Millennials are increasingly looking for time out after a relatively short start in their careers. In comparison to Gen-X and Baby Boomers, who typically focus on achieving retirement as early as possible, Millennials know they have to keep working and are taking breaks during their marathon careers.
There are significant pressures facing Millennials in the future—an increasingly aging population that will need to be partially funded, their own dwindling retirement funds and poor long-term planning because of significant uncertainties in their future, all with the prospect of retiring beyond 70.
Part of this can be attributed to their attitudes in work and life—the two are more blended and Millennials have been able to reap the benefits of more agile work environments and flexibility that allow these breaks. Coupled with student debt and a highly competitive graduate recruitment environment, many Millennials are opting to take time out after around 10 years in their careers when they can generally afford to travel further and in more style than when they were students.
There are many benefits to this mindset of career breaks. Aside from the enjoyment of a long recharge, such breaks will undoubtedly bring new perspective, enthusiasm and vigor into the workplace. By experiencing different cultures, people who travel at various points in their careers bring a diverse and new perspective. This can only have a positive impact on work processes and production, positively impacting revenue. Even work travel, with the right policy that supports choice and flexibility, can have a favorable impact, especially for Millennials.
Whilst the benefits are positive for the employee, is it risky leaving work for such an extended period of time—will there be stigmatization or resentment from the employer? This generation knows their worth and that there are better organizations out there that facilitate flexibility. If they are willing to take the leap with a travel sabbatical, then they have already taken a bigger risk than coming home and having to find a new job. Employers should seriously consider flexibility if it is not currently on offer.
For the organization, there are some potential downsides that have to be factored in when making a decision on a longer-term leave request.
As the Millennial’s seniority and expertise build, the team left behind have to stretch themselves to accommodate one employee, unless the company provides temporary cover to bridge the skills gap. Without this net, the other employees left behind might look to move with the frustration of an inefficient workplace. Likewise, considerations need to be made with regards to how this interacts with other leave policies, the frequency of such breaks and when such breaks can be taken.
The positives outweigh the potential downfalls here, however. Some employers are even positively encouraging these breaks—they can save money on withholding the employee’s salary, without risking losing their skills and investment in the person over a period of time. Likewise, it allows other members of the team to step up and improve their own skills, an opportunity that may not often arise. From this, organizations can build a stronger, more equipped workforce that can facilitate the growth of new business lines, and protect a talent drain if somebody leaves.
In a wider-context, employers should think of ways they can apply this logic to other aspects of employee experience and life—this will improve retention rates of talent and ensure that investment in training yields a high result, especially for Millennials. Developing a policy that gives more control to the Millennial employee and allows them to plan will likely result in a more positive working dynamic and less likely for them to look elsewhere. Options such as unlimited vacation days, remote days and extra leave for life events that apply widely should all be considered, in line with the organization’s objectives and business goals.
Regardless of the downsides, to retain an increasingly mobile Millennial talent pool and create a desirable working environment, companies must future-proof their policies to fit with this mindset. By creating uniform policies that empower employees and that go against the traditional norm, will in turn actually reduce workplace attrition. Employees who are given creative freedom to solve problems are more likely to stay in their job so allowing Millennials to take career breaks because they need them will positively impact your long-term organizational goals.