A new report by the Gallup organization dubs Millennials the “job-hopping generation.” According to the report, “21% of millennials say they’ve changed jobs within the past year, which is more than three times the number of non-millennials who report the same.”
This statistic seems both relevant and alarming because, Gallup estimates, Millennial turnover “costs the U.S. economy $30.5 billion annually.”
Gallup research is hard to ignore. But I’ve heard this take on Millennials before, and it raises a couple of questions:
First, to paraphrase Ernest Hemingway satirizing Scott Fitzgerald, are Millennials truly different from you and me–or just younger? The statistics tend to compare today’s Millennials with today’s Gen X and Baby Boomers. It makes perfect sense that as people grow into their careers–finally finding TheJob4Me–they start to stay put. It also seems logical that as you move up the career pyramid, comparable jobs are harder to find.
And then there are all those external factors: Millennials are at the age where they’re likely to be going to grad school, finishing grad school, falling in love and getting married, perhaps relocating due to a spouse’s career opportunity. There’s even the lure of geography–every young person vows to leave Minnesota (but a fair percentage come back).
The only really meaningful study would be longitudinal–did Baby Boomers move around more when they were 20? Will Millennials still be moving around as much when they are 50? Those studies haven’t been done.
But there are ways of reading the Gallup report to show that differences might be less than advertised. While Millennials are three times more likely to say they’ve changed jobs in the past year, they are only 10% less likely to say they’ll be working at the same company a year from now. And they are only 15% more likely to say they are open to a new opportunity. To me, that suggests that Millennials are still in the dewy-eyed stages of their careers, where every opportunity is perfect and every new employer is their Forever Home.
Still, there are intuitive reasons to believe that Millennials might continue to be job-hoppers. First, they were raised by Baby Boomers who put work first, and as a result, Millennials seem to value something called “work-life balance.” When the going gets tough, Millennials may just get going.
Second, Millennials saw the full impact of the recession. It was formative the way the Depression was for their grandparents and great-grandparents. They will never, ever believe that the purpose of life is to put in forty years with the same company and retire with a gold watch. And good for them.
Finally, Millennials may keep moving because they can. There’s going to be a desperate shortage of workers in many fields as the pig moves through the python–i.e. as Baby Boomers retire. It’s going to be a workers’ market for most of the Millennials’ work lives.
So, let’s say it’s true that Millennials can rightfully be dubbed “the job-hopping generation.” What’s to be done?
Most reflections on the topic conclude that employers have to get way better at engaging Millennials, figuring them out, making them stay. Companies need to get Googly, with micro-kitchens and sit-stand desks and take-your-dog-to-work day. Anything to reduce that high cost of attrition.
As a career consultant, I have a somewhat different take. Let’s assume the revolving door is a permanent thing. Instead of obsessing about how to get people to stay, let’s think about how to make people more efficient while they’re here. Create better on-boarding processes so employees don’t spend days or weeks spinning their wheels. Keep the company org chart up to date. Document processes rather than forcing people to learn via the grapevine.
My biggest frustration as a consultant is trying to find out who’s in charge of some activity I need to partner with, and being told “Oh, that’s Joe Smith’s team.” Sometimes, a search through Active Directory will tell me what Joe Smith’s team is called, and who’s on it, where they are located, and who they report to. But not always.
My favorite example was at an organization where my consulting manager said, “Oh, that would be John Anderson’s area.” I said, “Fine–I’ll email John Anderson.” She said, “Oh, he doesn’t work here anymore. And his team is pretty much disbursed now. But it’s the sort of thing they used to do.”
However much it’s costing to recruit new employees, this kind of thing is costing more. And who knows–if companies reduced the frustration of the ramp-up phase, they might even improve engagement.