There has been no lack of literature on the different paradigms of the generations recently. I can’t open an HR focused magazine without finding at least one article about Generation Ys or Millenials, sometimes described with admiration and awe, sometimes decried as irrational and even dangerously separated from reality.
I had one conversation with a very senior Generation X HR executive who described conducting a job interview with a Gen Y person, and she said that the Gen Y’er sounded as if ‘He was interviewing me! These people are crazy!’
This highly emotional response illustrates a fundamental shift in the employer proposition. Gone is the ‘You should be grateful to work here’ paradigm. The more likely held paradigm by Gen Y is, ‘Why should I work for you?’ This dynamic can dramatically unsettle even the seasoned interviewer, as it genuinely does make us question who really holds the power here? The answer is not so straightforward.
In a job interview, the party who is more willing to walk away holds more power. If I can generalise for a moment, the implication here is that Generation Y has much more employee power than any generation before. They care less about working for a specific employer, and more about the quality of the work environment. They care less about employee longevity and more about employee mobility.
Just think about our own family experiences. I’ve asked this of dozens of colleagues, executive education participants, and clients over the years. It is almost invariably true, no matter the country of origin:
- Our grandparents had one to two employers over the course of their professional lives,
- Our parents had three to four,
- Most of those currently in the workforce have, or anticipate having, at least eight.
This pattern implies a doubling of the number of employers in a lifetime in every generation! Therefore, do those in university now anticipate having 16 employers? If they work until they are 68 to 72, a reasonable assumption today, this anticipation seems very realistic – a new job every three to four years. But ignoring anecdotal information for the moment, let’s see if quantitative evidence bears this out.
Since 2009, London Business School has been issuing a survey to the participants of our executive education open enrolment Emerging Leaders Programme, asking their attitudes toward work, employee engagement, and leadership paradigms. This course is a training ground for the global managers of the future and are almost all Gen Y – average age is 29, representing 33 countries over the past five years. One of the questions of this survey asks how long the programme participants anticipate staying with their current employer:
- 11+ years
- Six to ten years
- Three to five years
- Two years or fewer.
The results support this startling change in worker attitudes over the last two generations:
- 11+ years: 5%
- Six to ten years: 5%
- Three to five years: 53%
- Two years or fewer: 37%.
Two startling conclusions from these results are that 1) 90% of those surveyed anticipate staying with their employer for no more than five years, and 2) over a third do not foresee staying more than two!
For the employer, and specifically the HR function, the implications are fundamental. HR needs to focus more on asking their employees: what can you do for us now rather than five years from now? How can we support your development with short, sharp interventions, programmes, mentoring, or coaching? How can we support your career, knowing you will probably explore other opportunities, and entice you back when you are an even more senior, fully developed professional? How can our culture, rather than our employee ‘package’, keep you longer than we would otherwise enjoy? What benefits do you truly want, recognising that those benefits that grow slowly over time may not be relevant to you?
These are not easy questions to answer, particularly because the answers will be idiosyncratic to each organisation, each answer defining or redefining its culture and employer proposition in a manner that supports its unique brand, mission, vision and values. But if talent is key to success, and I see no evidence to suggest this paradigm has changed over the generations, then our answers must be compelling ones and may in some cases represent a sea change over previously held sacred cows.