Over the last decade and a half we’ve all been exposed to the following idea: Millennials and Gen-Zs are serial job hoppers, they don’t expect to stay long at your company and therefore you shouldn’t expect them to stay long either.
We spent countless hours trying to figure out why newer generations were different and coming up with strategies to help companies adapt to this new reality. Yet this ubiquitous piece of popular wisdom has one problem: It falls apart on closer inspection.
When you use hard data, say, from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, you inevitably realize we all jumped to conclusions too quickly: Americans are staying as long on their jobs as they did back in 1983. Interestingly, millennials are staying slightly longer than Gen-X did at this point in their lives.
Misinterpreting data from surveys is probably to blame for this myth. For example, millennials are asked if they think they will stay at their current job for more than a year, and 50% of them say no. Compared to 40% from previous generations that same year.
It’s also important to remember that survey, and others like it, don’t actually measure actual time spent at companies. They don’t correct for age, or account for changes in plans and perspectives, changes that are common at that stage in our lives. All in all, misinterpretation of data is responsible for one of the most pervasive and widespreads myths in the HR industry.
Millennials joined the labour market during the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression. They obviously developed an appreciation for job stability, because they know first hand what job instability entails (which has always been higher among the less than 30 demographic, especially so during an economic crisis).
Just over 1 out of every 5 millennials have stayed for more than 5 years with their current employer, statistically indistinguishable from Gen-X at this point in their lives.
And the economic crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic will result in the biggest recession since the Great Depression, easily dwarfing the financial crisis from a decade ago. In fact, our current economic crisis has already been baptized by the IMF: The Great Lockdown. So expect Millenials and Gen-Z (and everyone else for that matter) to become even more appreciative of job stability. Getting this wrong again would have profound implications for your employer brand.
Logic dictates that companies that build their recruiting strategy based on reality, rather than basing it on misunderstanding, will have a competitive advantage.
A Costly Myth
The culture you built and how you project it to the world will determine the type of candidates that are interested in your company.
If you think job stability and career opportunities are unimportant for millenials and Gen-Z, if you think they don’t want to stay, or worse yet, that they won’t stay for long, you will build an employer brand that doesn’t emphasize job stability, security and the career possibilities offered by your company. Which will result in attracting candidates that are not as interested in establishing a long-term relationship with you.
I see this everywhere, companies talk a lot about the many skills you will learn working with them, or the free breakfasts, while not emphasizing the long-term possibilities in their organizations nearly enough.
You might even design the structure of your company around the idea that the new generation of employees won’t stay long, a self-fulfilling prophecy that results in people leaving because you expect them to: no visible career opportunities, little internal mobility, few new challenges or responsibilities, leading to a feeling of stagnation among many employees.
There are simple measures you can take to improve your employer brand, and to make sure your company is seen as a promising place to build a career in.
Interview employees that have been in your company for a long time, ask them why they chose to stay, how their life has changed since they joined and what they would say to somebody that is considering applying for the first time. Then make sure to feature their testimonies proudly on your career site.
Emphasize the opportunities that exist within your company, beyond what’s currently at their grasp, and make sure to emphasize how your employees grow alongside your company. Take performance management seriously, create an internal mobility program that encourages employees to grow within your organization, share their stories and inspire others to achieve the same.
Every crisis is an opportunity to learn from our mistakes. In the past, the HR industry underestimated how committed millennials were to their employers, which led to a lot of companies missing and losing valuable talent. Let’s not do that again. Unemployment has already exploded worldwide due to the coronavirus pandemic, it’s only a matter of time before record numbers of people are looking for a new job.
By sticking to the facts, companies will be able to find the right talent, retain it for longer and ultimately improve performance and productivity across all areas.