The Price of Millenial Flibbertigibbetness?

“I’ve been here for almost 3 years, so, you know – that’s a REALLY long time.”

That was how one of our Millenial employees prefaced her explanation about why she was going off to try new things.  It’s been eating at me for a while.  I find the sentiment fairly common.

Picture1“Almost 3 years” is a long time?  I’ve been working at the same agency since 1994, when you consider that I helped buy-out SHIFT’s predecessor agency, 7 years ago.   (Because you’re probably in Marketing or PR, I’ll do the math for you: that’s 16 years in one agency.)

Am I such an anomaly?  Should I be ashamed of my long tenure?  Would a Millenial sniff at this level of loyalty?  Would they consider my longevity a character flaw, a fear of change?

I don’t think there are many people who would suggest I am not a risk-taker — putting my house on the line to start SHIFT; trying to re-imagine the press release and newsroom; blogging way before it was cool; wrestling alligators; semi-professional demon-hunting; etc.  Yet I’ve never seriously considered lighting out for new territories.  I find plenty of challenges, and rewards, in making this place awesome.

“Yea, but you’re the OWNER,” I hear you say.  Fair enough.

So then I look around at my senior team.  Most of them have been by my side for 8–10+ years.  They’re not quite Millenials, granted — they’re mostly Gen-X like me — but despite being part of the so-called Slacker Generation, they stayed the course.  (And, also like me, they’re galled by statements like the one heralding this post.)

So where’s the disconnect?  And more importantly (since it is what it is), what is the potential cost of Millenial flibbertigibbetness?  What does this emerging trend mean for the workplace?

If we take it for granted (fairly or not) that the hyperactive, multi-screen, multi-media, multi-tasking approach that characterizes the Millenial Experience has led the new crop of employees to simply grow restless with “stable” occupations, it’s unhelpful to debate whether it’s a GOOD or BAD thing.  While smart folks like former client Penelope Trunk of BrazenCareerist make a compelling case that it’s a good thing, I’ve yet to find a business owner who strongly agrees.  (If nothing else, the training investment is lost.)

So let’s assume that this feeling of impermanence is, indeed, the new permanent condition.  If so, we must also acknowledge that corporations may decide to STOP attempting to motivate greater loyalty.  Some companies clearly never deserved that loyalty — but some do, and aren’t getting it, and are going to get sick of trying.

My fear? — that companies who “give up” on expecting even a modicum of employee loyalty will start to treat everyone as a short-term worker, like a seasonal farm-hand or Xmastime retail clerk.

If you can never fairly expect loyalty, you’ll stop aiming to achieve it; you’ll figure out workarounds.  For example, corporations may identify a small crop of keepers; lock them up in “golden handcuffs;” and then treat everyone else like expendable short-timers, i.e., the “middle management” track could be less of an option, or at least less rewarding.

For a generation that values being valued, how is THAT going to feel?

UPDATE: Many of the comments on this post, while thoughtful & earnest, indicated to me that I needed to clarify something… The post was not intended to malign the Millenials.  As some pointed out, this generation saw their parents’ career paths gutted by seemingly heartless companies, so they grew up distrustful of “the Nanny Brand” model.  I get that.

So the true point of the post is this:  “If the shitty policies of the Employer naturally led to poor loyalty by Staff, we must acknowledge that this, in turn, has de-motivated Employers to ever re-think their practices to engender the loyalty of Staff.  It’s a Vicious Cycle, now. Can we turn the flywheel in the other direction?”

Posted on: October 19, 2010 at 6:03 pm By Todd Defren
44 Responses to “The Price of Millenial Flibbertigibbetness?”


  • Amy says:

    There seems to be a lot of pressure shifting to the employer. “The employer needs to make sure the employee is challenged/learning new things,” “The employer needs to stop trying so hard to motivate loyalty,” the employer this and that.

    I agree that much of this pressure SHOULD be on the employer: after all, he/she knows what’s best for the company, and should take care during the interview and hiring processes to select people whom they believe will do well with the company.

    At the same time, it’s not always feasible for an employer to know his/her employees’ passions and dreams. Could a CEO of a company which has 200 or 300 employees spend enough time with each to learn all of that (without missing out on doing his/her OWN work and deadlines)?

    Why is it suddenly the employers’ responsibility to babysit their staff?

    We’re willing to work. Maybe we just don’t know what we want to do yet. Maybe we don’t know how to voice the feeling that our current job isn’t what we want, and we’re not enjoying it or feeling productive or challenged — but the prospect of starting the search all over again is even more terrifying than being stuck with a boring job.

