Retention of Millennials: speed beats empathy

Dorottya Nagy-Jozsa PCC Dorottya Nagy-Jozsa PCC today 2022-11-25 label english

The biggest problem with the Gen Y issue is that everybody thinks if they looked into the matter once and they implemented the essential changes in operation (succession planning, flexibility, feedback, individual responsibility), then it’s all done, and the “manage Gen Y” box is ticked.

Well, I have two problems with that. First, as I wrote many times, this balloon is overblown. The generational issue is not quite as big as the number of people who want to make a living off it.
Second, Generation Yers are not finished products, no matter how it hurts our sizeable ego.

What does this mean for you, a company manager? It means your job is not to try and follow Gen Yer needs with your incredibly slow and stale work processes, but to learn how to grow up faster as a company than us.

Let me elaborate on both:

Because we often confuse generational issues with age-dependent ones. Do you think there is a single 23-year-old on Planet Earth who would like to play table football at the workplace, just to stick with the usual example? But this is just an age thing. Veterans, Baby Boomers and Gen Xers would’ve loved it just as much when they were 23.

The special thing about Gen Yers is not that they want to play table football at work. The wonderful thing about us is that we were the first ones who think we are so endlessly special, unique and valuable that we dare to articulate our needs.

We are the first with inflated enough egos, even at the age of 23, to believe that every employer must accommodate all our demands in return for enriching their companies with our wonderful intellect.

And how did employers react? For years, they were watching with bewilderment as the universities kept releasing one loud-mouthed youngster after the other into the world, and they all wanted free breakfast cereal and a football table. Then they leave, and here comes another, and he wants the same thing. Employers had been watching this for 8-10 years before they realized there was nothing else. Just as always, most of their new recruits were young. So, they had to react somehow. They put their heads together and ordered cereals and a football table. Because these were the only concrete demands that our otherwise excellent communicator generation was able to name.

That’s great, thanks, but I have some bad news.

I’m 34, a Gen Yer. I have two children; my house is full of toys. I don’t want a football table at my workplace. I don’t want cereals either, because it’s full of sugar and because I know what to have for breakfast and when.

Listen, I would’ve loved to have these things when I was 23, but not anymore. Because 10 years have passed since then. You don’t need to implement every idiotic idea that youngsters have. Instead, try to figure out what needs will stay with us. You don’t need to be empathetic with us. You need to be smart. Smart and fast.

This takes us to my second point.

If you want to retain me or any of my fellow Yers, you must respond to my generational traits that will stay with me forever. No need to respond to my age-related issues. You can, but it might not be a good idea. Let’s stick with the football table example.

You bought me a football table. You were ten years late, but I am not an ungrateful person, I’m even happy about it somewhere deep in my heart. I won’t thank you for it, because my ego forbids me to do so and I deserved it anyway.

Since then, I’ve become a middle manager and I found myself struggling with younger Gen Yers and Zers. And listen, I’m freaking irritated that they play table football. They play table football when they are supposed to be working, and I have no idea what to do with them.

To make matters worse, neither do you, regardless if you’re a sulky Gen Xer or an indignant head scratcher Baby Boomer or Veteran. Because there were no football tables at the workplace when you first got into a management position. Because it was our generation who secured it for ourselves.

So we deserve a pat on the shoulder. Well done. However, none of us has any idea what to do with the Gen Yers and Zers who play table football, because we didn’t focus on how we could shape this irritating, obscurely functioning, Hunglish-speaking, job-hopping generation into real leaders. Instead, we were busy figuring out what to put into the 23-year-olds’ office so they don’t realize they are at a workplace.

And here’s the next bad news: they still realize it. You can tell a lot of bad things about the Yers, but they are certainly not stupid. So, despite all the fitballs, the free cornflakes and the football table,
everyone figures out what your ulterior motives are.

And if you want to retain us, you’d better figure out what we will want at the age of 40. You need to understand what we will keep of our current self and what we will leave behind as we slowly grow up. As long as you keep responding to age-related issues, you’ll stay sidetracked. In fact, you might even cause more harm than good.

At the age of 23 I want free breakfast, a gym, flexible hours, unpaid holiday, board games on Thursday afternoon and team building at the weekend.

At the age of 33 I want a gym, flexible hours, home office, a comfortable chair, a keyboard and a docking station for my laptop and filling up the tank at the weekend. I also want you to help me figure
out what to do with the Gen Zers who play table football.

At the age of 43 I want a gym, flexible hours, home office, a comfortable chair, a keyboard and a docking station for my laptop, filling up the tank at the weekend and reading glasses. I think. But I
don’t know for sure, I’ll tell you when I get there.

So, what do you need to do to keep Gen Yers?

You’ve got to be faster than us. You need to understand how we operate and get there before us. Instead of taking 7-8 years to address something our 23-year-old self wanted. Because that self no
longer exists.

Just to make it clear, I’m using the 1st person singular, I’m generalizing, blah, blah, blah. But you need to do the same, if you want to understand what drives a generation. Most of all, you must be able to predict what they do, because that’s how you can build up a company that attracts my 40-year-old self (too). But if you want to do so, you have to start today.

Or you should’ve started yesterday.


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