I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say young professionals don’t want to work and have no work ethic. Turnover has been steady among young professionals, and employers are quick to assume it’s the result of a shared character flaw among ‘kids these days’. Rarely do employers look within to ponder whether their business models and management practices are still relevant in the midst of a disrupted, changing marketplace.
Why are young professionals more likely to quit than prior generations? I have researched this topic in great detail, and here are the main reasons young professionals cite for quitting their jobs:
They want to take risks.
Recession. Political conflict. School shootings. Pandemic. Coming of age during a time of historic disruption and uncertainty means young professionals have had to endure high unemployment and salary cuts, and have a general fear of the future. Many employers expected the situation to make young people feel grateful to have a job, but it’s had quite the opposite effect thus far.
Young people have grown to recognize how short life actually is, and are rebuking the idea of investing 30 years in a company – especially after experiencing an increase in financial uncertainty as well as mergers and acquisitions. They have learned just hoping for the best isn’t a successful strategy. As a result, when it comes to employment they are determined to make their own luck and not compromise their values.
They want a job that fits their identity.
When it comes to jobs, young professionals have considerably more choices than previous generations. This is due to the massive retirement wave currently underway, alongside the creation of entirely new industries and start-ups that didn’t exist just 10 years ago. Young people have the time and opportunity to be selective about job fit, and it’s important to them to find a workplace and a leader who makes them feel respected, important, and valued.
Furthermore, young people have become increasingly aware of, and furious towards organizations that fail to treat their employees with fairness and equality, harm the environment, or waste resources. Unlike previous generations, it’s more important for young professionals to enjoy their jobs and to feel a sense of purpose and pride within those jobs than it is to have a high salary.
They want to stay competitive.
Even though they have their choice of jobs, young professionals recognize a rapidly shifting, disruptive job market means they need to constantly be improving to stay competitive. Moreover, both generations were raised to compete.
In the 2000s, parenting shifted to focus on equipping youth with considerable skills. There’s been an increased emphasis on young people to compete, master a sport or hobby, and obtain high grades and advanced degrees. All of this equates to seeking out employers who will challenge them and help them grow their skills — not just give them a paycheck.
Learning opportunities are key in a young professional’s decision to accept a job, which includes mentoring. Learning from and doing the work alongside more experienced professionals, as well as being given the opportunity to take initiative and share ideas, is the type of work environment where young people tend to engage and thrive.
They want to make a difference.
Millennials and Gen Z have been raised in an era of incredible change and increased globalization, political conflict, social equity awareness, and access to information. They are well-informed about the state of the world and concerned about global issues like human rights and climate change. As a result, they want to move into jobs where they can make a meaningful difference. When young professionals do not see a deeper meaning to their work, they are likely to disengage and leave.
They want to use their skills.
For many employers, the instinctive response to high turnover is to invest less in new employees, thinking ‘why sink lots of time and effort into training new hires if they are just going to turn around and leave in a few months?’.
The other problem which arises is employers believing young people should be treated as they were treated when starting out. Young professionals today are more educated, innovative, global thinkers who possess very different skill sets and perspectives than previous generations at that same age. Nevertheless, there’s still an age-old belief that surfaces, which attempts to squelch the potential and voices of young people. This is evident in comments like: ‘When I was their age’ or ‘Young people need to sit and observe, learn the ropes, and just be patient.’ As a result of these attitudes and approaches, young people – even those with MBAs – will leave jobs, complaining they were treated as assistants, weren’t permitted to sit in on certain meetings, or were otherwise excluded.
While every business has tedious and repetitive tasks that need to be done, making the reasons clear to employees will contribute to their sense of purpose. If the end result is meaningful, then young people will go through the tedium, but they need to understand the big picture.
By and large, young professionals bring more skills and experience to the table than previous generations. They want an opportunity to utilize these skills, to be challenged, and to learn new skills. Young people don’t leave jobs because they “don’t have a work ethic”; they leave when employers don’t give them an opportunity to use or expand their skills.
They want the truth.
Honesty is the best policy and is extremely important to young professionals. If a job is going to be difficult, stressful, or boring, acknowledge that during recruitment. Painting a very unrealistic picture of the job not only leads to disillusionment, negativity, and turnover, it could also discourage the kind of people that you really wanted from applying in the first place.
They want flexibility.
Millennials and Zs expect some flexibility in their work schedules. Technology was the game-changer, making it easier than ever to work anywhere. Pandemic further supported the case there are many tasks that can be performed just as easily from home as from an office. Young people will question the traditional norms that dictate work schedules, and they will become more engaged employees when their employer trusts them to use their time wisely.
They got a better offer.
We’re in the midst of a talent war, and young people want to work for employers who meet the standards listed here. Given their financial concerns and search for purpose and job fit, it makes sense they would be willing to job-hop if a better offer presented itself. Gone are the days of punching a clock and being loyal to an employer for the sake of receiving a paycheck.
Turnover is an indication young professionals haven’t found what they need. The more employers understand the reasons for turnover—and create an environment that is inclusive to young professionals—the more likely it is that employers will be capable of retaining their talent. Until then, employee turnover among this generation is likely to continue, and even worsen, amidst the pending skills shortage and talent war.