    I’ve seen my father stuck in the same job he’s had for 30+ years. He hates it. He’s overworked, undervalued, and retirement age is looming. He’s just hoping to make it to that age before they boot him out.

    The longer you stay in one job, the harder it is to leave it. People my age (23) see our parents doing the same job year after year, in a cubicle in some high rise, and they don’t seem to enjoy it. We want to enjoy our jobs. We don’t want to be miserable. If that means that every few years we move on, maybe that’s for the best.

    (Rather disjointed comment, I’m afraid. I had a lot to say.)

  • Petrina says:


    A very interesting article! However, as a ‘millenial’ active in the job seeking market most positions advertised are contractual (1 year on average). This is actually standard practice at most Universities. So, rather than the perceived ‘fickle job-transitioning’ being a ‘millenial’ trend, it may well be a reflection of the new millenium!


  • JENNY says:

    I fall on the edge of Gen X and Gen Y, and I thought this was a great article! I’ve had two positions that lasted about 3 years each, and even though the opportunities were great, I hope to find myself in a position that I can be with for MANY years…no more of these 3-year stints. Thanks for sharing this!

  • Caitlin Frantzen says:

    I thought this article was very interesting. Being from this so called “slacker generation”, I think it is not necessarily that we are slackers but that we are ready to try something new. We want to move onto a new experience. This generation is always looking for something new, always ready to try new things. This does not stop with job experiences and opportunities.

  • Ligia Adam says:

    Great observation. But I do think my generation might be actually suffering from a form of “digital ad/hd” and it’s not about loyalty as much as it’s about keeping us interested, focused and challenged while we’re still in the company.

  • John says:

    I’m a gen-xer. I’ve been laid-off at least 4 times, having experienced the rise and FALL of the dotcom economy back in the 90′s. How does this post serve me??

    I’m in my 40′s. The longest full time job I’ve EVER held is my current one. And I’ve been working at this job for 3 years!

    I’m a tad resentful of this post because I don’t think you make abundantly clear that one of the many reasons young folks don’t stick around at a company for too long is for fear of being laid-off! Ever hear about job insecurity?

    I would love nothing more than to be hired by a loving company; a company that treats its employees with respect, allows them to learn, make mistakes, and grow and develop and contribute. Have I found such a company? Well, my current one, so far, is probably the best job I’ve ever had and I’m a contractor! No health benefits! What do you say to that?? I haven’t had a raise in 3 years!

    I’m so annoyed with posts of this nature about “job-hoppers.” There are many young folks who would like nothing more than to grow and develop and stay at ONE company, for say, 10, 20, 30 years??? Does it exist???

    Maybe for you but I’ve yet to experience it!

  • Nathan Casper says:


    I appreciate your predicament. As a millennial, perhaps I break the mold in that I would like nothing more than to make a career with a company and never have to look elsewhere. My father was a freelancer and I lived through his bouncing from contract to contract and not knowing where he would go next. I don’t want that life for my future family, as lucrative as the good times were.

    This desire for stability is one of the factors that drove me into the corporate arena over agency work. As a recent graduate of one of the nation’s top PR programs, I left school with the impression that agencies provided more learning opportunities and often led to faster development of skills, but that those perks came at the cost of stability.

    Bouncing a young employees from client to client to meet “business needs” makes it quite easy for the young employee to justify bouncing from agency to agency to meet “personal needs.”

    If you want to instill a sense of loyalty into our generation, if you want us to be fully invested, an effort will have to be made on your side to make us feel stable, to make us feel that you’re invested in us.

  • Michael Durwin says:

    I think a couple of things may be in play here:
    Millenials are pretty early in their careers. Many of us Gen Xers jumped around in our early professional lives, they’re doing the same thing, but as a generation.
    Some may come from the shift toward contract over perm that is coming from employers. It’s being documented that many employers are trying to keep costs down by hiring contractors rather than full-time employees. While it saves them from benefits and raises, they’re losing intellectual property and expertise. But they’ll figure that out eventually. This may have an impact on Millenials finding short-term work acceptable.
    Your perspective may come from the fact that marketing people are notoriously short term. It’s one way to climb the ladder.
    It could also be that Millenials are very selfish. I don’t mean this in a bad way, just to say that they’re very focused on their needs and desires (and those of friends and families) over the needs of their employers. The last decade has done alot to erode any sense of loyalty an employee feels for his employer. Lack of benefits, shrinking pay, rampant layoffs don’t give any worker a cozy feeling!

  • Bec says:

    I too am a Millenial (26 yo) and I worked in PR consulting for five years – my first job from university.

