Gen Y's Retention Deficit Syndrome

We recognize the signs. A young employee shows up late at work or for meetings, misses assignments or takes sick days when they're on top of their game.

As a boss your first instinct is to rattle their cage. But what will that accomplish?

Employers fret about holding onto Gen Y workers who may be less inclined than previous generations to stick around through thick and thin. Given the cost of recruiting young talent, employers are understandably concerned about return on investment - keeping an employee long enough for them to develop into strong contributors.

Still, loyalty isn't part of the "deal" any more between employers and employees, so it's no surprise that, according to a new study by Taleo, an HR software company, 41% of those who are no longer working for their first employer out of college left in less than two years. That doesn't strike me as an epidemic - a lot of first jobs simply aren't good fits.

Taleo teamed with Harris Interactive to conduct a survey of 2,045 adults ages 18 and older, a series of questions about their first jobs and first employers.

Three out of five respondents said that their first employer did not provide a clear path for advancement. Of course, the reality is that few employers provide a clear path to anything, much less to the corner office.

Other key findings:

  • Describing how their first job made them feel, 13% said they couldn't wait for Friday to arrive, 10% wanted to quit every day and 8% felt it was a waste of their time
  • 19% of 18-34 year olds wanted to quit their first job every day, compared to 3% of those 55 years old and over

There's no real way of telling from the data whether first jobs are worse than they used to be, or whether employers or employees are primarily to blame for the gap between expectations and experience.

How well do you remember your first job? I wasn't thrilled and I wasn't miserable but knew I wanted to move on before the first year was complete. There isn't always a retention solution for an employer, but money helps a little.

Maybe the survey results will strike you differently. As for me, I can't wait for Friday to arrive and I love what I do.

Rusty Weston, My Global Career • San Francisco, Ca •

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  • Megan DaGata

    Many of us, Gen Y-er's don't know what we want. We are given limitless possibilities by our imaginations and told to reach for the clouds, but few of us have achieved what we always imagined. When we finally receive our degrees and go in search of the ultimate job that few of us ever find. We take the best job offered to us and hope for the best. When we fail at it (miserably in some cases) or we decide that we can't stand it any further, we move on. It is time for the next big adventure, the next step. Always wanting more and more. We were taught to reach for the clouds, and we keep reaching. Some find their happiness in what they do, others do their jobs to pay the bills. Either way, it is rarely accomplished at their first job; that is just the boarding area for the ride to the cloud.

  • Ryan Stephens

    As a member of Generation Y I think both parties are partially to blame. First, Generation Y (as a whole) really have been coddled, told how great they were, etc. so the first time they have to do a lame menial task that they can't see the pertinence they are going to be flustered and put out. More times than not they should know that it is what it is, do the task and go back to work. Second, I think Bea hit the nail on the head. I have had friends with phenomenal track records get jobs that they quit because they said they could do the work in 2-3 hours and spent the rest of the time staring a computer screen or all day doing relatively pointless tasks.

    Gen Y CAN be very valuable, but they do need (as Danny Meyer would say) constant, gentle, pressure (and the right combination of all three). They want you on top of them to do work all day, but they do want meaningful work and if they can't see the meaning in it, they would greatly appreciate an explanation. Sometimes a, "Yes, this is a pointless boring task but you're lower on the totem poll than me," will suffice because management is being upfront and honest.

    Nice read Rusty!

  • Bea Fields

    Nice post Rusty. In the work I do with Gen Yers and their bosses/leaders, the common complaint I hear is that Gen Y is bored. Because they have been so exposed to so much stimulation, the Millennials I have met say that they most want variety and meaningful work. Companies like Intuit are addressing this through top notch rotational development programs, which gives young workers tons of opportunities to do something different every day. Maybe it's time to shift the way we all work...spice things up a bit, and keep it interesting.