As a baby-boomer, I like to think that we understand modernity. After all,
weren’t us baby-boomers the breakthrough generation? The trouble is, we have no
more idea about the preoccupations of Generation Y – the current crop of 18- to
25-year-olds – than we have about flying pigs. We don’t understand how they see
the world and the labour market, as current turnover rates amply prove.
Up to half of all young workers recruited leave UK firms within only two
years. This despite a tempting package of inducements from big employers –
student loans paid off, golden handshakes, further training, mentoring,
progression opportunities, and so on.
Are they ungrateful and uncommitted? Or is there simply a yawning gap
between the expectations of the baby boomers now heading organisations, and the
expectations of Generation Y recruits?
Generation Y appears to have a clear understanding of the labour market they
will be occupying for the next 25 years. What they want is to work for an
organisation early in their career that has a reputation for gilding them and
their CV with such credentials and experience that they have a passport to hop
into their next three jobs. They expect career turbulence. They build into
their plans the notion they will migrate from one job to another – and that the
best platform for job two is the employer’s character and work nature in job
one. It’s what we at The Work Foundation in a recent report, sponsored by
Siemens, call ‘gold-dusting’.
Young workers are more demanding about development, more willing to plan
ahead and cultivate networks to promote themselves, and often more likely to
value – above large salaries – developing future employability. They believe
passionately that merit rather than length of service should drive promotion,
progression and the acquisition of responsibility. They argue their baby boomer
managers should acknowledge their demonstration of competence more fulsomely.
Yet too many managers suspect that ‘high-flier’ or ‘fast-track’ schemes for
high potential young workers sacrifice solid achievement for shallow and
manufactured visibility. This creates a mutual suspicion that bedevils the
relationship, and so many young workers move on.
The best way to keep young workers is to give them the skills and
experiences that will make them more attractive to other companies. We need to
invest in them as if they were going to stay in the organisation, despite the
evidence they will not. Organisations that behave in this way end up retaining
more of their young recruits than those that do not.
Treat your young workers with respect. Understand these birds of passage and
you will find they prove not to be birds of passage at all.