    I recently changed jobs, not so much because I needed a change, but more that I felt, as a loyal employee, I wasn’t being rewarded for my loyalty. I witnessed, over the five years I was there, the company exhert so much energy on those ‘flippant’ employees who kicked up a stink any time something wasn’t going their way – and they were the ones who usually left in the end anyway. So much energy was exherted, it seemed, on these employees, that the ones (like myself) who were loyal, totally embodying the company’s ethos (having started as a graduate), and possessing a significant amount of corporate knowledge, that were the ones to be pushed to the sideline and not rewarded for their loyalty.

    So I dare say, this new trend you speak of is also to the detriment of those people who break the generational mold and are by nature loyal. I believe employers need to get better at recognising those staff, regardless of generation/age, who emobody a company and its ethos and would thrive from a ‘little give and take’…

    Just a thought…

  • Ken Jacobs says:

    With our industry bouncing back, I believe wise manager/leaders will take the time to understand what drives this largest and fastest-growing part of our labor pool, and learn how to better motivate them. I’m taking the liberty of sharing a link to an article I wrote on this subjetc a few years ago; I’ve been told it’s still relevant today. Hope you agree. (And for the record, I greatly admire Millennials)

  • Colin burns says:

    I am with Callan on this one. It is not that we — Gen Yers — aren’t loyal, rather we’re ambitious. We’ve come to learn that if you stay at a company you might get a promotion every 3-5 years and a 3% raise yearly, if that. Whereas if you leave your company your promotion opportunities quicken and your raises increases. True financial gains happen when you job jump, or so I believe. And since when were companies loyal to their employees? Layoffs and downsizings have been the name of the game the last 10 years, so why should I be loyal to this company? They’re not offering a pension like my grandfather got…

    That and I’ve always thought we’re conditioned to seek stimulation, change, challenges. We all – generally speaking – went to college so we’re used to different classes, changing schedules every semester, work hard play hard. So we go after jobs and job changes accordingly. Just a thought.

  • What a fascinating stream of conversation. I am 43, which makes me one of the oldest GenXers. I entered the profession in 1989, an economy almost as bad as this one. I remember well the poverty level wages, long hours and limited opportunities presented by working in an agency…yet, I loved communications dearly. I worked long hours and passionately pursued my craft. By the time I was 27, I was president of my local IABC chapter. So imagine my dismay when I went to the IABC International conference only to hear keynote speaker Robert Dillenschneider gassing away about Generation X…how we have the attention span of a gnat. How we’re disloyal. How we don’t like to work. How we don’t want to pay our dues. How baby boomers will have a real challenge learning to deal with workers who are so far substandard to them. I was incensed. So incensed, in fact, that I walked up to him afterward and told him that I very much resented being lumped into this category, and felt that he was unfairly shellacking an entire generation. “You must be a very unusual person, then, Susan,” he sniffed, and stomped off.

    I understand that demographers need something to do. Marketers need to be able to put huge groups into neat categories, so they can make decisions about messaging and product development. It has even been said that tension between the older and younger generations is actually part of the social criticism that makes a society healthier. The problem I have is when the professional grandstanding of a few becomes accepted dogma of the many. It leads to an intellectual and managerial laziness. It gives managers an excuse not to see their employees as individuals with unique strengths, needs and abilities. It’s so much easier to lump them into a category, instead of bringing out the best in each person they have.

    Instead of doing studies of groups, study the person instead. The best manager I ever had, incidentally was a transfer from Fleishmann Hilliard. At least once a week he asked me how I FELT about my work. Did I think it was quality? Was the client treating me right? Was there anything I needed to do a better job? He reassured me during rocky times at the agency, and told me I was good enough to do anything I wanted to do, even at a top agency. That man was my mentor, and my hero. If the world had more bosses like that, we wouldn’t be having this discussion at all.

  • ALICIA C says:

    I think this post is head on. I am a millennial but I am not offended. It isn’t that Gen-Y’s do not have a loyalty gene, i think we were just taught since we could walk to fight for what we believe in. We were always told to do the best that we can and strive to be the greatest. Many kids aspire to grow up an be like their parents.

    In many situations they want to be better than their parents were so they can provide a better life for their children and take care of their parents when they grow old. So I do not think it’s that we don’t want to be at a certain place for a long time. I think Gen-Y’s are wired to want results asap and do whatever it takes to get them.

  • Callan Green says:

    Very interesting, Todd. I am a millennial (and proud of it – but of course, I would be, bc that’s a trait of our generation). In any case, I think you raise a great question and I am sure no one in my generation wants to see companies treating us like short term employees. But I also think that the question should be raised as to why people are leaving. I respectfully disagree with your statement that we leave because we think “3 years is a long time” or that we simply grow restless. I think the majority of people leave because they get a better offer, plain and simple.

