Once upon a time, the career ladder was fairly straightforward: graduate from college, land an entry-level job, work hard and develop the skills required to rise through the ranks at that same company for 20-plus years.
Today, however, the trajectory isn’t so clear, as young professionals are spending less time at any one job than their older counterparts and leaving their cubicles in droves to start their own businesses. In fact, according to a recent Deloitte survey, two-thirds of millennial employees plan to leave their current job within the next three years, and 25 percent plan to be out the door in just one.
Young professionals are charting their own paths, and more power to them. But their constant pursuit of the next opportunity has its drawbacks for the corporate world. A 2016 Gallup report claims millennial turnover costs the US economy $30 billion per year—and that’s not to mention the costs individual businesses face as they’re forced to replace employees every couple years.
So, in this moment of uncertain and shifting expectations for employee retention, how can organizations inspire loyalty and engagement from their youngest talent?
For older generations, work and home were two separate lives. But, for better or worse, millennials have blurred the line until personal and professional have become barely distinguishable from one another. Sure, they may be apt to duck out for a mid-morning yoga class or afternoon happy hour, but you can bet they’ll hop online again after dinner or answer e-mails from a coffee shop Saturday morning. And, even during vacation, unplugging completely is a foreign concept.
All this is to say that, for young professionals, work is about more than just the paycheck—it’s an extension of their personal lives. And that means they expect to identify with their workplace. They look for company values that align with their own, colleagues they can play pub trivia with and a flexible culture that demands their best work but empowers them to do it on their own terms.
With work and life so deeply intertwined, young professionals aren’t likely to stick to a job that doesn’t yield personal fulfillment. So the more an organization can embrace the personal values and wellbeing of its employees, the more likely it is to retain top talent.
Because their careers are core to their identities, young professionals demand ownership over their work. They crave to feel as though their contributions make a difference to their company, and when they don’t, they’re apt to leave.
Rather than settle for being just another cog in the wheel, more and more young professionals are embracing the gig economy, adopting “side hustles” and even leaving the workforce to become “solopreneurs.” In fact, according to Buzz Marketing Group, nearly a fourth of millennials say they want to quit their jobs to start their own projects.
But what if they could develop that sense of ownership in the workplace? By giving employees the autonomy and resources they need to handle their own projects (and the leeway to break out of established systems), employers can harness that entrepreneurial spirit for the good of the company.
This demand for autonomy doesn’t mean young professionals think they know it all. In fact, millennial employees crave more feedback than older generations. According to a report from SuccessFactors and Oxford Economics, millennials desire 50 percent more feedback than other employees, but less than half feel as though their managers meet those expectations.
Further, Deloitte has found that, among the millennials planning to leave their jobs within the next two years, 70 percent cite a lack of leadership development opportunities as their reason for seeking new situations.
Annual performance reviews aren’t enough for young professionals, who are constantly striving to become better at what they do. Employers can encourage them by giving real-time feedback, scheduling frequent check-ins on goals and progress and providing educational opportunities in and out of the office.
Investments in a culture of consistent feedback and focus on personal and professional development will likely see significant returns in employee loyalty, engagement and productivity.
To the baby boomers in the c-suites, the millennial approach to the career ladder may be confusing at best. But young professionals are unlikely to conform to traditional practices, and holding too tightly to the old guard will only exacerbate the divide. But organizations that learn to engage millennials on their terms will be rewarded with highly motivated and productive employees for whom stellar performance at work is about more than a paycheck—it’s a core component to personal fulfillment.
Sarah Weber is an Austin-based book editor and a proud millennial. She has a BA from Northwestern University, a Masters of Book Publishing from Emerson College and more than five years of experience in marketing and editing for tech startups, publishing houses and independent authors. www.sarahmweber.com