Has a young employee ever surprised you by resigning after only a short time on the job? Most managers say it now happens with such frequency that it almost is expected.
Jeanne Meister of Future Workplace did a survey that showed 91% percent of millennials expect to stay at a job for less than three years. They are less inclined than previous generations to stay at one job for very long because they suffer from “FOMO”— the Fear of Missing Out. Demographic experts propose meaningful distinctions across generations because of what each has experienced or, in the case of baby boomers and their parents, what they endured. Some believe older generations were motivated by the avoidance of pain or aversion to risk, while current generations are driven by the pursuit of pleasure.
Along these lines, some experts claim that managers are not doing enough to bridge the generational gap and nurture young employees. Much of this blame is aimed at Generation X males who hold a disproportionate number of the middle management jobs today. “Gen-X,” roughly those born between 1965 and 1980, make up the original latchkey generation. Typically children of two working parents, they often were left to fend for themselves.
Because of this independent upbringing, many evolved into leaders with little empathy for the wants and needs of young hires. They expect them to work hard, stay late and never complain. Moreover, these managers find it irritating when employees seek validation or approval.
Millennials, those born between 1981 and 1996, grew up in a different world, a world dominated by technology and social awareness. Many of them have “helicopter parents” who pushed and supported them, creating the oft-mentioned entitled and attention-seeking behavior that defines this cohort. For employers, this often means young people searching for greener pastures.
In truth, this trend goes beyond stereotypes. I myself worked at three places before I turned 30, so I understand the process for finding a perfect career fit. Millennials are going through a phase of self-discovery, experiencing the freedom that comes with their own paycheck and their own place to live. They are learning about commitments to other people including partners, spouses and children. They are getting a sense of what type of work they want to pursue with passion. None of this is because they have a label tied to their birth year, but because they are young, immature and still trying to find their purpose.
From an employer’s point of view, employee departures can be painful — but blaming narcissism provides little consolation. Managers may find it helpful to recalibrate their expectations of the people they hire based on age, experience, stage of life and personal goals. Put your expectations into the context of what they do, what you pay them and how you help them to develop. The investment you make in someone who ascended within the firm over many years is far different from your investment in an entry-level employee who stays with you for just a few.
You probably pay entry-level hires modestly, work them hard and harness their energy to get certain projects done quickly and at low cost. As with any enterprise, low-cost labor fuels high productivity, especially when you get the right outcome in return. This set-up works for everyone: young employees gain experience and training, while the company frees up their highest-impact employees to focus on where they can make a difference. Return on investment must be measured within a shorter period when hiring new people who are not able to drive the same results as proven employees.
Inevitably, some of your talented new hires will emerge as high-potential employees, and you will want to keep them. When that happens, you must put them on a career trajectory where they can be fulfilled and make a long-term impact on your business. Measuring and evaluating “regrettable turnover” in your firm is critical to improving your status as an employer of choice. Remember, too, that not all turnover is regrettable. Oftentimes a reasonable rate of attrition enables you to refresh and upgrade your talent base.
Organizational specialist Catherine Malloy Cummings explains that regrettable turnover occurs when an employee’s departure has a negative impact on the organization. She suggests asking these questions when an individual leaves your firm:
1. Was the person on a list of “high potential?” 2. Was this person on a “key to retain” list? 3. Was the person hired in the last few years? 4. Does this person have intellectual capital that will be extremely hard to replace? 5. Does this person’s departure cause material disruption to your business?
The rate of regrettable turnover is the true measure of health in your human capital strategy. If the rate is high, then you must get to the root cause quickly. Is it poor hiring, mismatching people to the wrong jobs, a lack of transparency, uncompetitive compensation? Departing employees frequently cite these factors during the exit interview. The reasons may go deeper, however.
Underlying dissatisfaction often stems from issues of respect, limited career opportunities or a lack of connection to a strong purpose. While complaining about the work ethic or loyalty of young employees provides a convenient rationalization, you must look within your own organization to determine if you are providing an environment for the best employees to stay and grow.
The selection, retention and development of young talent is becoming more of a challenge, especially for smaller firms. It is painful and somewhat expensive to hire and develop new people, only to see them move on once they have mastered the job with you. That said, you might consider letting newbies to the profession be trained by others instead of growing your talent pool from scratch. Recruiting those already on a course instead of those searching for a purpose may allow you to accelerate your return on human capital instead of expending time, money and attention on those who view you as a way-stop, en-route to their own greatness.
Nature provides an example of this clever strategy in the Brown-headed Cowbird. This shrewd bird surreptitiously searches for other nesting species. Once she has found a suitable host, the cowbird sneaks onto that bird’s nest, removes one egg of the host and replaces it with one of her own. The foster parents then unknowingly raise the young cowbird, often at the expense of their own offspring. A similar recruiting strategy would allow you to leverage what your new employees bring with them from another firm’s nest.
In any case, employers must think deeply and creatively to adjust to a new generation’s mindset and avoid regrettable turnover. Millennials have the potential to bring incredible value to your firm.
Mark Tibergien is CEO of BNY Mellon’s Pershing Advisor Solutions. Tibergien is also the author most recently of “The Enduring Advisory Firm,” written with Kim Dellarocca of BNY Mellon and published by Wiley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.