    I fully recognize that times have changed, and that perhaps generations before us weren’t constantly approached on a weekly basis through Linkedin, Facebook, etc with job options. But this is the reality now. We are easier than ever to reach, have used social media to spread awareness about our personal brand, and are generally speaking – poor. So yea, when someone reaches out to us and offers us a big raise, and a better title, loyalty takes a backseat.

    In my opinion, the question to ask is, if you have a millennial on your staff that you want to see sitting at your senior table one day, what are you doing to keep them there? It’s going to take more than the occasional free lunch or office bonding. Its about giving us responsibility, challenging us, encouraging us to grow. It’s about giving us role models to look up to and letting us do creative work. And most importantly, it’s about creating a culture that is so awesome, that when your millennial receives their weekly Linkedin email from a recruiter, that they don’t even open it because they know they are where they are supposed to be. And yes, it’s a lot of work for management, but I know it can be done. I am happily employed at the same agency I began my career at post-college, and after three years here, I can confidently say I hope/plan to be here for forever.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Todd. I always enjoy your blog.


  • Hi Todd,

    I’m a Millenial myself (26 years old). I believe that the problem at hand is not our loyalty but our drive to feel we’re doing a job we truly love. PR can burn you out, especially in the “long almost 3 years” when you’re trying to be noticed for your ideas and not just ability to edit press lists.

    Add in a recession that brought layoffs to shorten our tenures at jobs and you start to paint a better picture of why our resumes may have a few sets of jobs in a five year period.

    A lot of my peers grow restless because we do not have training programs that make us feel like we’re getting the professional development we need. (I’m one of the few that found it outside my office by joining groups like Publicity Club of New England, Boston Women Communicators, and most recently, Young Nonprofit Professionals of Boston.)

    The Huffington Post had a recent piece on the management style that helps Millenials excel. How to Manage Me: Millennials and Communication

    I personally used a lay off from my high tech PR job to reflect on where I wanted my career to lead next and transitioned into working in the Nonprofit sector.

  • TIM SHISLER says:


    Great post and solid points. As a 27-year-old freelancer who’s having trouble demanding loyalty from my clients, I feel your pain. I did, however, want to put a few more thoughts into the ring.

    I entered high school using the Dewey Decimal System and graduated college on Facebook. During my schooling I went from linear tape-to-tape editing to a toaster, then iMove, then Final Cut Pro and didn’t think twice about the change or how it would change my workflow. It was simply what I did to keep up and continue being competitive in the market.

    When I got into my first gig out of college at a PR firm it was a rude awakening to see how slow innovation seemed to take when it came to executing my job. I remember sitting in a meeting in 2005 and telling a CEO why I included a paragraph about a company-wide blog. He told me to go back to calling down my press list and leave the heavy lifting to the senior employees.

    At the time I was furious. I had been forced to keep up at my own expense during college and I could point to the very real rewards of living without fear. But what I didn’t understand yet was how the system worked and the game of leverage and risk. To me if you could do something you just did it, but to a senior employee who was thinking high-level and what it takes to get there the risk might not be worth the reward.

    Now after just a few years I’ve come to learn the game all too well. Working in media I’ve learned that most times if an editor can’t tie advertising to a multimedia piece I’m pitching it just won’t happen. So instead of banging my head against the wall, I present solutions to the funding. If it doesn’t go anywhere it’s no big deal. They’ll either figure it out or disappear. Not worth my time to save a sinking ship.

    Now in no way to I see SHIFT as a sinking ship or its innovation as being sluggish. In fact I quite often push my best PR friends towards your agency with the lines of “this guy executes and doesn’t just talk,” and “give him a good idea and he’ll give it good thought.” But you’re the exception.

    As technology continues to come at consumers faster and faster, those who grew up with it will have a harder time stepping back and looking at what it means in the big picture. This might make them feel stuck. Feel unable to do their job. Feel frustrated that the “senior employees” don’t get it. And I think a majority will leave.

    But that’s the natural cycle of things. I would never have matured at the rate I have if I hadn’t left and taken on all the risk without any leverage. I put myself into a corner thinking I was freeing myself and have had to grow up to get out.

    The employee that left after three years might have no idea yet, but at some point he/she will no doubt wish the resources she once took for granted were still behind her.


    I came of age, professionally, in Silicon Valley where, for decades, things turned over every 18-24 months. Chalk it up to Moore’s Law. Not so for everyone, of course, but most of the ambitious people, the ones on their way up tended to find their way out (of where they were) to put a foot on the next rung. There was no other choice when there were so many great people and great opportunities beckoning them. This is just the way it was. I was one of them. And I grabbed the brass ring several times. Started my own thing ten years ago, and endured the exit(s) of many people I wish would have stuck around. Loyalty is, and always has been, fragile. But — it pays to hire the smartest, nimblest, most ambitious people available. They present the best value proposition. Even if they’re not around for many years, their contributions can make the most difference.

