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The Real Reasons Millennials Quit

Stereotypes about millennial employees do a disservice to both young professionals and their employers: They prevent a clear understanding of what motivates young talent and what steps organizations can take to reduce costly employee turnover.

By Sarah Sladek

Millennials are notorious for job-hopping. Multiple studies have shown that these young adults, ages 22 to 35 and also known as Generation Y, change jobs three times as often as other employees. According to Gallup, employee turnover now costs U.S. organizations an estimated $30.5 billion per year.

Organizations' inability to retain millennials is crippling our collective bottom line, yet many employers are shoulder-shrugging and passing blame. I've heard every possible excuse for why employers can't keep their young talent, such as:

  • It's youth rebellion. ("No worries! Job-hopping is something they will eventually outgrow.")
  • It's a character flaw. ("Those millennials are such an entitled, needy, difficult-to-please generation! They have no work ethic.")
  • It's a culture problem. ("We just need to add more perks, like nap rooms and Bring Your Dog to Work Day.")

Those excuses are both inaccurate and unfair to young employees. Rather than trying to shove a billion-dollar epidemic under the rug or explain it without looking more closely at its causes, employers need to consider the larger trends in play. What's really causing turnover among young professionals?

Create a place where millennials can be challenged and contribute in meaningful ways, and turnover will decrease.

Millennials grew up in a different environment. Millennials and the generations that will follow have little or no memory of industrial-era command-and-control management methods, and therefore they don't understand or appreciate processes and hierarchy. They were born into a world powered by the hallmarks of a talent economy: innovation, collaboration, globalization, instant gratification, and learning. Millennials struggle to comprehend why decisions can't be made on the fly, why they don't necessarily have a seat at the decision-making table, and why things have always been done "that way."

In addition, millennials came of age during the Great Recession—the worst economic decline the U.S. had experienced in 70 years—and they are the best-educated generation in history. These characteristics have shaped their career trajectory.

Millennials job-hunt in different ways and for different reasons. Research by XYZ University reveals that millennials spend more time than members of other generations exploring careers and opportunities for advancement for two key reasons: They are searching for jobs that tap into what they value, such as education and collaboration, and they are still reeling from the recession, paying off student loans, and seeking jobs that will allow them to support themselves financially.

The Deloitte Millennial Survey showed that 44 percent of millennials plan to leave their current jobs within the next two years. Two factors contribute to this loyalty challenge: Young professionals believe most organizations have no objective beyond making a profit, and they believe that their leadership skills are not being fully developed by their current employers.

The values and needs of this generation of employees aren't aligning with their workplace experiences. In other words, we're seeing an ever-widening gap between 20th-century-managed organizations and 21st-century-raised workers.

Increased employee turnover is the outcome of a shift in workforce needs and values—a shift that is here to stay. It's time to stop making excuses and rethink your management style. Create a place where millennials can be challenged and contribute in meaningful ways, and turnover will decrease. Ignore the situation or will it away, and employee turnover will continue to be the billion-dollar elephant in the room squashing everyone's potential.

Sarah Sladek is CEO of XYZ University, a consulting firm that helps organizations engage future generations of talent. Her new book is "Talent Generation: How Visionary Organizations Are Redefining Work and Achieving Greater Success." Email: [email protected]

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