This morning I read an article that had been posted on LinkedIn by a former colleague: Why Millennials Keep Dumping You: An Open Letter to Management. I found the short post to be very fascinating and resonated a lot with me as someone who would consider themself to be a high achiever and do my best to disassociate myself with the Millennial generation whenever possible. However, if this article is any true indication of that generation, then I have to admit that I am certainly 100% 'Millennial'.
In my graduate work, I wrote a final paper on Millennials and how our current hiring practices do not actually meet the needs of this group. Particularly regarding the emphasis on purposeful opportunities, much of that academic work focused on teasing out this notion that many of our HR practices have been around for years and cater to an older way of thinking. The "tell me about a time when..." worked when we were interviewing folks with years of experience, but based on my research for the paper, this group is not as interested in what has been done; rather, they are more focused on what can be achieved and how it can be done at a higher level. Furthermore, one of the things I found most fascinating while doing my literature review was that although it is often suggested this generation is very selfish, many people don't realize that it can be taken out of context because one of the things Millennials want most is a opportunity to be purposeful. So while it could be said that they are solely focused on themselves, they often do it with the intention to want to make change and make a difference.
When I read this article, all of the work I had done in this area was not only validated, but it was a good reminder that the way in which we hire and train our staff only goes so far. Workplace culture is ultimately one of the most significant reasons that folks stay or go. Hiring doesn't seem hard, but retaining high quality employees does, and as someone who has very high expectations of myself, my peers and my organization, this article really resonates with my ideals as well as my challenges. This connects very well to the first point that it hits home: Tolerating low-performers, which the article points out is "downright debilitating to a high achiever". Check.
The second point of the article highlights that ROI is not enough, because "I need something to care about today". Check as well. Although I can only speak for myself, a bottom line is not enough to keep me motivated to continue to not only work at a high level but be invested in an organization. It is important to me that I know the work I am doing is making a difference in the lives of others, and not just written in a year end report to demonstrate that I achieved some metrics or met some KPIs (which, don't even get me started on my thoughts about KPIs because I think we overuse them and/or don't use them correctly). In my own context, that is what I love most about the work I do; as an educator, my work has meaning and purpose, but as soon as I start to feel as though it is far more transactional than transformational, I find myself craving a new opportunity to challenge myself. So, in the context of this article, I can see why many Millennials move on.
The third concept is around this notion of workplace culture being about free lunches. As the author mentions, "I'm not inspired to be more innovative over a Bacon Turkey Bravo ... I need to be surrounded by people who are on fire for what we're doing". Amen, sister. Don't get me wrong, everyone loves a free lunch now and again, but I would trade it 2000 times over to work with a group of highly motivated, fun and passionate colleagues where purpose and expertise is cultivated. While food may be the way to some people's heart, I can appreciate from my own experience that there are a lot of Millennials that struggle working in an environment where they are rewarded with meals as opposed to with high quality colleagues who push boundaries and think differently. After all, free lunch doesn't challenge you to learn something new, set the bar higher or grow. It merely makes people think they are rewarded for doing their every day job, and at times, that can be really difficult.
Finally, the last point included in the article is about getting personal with colleagues. I have to admit that I don't entirely agree with this one, although I can appreciate that many Millennials "dump" their employers because they feel like a number and not a name. Speaking from experience in recruitment, I also wonder if we create this expectation because it is not uncommon to sell students on our respective campus experiences by constantly telling them they will be a name and not a number. But I think there is a fine line between getting to know someone as a person, and then being too personal. Do I want my colleagues to know that I am a learner, a homeowner, a cat lover, a nerd, and a partner? Sure. Do I want those people to know my life story, my struggles, my personal challenges, and my background? Absolutely not. So while I can appreciate the article suggests that if Millennials do not have personal relationships with management they will walk out in 8 months, I also think that we could all do a bit more work to draw some lines in the sand to identify what getting personal in a professional environment looks like. I do think establishing some boundaries is important, especially between workplace friends and workplace peers.
At the end of the article, the author emphasizes that Millennials want employers "to show me that the work we do here matters, even just a little bit ... But I'm not doing it to help you get a new Mercedes." This is really interesting to me because it suggests there is a difference for Millennials between doing work that they find to be meaningful, high achieving and personal vs. working in a culture that ultimately allows management to make their way onto a sunshine list and drive nice cars. If someone is looking to work in a place that emphasizes change and intentionality over wages, I can see how this would be a point of contention and contemplation.
The reason that I am so drawn to articles like this is because they really challenge me to check myself and my assumptions, and ponder what does work really mean to me. I think that we can all do a better job at times of asking ourselves if we are happy in our role, but also, if we are managing an organization in a way that encourages strong employees to stay. I often think about myself leading a department in the future, and I believe articles like this are important reminders that how we lead and the culture that we create results in the type of employees we hire and those that stay. I also think that we can often forget the importance of establishing a strong culture because we get so busy, but it is important when you consider that we spend far more time at work than we do at home and with our families. If we are sacrificing the chance to see our grandparents, go to our child's softball game, enjoy a beautiful day with our spouse, or get ourself a massage, it is important to care about our role and the workplace that we devote so much of our life to. When life is this short, it makes sense that Millennials are happier to "dump" an employer to seek a workplace that demonstrates they "make a difference to something bigger than your bottom line". I really can't say I blame them, but then I wonder what each of us as managers can be doing to help change that and enhance our ability to retain top notch people.
A creative educator striving to enhance the holistic student experience and committed to exploring personal fulfillment.