  • Mark O'Toole says:


    I feel your pain. Managing a PR firm for the last 12 years has put me pretty much exactly in your shoes. I need to not become a jaded employer and start thinking every employee is a temporary one.

    -People will leave. It’s the nature of the employee and the challenge of the employer.
    -Finding and training new staff sucks.
    -Keeping good staff is great.
    -Generational differences exist, though they are not universal — some staff will live by the new rules, others will resemble a more traditional pre-Millenial employee.

    -Sometimes it’s good to have turnover to re-energize a team and introduce new thinking.
    -Often, those who leave were not cut out for the job, as much as we convince ourselves we are super smart about hiring.
    -If you love something, set it free… I’ve had talented staff leave and generally have seen two results. 1) They keep the entrepreneurial spirit we helped them develop and have become leaders in new organizations or started their own ventures, or 2) I keep an eye on them, watch them grow and bring them back when it makes sense for them and us.

  • nICOLE SHOE says:

    Lately, it seems as HR departments are becoming more media-savvy, and with that, they are seeking out employees themselves, rather than waiting for them to come.
    Many “future employees” now have their own websites, blogs and promote their work online. All of this information is wide open for any company to come across.
    With many people in my generation, it is not a personal issue with the company they are working for, it is usually a better offer. One thing our generation deals with is an unfair amount of college debt. While we want to be in a job that challenges us and pushes us, we also need to be able to pay our bills. It’s not always about the money, but occasionally it is.
    If an opportunity presents itself to move forward and upward with a pleasant benefits package, it’s definitely hard to say no. It’s also flattering to be courted by such companies.
    It’s hard to say goodbye, and it’s something that we all cope with at some point. But many companies in this economy have shown that employees are dispensable. Employees are also unsure how much they can trust their company.

  • sHELLY pERKO says:

    This is such a huge issue. I’m 24 and I’ve been at my agency for “almost 3 years” as well. And while the number of years doesn’t bother me or urge me on to change, the experiences I have here are what determine my itch or lack there of, to move agencies.
    In the books, Good to Great and Built to Last, huge sections are devoted to the importance of companies leaders and their focus on training their young employees how to manage and lead others. Even though I’m only three years into my career, I can see how important it is for the owners of the agency and its leaders to get into the lives of their young employees, to push them harder with meaningful tasks – tasks that with some mentoring, the younger employees will succeed!
    Even though I’m only 24 and I’ve been at the same agency I started my career at, it’s important to be to be able to have the opportunities for challenging tasks, leadership roles and the chance to make a difference for clients and for the agency as a whole. I could be happy at the same place for 40 years if that’s a constant part of a job. But if it’s not, I’ll be out before I get too comfortable!

  • Hi Todd:
    I think you are blaming the wrong people. This situation is a result of the corporate policies throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s. Remember the headlines “Freelance Nation?” We were told to read books like “Who Moved My Cheese” and to expect 4-5 career changes.

    Companies stopped being loyal to employees. And the new generation of employee has responded in kind. When hard times come do companies tighten the belt and cut shareholder value? Or do they lay-off employees in droves – sometimes employees who have been with them for decades?

    Benefits have been slashed and salaries have stagnated. Companies are undermanned and have boosted productivity by working people longer hours – with fewer breaks and vacations. Want to know the best way to get promoted and a raise these days? Jump to another company!

    Gen Y has watched this happen and adjusted. Can you really blame them?

    • Todd Defren says:

      I *don’t* blame them – as I had hoped to make clear. The question is, has it now become a vicious cycle?

      Have the shitty policies of the Employer led to poor loyalty by Staff, which in turn de-motivates employers to re-think their practices to engender loyalty (again)? Can we turn the flywheel in the other direction?

  • Tac Anderson says:

    Why does “loyalty” have to be tied to retention? Recently blogged about the the idea that there are other kinds of value that can be created by this trend. The Future of Employee Retention Of course while I’m an Xer all the way (we are the ones that started this trend) I fall into the new job every three years syndrome and it hasn’t hurt me at all.

  • Solid topic. One that needs to be discussed. Todd, I feel your frustration. My dad worked for IBM for 30-plus years, so I very much respect and value the idea of loyalty and commitment to one team. Heck, I grew up rooting for George Brett.

