Although common wisdom will tell you Millennials are looking to switch jobs at the first possible chance, Millennial loyalty has not shaken up the workplace as much as people think.
In fact, the generation prior to Millennials stayed in their roles for roughly the same amount of time as Millennials are now. In the 1980s, an employee stayed with their employer for a median of five years and that figure has remained steady with a median of 4.2 years in 2018.
So, what has changed that makes people feel like loyalty is fading? What can employers do to increase that longevity and get the best out of their talent while they are staying?
A deeper perspective
In order to determine the differences in loyalty between current and past generations, we need to take a deeper look at the current social and economic environment.
For one, the job search is undoubtedly harder — graduate roles are competitive, with more higher education institutions producing more and more graduates each year. Hiring is more process-driven and less personable, and added perks, such as being wined and dined or taken on enticing trips, are few and far between. This creates a frustrating and intense job market and undoubtedly affects the workplace mindset.
There is also a hangover from the last Global Financial Crisis that society has not seen the full impact of yet. Millennials at the younger end of the spectrum (born 1987–1992) remain in a mindset of an anxiety-ridden job search from their graduation, where they are forced to keep one eye open for fear of job security, experience long recruiting processes and poor feedback as standard from companies.
This group is typically formed of people who were students during the crisis, and the recession did not have the same emotional and working-life impact on them as it did on those in the working world. While this is often perceived as entitlement and lack of understanding of Millennials by their employers, it is actually the employer’s response to this hangover by companies in their hiring and firing process that have somewhat of an impact on Millennials' job attitudes.
Society has also become more mobile and work has become more ingrained in your with personal life. Work is life now for many; it has to be both because of the competitive job market and the way interpersonal interactions have increased in speed and number with new technology. The pressure to perform and to excel is constant—and Millennials feel this more than anyone because of the intensity of social media visibility and the tight job market.
So what do Millennials want?
Contrary to public perceptions, Millennials are efficient, driven and focused. While older generations may have frustrations with Millennials’ demands, what they don’t understand is that those demands are a byproduct of millennials rejecting the norms and processes that have now passed.
It is no wonder that more forward-thinking companies, particularly those in the high-growth mode and sexy sectors, have produced workplace campuses. They align with the college experience (for people who found stability there during a global period of financial instability) that ultimately promote more working in a lower-stress environment. Free lunches, social events, and pool tables on the surface encourage greater connectivity, but also create underlying incentives to spend more time at work.
While cozy hangout areas and football tables are nice, employees don't leave the thousands of organizations lacking those things because of that. So, for the generation that supposedly wants it all yesterday with no effort, what do Millennials really want in the workplace?
The deeper key is meaning. Meaningful work consistently ranks as something craved by the millennial generation. That can take lots of forms – giving back to the community, having a voice, the feeling that you are pushing a project forward and being taken seriously by those around you. Meaningful work doesn't necessarily mean saving the world, solving a crisis or finding a cure. It means purpose and passion. It's a sense of ownership and importance—and surely that is a good thing. Why wouldn't an employer want somebody working on a project with them who values their work and puts effort into everything they do?
Meaning also extends into the way Millennials think about work and life. Corporate attire is no longer expected everywhere; no longer do all meetings happen face to face. Millennials are okay with integrating work and life—they just want that integration to be meaningful and enjoyable.
Given meaningful work, the Millennial workforce will show passion and dedication—giving workplaces the opportunity to offer Millennials a real trajectory and a chance to grow and stay. The misunderstanding about Millennials that they are entitled and lazy comes from unfair projections. If they are in the weeds doing a good job, they want more of that. Else they will go—it’s a mobile generation in all sense of the word.
How can I foster Millennial loyalty without completely changing my company?
Not every role or organization can be mission-driven, so how can you get your best out of your people? It takes a two-tiered approach that encourages both meaningful, mission-driven work, and an enjoyable culture and workplace.
Here are some simple changes that encourage more meaningful work:
And some low-cost methods to create a more enjoyable environment:
Lead by example. If you implement these changes, be sure to avoid putting in place arbitrary policies that do not mirror your behavior.
Whether your people stay or go, create a company culture that people want to return to each day. If you do, your employees can recommend your organization to their network, further increasing your pool of talent. Give honest feedback and turn the employee/employer relationship into a two-way dialogue and career road map. Millennials want honesty.
The reality is that motivations have not drastically changed; the language has just evolved a bit, like every generation before.