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Once and For All: Settling the Debate on Gen Y and Job Longevity

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Article upon article upon article has been written about Gen Y and their quick turnover. I recently read an article in the London Business School that probably sounds familiar. Here's a few highlights:

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!'

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?' If I can generalize for a moment, the implication here is that Generation Y has much more employee power than any generation before.

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.

If you simply look at these stats, your future plan for employee productivity will be based on assuming your employees will only be in your company for two years. That sounds like an insurmountable challenge for most industries in which your knowledge as an employee really only becomes valuable with experience. Companies can certainly speed up capability ramp-up times -- technology can help greatly with this process (if you're interested, ask me how). But is that the only solution? Is this the only way we should be looking at this problem?

I propose a different approach. Let's start by asking "Why?"

Why does this generation interview the company? Is it really because we have more employee power today than before?

No. Let's look at our family lives. We (Gen Y) have grown up in a time of global economic crisis and we saw companies reduce their benefits drastically for their employees. We also saw many scandals, that were much more advertised than ever before, reducing our trust. Companies lost their privilege to feel like not just us, but anyone should feel grateful to work there. What we saw is people feeling grateful just to have a job. But gratitude towards the company? Engagement, productivity, innovation, loyalty? Not many had those feelings. We interview the company because we have less power. And we know it.

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So we put the power in our own hands. We know that if we can figure out what the true culture of the company is, if we can understand what kind of work we will truly be doing and how it will play into our career, maybe we can avoid having to put our faith, our destiny, in companies that don't care.

Inevitably, what you see is that companies who put their employees first don't have nearly as much of an issue as others in retaining their employees. Those companies, instead of focusing on Gen Y retention, are focusing on making their culture as innovative, simplified and engaging as possible to be prepared for the future. Because they are not worried. They know that culture trumps generational differences every time.

If anything, this change is causing lower grade companies and employees to finally be on an even playing field -- not expecting employees to be giving the majority of their life time without giving anything back, driving companies to evolve their culture to create more engagement -- a win-win situation for both parties. Furthermore, the nature of the workplace has changed from nine to five technical or repetitive type roles to project management/thought leadership/innovative roles. This is the type of work we have been trained to do through our education. It takes a different kind of environment in companies to do so.

Should HR folks really be saying: "These people are Crazy!"? No -- they should be the ones driving this culture change, before HR truly becomes obsolete.