    I think we give millenials too much credit when it comes to understanding the ins and outs of career development. It’s not unlike the companies that pull college students off the campus and toss the social media strategy in their laps. Just because millenials get the technology, doesn’t mean they get strategy. And just because they can write a cover letter, resume and land a communications job doesn’t mean they get things like career path and F2F relationships with supervisors.

    We’ve had some millenials leave Fleishman recently, and at first it pissed me off. Now, I wish I’d have sat down and talked to them. Because if I asked them whether they felt comfortable requesting different work or more responsibility, or just if they still liked their job, maybe they’d still be at FH. You noted the millenials generation likes to feel valued. What many of them need, IMO, is a mentor. A career coach. Or even just someone who’s a good communicator to start the dialogue.

    Companies deciding to stop motivating loyalty? Maybe, but that’s just plain lazy. It’s a cop out. Like a company that would say they just don’t understand that social media, so they’re going to ignore it and see what happens. What will happen is they will miss out on all the best people. My .02. Yours?

  • Grace Cheung says:

    1 vote for Arik Hanson’s comment above :)

    Todd, honestly, I think it’s the way companies treat their employees. If they treat their employees like they’re dispensable, then their employees will feel dispensable – and what incentive will they have to stick around if they stumble upon a better opportunity?

    I had an amazing part time job in college and I was there 3 out of the 4 years I was in school. I didn’t work my first year, and would have stayed had I not graduated. My supervisors were always accessible, gave us regular feedback on our performance, helped us get the promotions/raises that we worked for, allowed us to contribute to creating applications or programs that help the organization run more efficiently, and really just cared about our contribution to the organization. And everyone I worked with was bright and motivated. Turnover decreased during the time I was with the organization and employees that took breaks from work always came back. Some even tried to stay on after graduation :) In short, we felt valued.

    I understand that the “real world” isn’t like that. But the experience I had in college and the experience I’ve had after, are drastically different. I graduated in the spring of 2008, right in the middle of the recession, so I didn’t have the luxury of finding a company, much less a manager, that was a perfect fit for me. I took on roles that would help me reach my career goals. Everything I learned, I learned on my own. I paid for my own professional development and even my own health insurance. I spent most of my free time improving my skill set. And I always gave my 100%, trying to find new & innovative ways to do things. When I was tasked with managing a team, I made sure to find some way to match their interests with work that would benefit the company. I helped lead successful campaigns and shared credit as often as I could.

    But, in the end, I never once felt valued by those that were in charge of managing me nor did I ever get any feedback or acknowledgement – even when I asked. I truly felt dispensible, so when I found a new employer that really saw me as an asset to the company–and not a cost–I left. I graduated in the middle of a recession, but that doesn’t mean I should be underpaid and undervalued for the rest of my life.

  • That’s interesting, I am an business owner myself, and I guess an Y-gen, being dated ’78. I know exactly what you mean, in Italy most companies resorted to treat everyone as short term workers, with very horrible consequences like total cuts in training times (it’s just not worth it, if someone leaves after a few months) and general professional growth.
    Yet, we managed to build a “core” team of Y-gen individuals who believe in the company and share the management/founders view.
    What scares me is that, as I wrote in one of my last blog posts, it all comes down mostly to serendipitous happening than to real employees-hunting. It became increasingly difficult to snipe for good candidates to fulfill positions that are becoming, especially in my line of business, more and more specialized and hard to come by.
    The trend is dire, yet I still manage to see extraordinary young individuals who evidently skipped the “how to suck at what you do” class. And I am glad for it.

    • Todd Defren says:

      … in Italy most companies resorted to treat everyone as short term workers, with very horrible consequences like total cuts in training times (it’s just not worth it, if someone leaves after a few months) and general professional growth.

      Fascinating!! I wonder if it affected Italy’s global competitiveness? Or is that a reach?

      • It really is a “taboo” argument over here.
        While we’re so proud about our “made in italy” branding, the truth is, working with both italian and european/american companies I can safely say the professional approach is completely different, and there is a huge generational gap, especially in management, which I feel needs to be filled.
        I am not saying the situation is dramatic or anything like that, just that we’re probably suffering from this more than most other countries.
        I have been looking for candidates in specific technical roles for my company and the level of preparation and (very most important) *WILL* to learn something in the long term is kinda embarassing. Especially universities are in a situation where, for the most part, they keep preparing people for jobs they won’t get and they ignore new, important trends in a desperate attempt to maintain their professors’ status quo.

  • Holly Olp says:

    If that is the case, Rex and Todd, I can’t say how happy I am to be Gen Y and not the next generation! Job training would have to be part of the application process!

