?
Most employees want their internal influence to increase with their tenure, meaning that their experiences and opinions are valued the longer they are with the organization. Four to six year tenure employees occupy a unique position in the employee lifecycle, too tenured to be considered new and typically not tenured enough to be considered senior within the organization. However, they are most likely those who actually do the hands on work of achieving organizational goals. Beliefs about fear of negative consequences and being left out of the loop of key conversations and information in organizations from our research is concerning.
Questions to ask internally: 1) When making key decisions in the organization do we seek the perspective of those who will be most impacted by the decision? 2) How is information shared in our organization and more importantly how is it trickled down to all levels of the organization? 3) What happens when employees share an opinion that is not in alignment with the organization’s opinion or the opinion of a leader?
Employers would be wise to focus on their mid-tenure employees as it likely presents an inflection point in the employee group’s career where they are deciding if they want to continue with the organization or look for new opportunities. Recent trends of The Great Resignation, Quiet Quitting and the current tight labor market are additional incentives to keep an eye on the 4 to 6 year tenure employee group. Our research suggests that this group of employees may not be receiving the level of organizational support they need or desire.