“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.
“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