    I agree with Arik that once a position gets too comfortable, many people look to move on or expand their horizons elsewhere. I do think it’s the responsibility of a company to keep challenging their employees, but I also think that any successful company, especially in a constantly evolving field like PR, does this almost automatically. So the problem, in that case, would be on the young & restless. I don’t think enough people do as Arik and proactively work with their employers to set higher goals, expand their knowledge base, experiment and earn new responsibilities. We’re in the field of communication, yet so many people are afraid to communicate their own needs and desires with their employers.
    While I don’t know what will happen in the long run, I do think companies that take an active role in their employee career development and encourage employees to open up about their expectations will always feel less of the “Flibbertigibbetness” trend.

  • Chuck Hemann says:

    Todd -

    I guess I fall into the tail end of the millenial generation (I’m closing in on 31), but I always resist the temptation to label myself as part of one generation or another. I’ve actually had the exact opposite experience as Arik. I started my agency career with an agency in Clevland, and stayed there for 6 years. A long time? Probably not. But when you start the job at 24, 6 months seems like a long time. When I left to joined my existing firm in Austin, I did so because I genuinely believed it was a better opportunity. As I mentioned on Twitter, I don’t think it’s up to us (I’m now managing a lot more people) to determine what is, or isn’t, a better opportunity for the people we are managing. We’ll almost always go from unhappy to happy for the person in a couple of weeks. I don’t think we disagree on this point, though.

    Onto the point of the post… Arik actually beat me to the point. The way I look at this, and perhaps this is indicative of being a millenial ;-) , but this is a business on both sides. You need to motivate me to stay, and I need to commit to making SHIFT (or any other agency) the best it can be. The second one of those two components fails, I can’t say I blame either side for wanting to move on. Does this sense of short-termism lead to anything within an organization? i don’t think so. Companies will forever chase the best and brightest. If that “best and brightest” stays, makes an impact and then moves on well, then we’ve derived some value out of the transaction. Perhaps transaction is the wrong word, but I think you get my point.

    A couple of follow-on questions that I’m not smart enough to answer myself (though I certainly have opinions):

    1. Is the training expense that prohibitive? Do agencies really lose THAT much money if someone comes and goes in a short period of time?
    2. Is short-termism in the industry real?
    3. If someone comes and goes in a short period of time, is that necessarily bad? Maybe they just weren’t a fit and noticed it themselves?

    Thanks for starting the conversation, Todd.

  • Jules Zunich says:

    GenXer chiming in here. My guess is that you’re an anomaly, Todd. Plus, you’re the owner (which is exactly what I was thinking one line before I read it.)

    I have had great jobs, but the ones I left were because the company (or specifically, people within the company) made work miserable. If I had interned at Shift all those many, many (oh so many) years ago, I might still be there, but it wouldn’t be for the work as much as for the people. Few employers try to make work bearable, let alone rewarding. I have never had a supervisor ask about my goals, desires, etc. (Not that they didn’t get an earful from me anyway.) I think that long term employment is going the way of long-term relationships and with the economy putting so much pressure on companies, I am pretty sure that Looking Out for Number One has replaced loyalty.

    But I can’t help wonder if the flibbertigibbet who prompted this post will realize that there are rarely greener pastures. Just knowing that you care about things like this should make those Millennials think twice before leaving.

  • SHELLEY tRUDeau says:

    Is this a challenge? Is it possible for a millennial to prove that they do intend to stick with a company for more than 3 or so years, potentially buying you out when you retire? We can’t see into the future to tell what the millennia’s have in store for us. Perhaps we’ll be the generation that successfully works until we’re 95. Perhaps we’ll continue to build and break things, learning by trial and error and making the world a better place as we go. But as you group ‘Millennial’ together and assume all are like the ones you’ve read about or come in contact with, you are missing out on the ones who might mold YOUR future. The ones who will stick by you and help bring your company into a realm you didn’t think possible. So, again, I pose the question, is this blog, a challenge to the millennial generation to prove you wrong? Because if so, then YOU have to give them a chance. YOU, as a boss, have to continue to challenge you’re colleagues and give them a reason to not get too comfortable.

    On a side note, In an advertising class my senior year of college, I had a professor tell us that the only way to move up in advertising is to jump around. Possibly, we are only doing what we were told to do.

    • Todd Defren says:

      I’m not asking Millenials to prove me wrong. I’m wondering aloud what happens when employers stop TRYING to motivate loyalty.

      And PS (fwiw) every generation gets “lumped together.” ya think my generation liked being called Slackers as a group? Not so much.

      • Melanie Ensign says:


        I know I’m late to the game here – busy week – but there was something critically missing from the previous posts from my fellow Gen Ys that deserves at least a passing glance. Success for a public relations consultant hinders on several key relationships, not the least of which includes relationships with our clients. Becoming a trusted counselor to our clients takes time and dedication – learning the ins and outs of a business doesn’t happen over night. And if you’re interested in working with a large corporation – it can take years to develop the right relationships (in both client & employer organizations) that enable you to be at the top of your game.

        So maybe 3 years is a long time to sit on Facebook or develop media lists – but as you gain the trust of your clients (and by extension your bosses) you will inevitably be challenged with new assignments and opportunities to partner with your clients and expand your relationships. Client loyalty is not independent of the loyalty we show our clients (and employers) and anyone hoping to move from junior staff to senior staff needs to understand this.

  • Arik Hanson says:

    Full disclosure: I’m an Xer, too. And, I’d probably be classified as a hopper during my career. Part of that was by design (early on–not knowing what I wanted to do with my life and trying different roles/jobs) and part of that was by circumstance.

    I think there are two issues here–first, why the restlessness? For me, it boils down to one thing: Do you feel challenged/inspired at work on a daily basis? The moment you stop feeling challenged is the day you usually check out (or shortly thereafter).

    I remember reading somewhere that most folks master their jobs within three years. That rings true for me. Most jobs I’ve had, I found myself “comfortable” after a few years and looking for a new challenge. When one wasn’t presented internally, I looked externally. And I actually think that’s a positive trait. Should I have been more loyal to my employer and hung around a few more years? Not if they weren’t paying enough attention to challenge me on a regular basis (and keep in mind, I usually let them know). I see this exact scenario playing out today. I know it’s a challenge for employers, but I think some of this has to be on them. You have to pay attention to your teams and work hard to keep them motivated and challenged (to be clear, not saying you don’t do this at SHIFT, Todd).

    Second issue: What now? While I agree with your analysis Todd that this is a tough issue for employers–especially on the training front. I still find myself thinking–can’t employers look at new and different ways to challenge employees more regularly? If they can’t promote employees (common challenge), why not look at different ways to let them work on their passions to the benefit of the company? Do most employers even know what their employees are passionate about? Judging from my corporate experience, I’d say no. I think organizations need to start by listening to their employees (and I mean really listening) and thinking differently about how they motivate, retain and challenge their staff.


    • JOsh braaten says:

      I think you’re right on here Arik. For whatever reason, it seems to take about three years to either a) find out that you’re in the wrong industry/job b) stop being challenged by your company or c) stop being rewarded by your company (important distinction).

      If you hire someone and don’t give them opportunities to grow and change as one does in their professional lives, be prepared to see them leave.

      I also think that the traditional relationship between employee and employer is eroding. The extremely hierarchical workplace is giving way to a workforce that is more aware of their personal contributions and more willing to ask for opportunities/compensation packages to go with them.

    • Louise says:

      I agree with that comfort vs challenge dynamic.

      I think there’s a “fashion” to move jobs to get that next challenge and perhaps millenials need to look be encouraged to look for – and ask for internal challenges first. And businesses need to think of less linear career paths, where managers think of “next challenges” rather than next roles, and create “exploratory projects” that might not be a direct step in their learning but might go toward creating breadth of experience.

      • Dan G says:

        Actually, Todd, I see a darker side. Sure, managers can start thinking about “next challenges” for their people. BUT that creates a cost… a management cost to find those challenges and a cost to the company while the person comes up to speed. The latter is definitional: it would not be a challenge if they were up to speed on Day 1.

        So, companies might begin to decide it’s not worth the cost. Instead, give the “challenging” role to someone who’s already qualified rather than hand-holding someone who can’t sit still. That is — if the cost to recruit someone qualified is less than the cost of hand-holding and on-the-job training, you can guess which a company will choose. Worse, in the new normal of 9+% unemployment, you may find over-qualified folks willing to take the job because they have mortgages to pay. This leads to deflation and even less opportunities for the lowest on the experience scale.

        I agree that loyalty is not warranted for some companies, but this generation of wanderlust may be heading for a serious spanking.

      • Todd Defren says:

        EXACTLY my point. Thank you!

  • I think you’re making a good point. Gen Y is a little bit prone to seek out the new thing–but what if, instead of focusing on the fact that they’re leaving, companies continued to evolve and BECOME the next GREAT thing?

    After all, in your opening example this is how you described the Gen Y’ers departure.

    When all is said and done, I think we’re seeking to become a part of something–to feel ownership and have stay on the bleeding edge.

    (Of course, written by a Gen Y’er)

  • Rex Riepe says:

    It’s part of a greater trend, I think. Go up yet another generation and you’ll have people saying “16 years? Big deal.”

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