Why Millennials Leave Organizations (and What Senior Leaders Can Do About It)

Successful Young BusinesswomanIn their 2014 Employee Engagement Trends Report, consultants at Quantum Workplace looked at survey findings from more than 400,000 employees at nearly 5,000 organizations.

In exploring the importance of various drivers of Millennial engagement and retention, Quantum researchers found that Professional Growth and Career Development came in at number one. They observed: “If young employees aren’t having their needs for professional development met, they will seek opportunities elsewhere.”

Clearly, the ability to grow in both their job and career is a necessity for workers ages 18 through 34. But current data shows that employers are not meeting this need effectively. More than 60 percent of Millennials leave their companies within three years of arriving, according to data from a 2013 Cost of Millennial Retention Study.

Gaps in Career Conversations

Research conducted by The Ken Blanchard Companies points out an opportunity for employers to address this need. Blanchard teamed up with Training magazine to poll a cross section of 456 human resources and talent management professionals. The study found gaps of 29 and 39 percent between how often employees had career conversations with their leaders versus how often they desired these conversations.

When it came to job development conversations, the survey found a 29 percent gap when respondents were asked to evaluate: (1) the frequency with which their leader discusses job assignments that would help to broaden their job experience and knowledge; (2) how often their leader discusses the training needed to improve their performance during the current performance period; and (3) whether the leader makes time and resources available to help the employee get the training they need.

When it came to career development conversations, the survey found an even larger (39 percent) gap when respondents were asked to evaluate the degree to which their boss: (1) understands the steps that must be taken to prepare them for career advancement; (2) explains organization policies and procedures that impact career development; and (3) discusses potential career opportunities.

The Senior Leader’s Role

Leaders at all levels have an important role to play in making sure that career development conversations are occurring. For senior leaders, that means setting the strategy. In their article How to Quell Millennial Discontent consultants at talent mobility firm Lee Hecht Harrison recommend six starting strategies for senior leaders:

  1. Engage Millennials in effective career development conversations. Ask managers to work with Millennials to develop career options within the organization that will help satisfy their career aspirations.
  2. Hold managers accountable for building and developing Millennial talent. Formally include the task of developing Millennials among managerial accountabilities.
  3. Use career planning and development to prepare Millennials for new roles. Offer them role hopping as an alternative to job hopping.
  4. Help Millennials manage their careers actively. All too often, Millennials regard managing their own careers as a simple matter of seeking jobs elsewhere. Channel their energies toward developing their careers internally by providing opportunities for them to work on cross-functional teams or lead key projects that enhance their visibility.
  5. Involve Millennials in the creation of a coaching culture. Coaching others grooms Millennials for leadership, helps them build relationships with fellow employees, and deepens their investment in the organization.
  6. Promote internal networking to further help Millennials increase their visibility and build relationships. Ask managers to stand ready to make introductions, involve Millennials in larger projects, and ensure that their achievements are recognized at higher levels.

Don’t let your best and brightest young talent leave the organization because no one took the time to discuss career options with them. Make career development a key part of every manager’s conversational skill set. Help your managers see the importance of conducting stay interviews today to avoid exit interviews tomorrow. You’ll be surprised at the impact career conversations can have!


10 thoughts on “Why Millennials Leave Organizations (and What Senior Leaders Can Do About It)

  1. Reblogged this on Chad Pfeifer and commented:
    There’s a war going on. It’s not one that you read and headlines. It’s a war for Talent. Keeping an engaged A+ team is getting more and more difficult. Every week I hear from leaders who face a talent shortage recruiting and selecting new team members. David Witt has some great thoughts as we foster this growing leadership population.

      • Dave, this is a splendid article. In effect, a leader needs to show Millenials that she is more interested in their careers that their own. They search for what these young employees are deeply interested in and determine their passion. Well done. Perhaps my new book on leadership would be of interest to you and your readers: “Profiles in Leadership from Caesar to Modern Times.” It is about the leadership lessons of some of history’s most interesting personalities to the present day and what they teach us at this moment.

        • Hi Emilio–you’ve touched on something we have been studying–do people perceive that their leader is “self-focused” or “other-focused.” Their is a significant correlation between an employee’s sense of well-being and their perceptions that their immediate supervisor has as much interest in them as carrying out their leader’s agenda. Thanks also for letting us know about your book!

  2. Interesting…

    My take: I think Millennials, in their effort to be recognized, are easily persuaded to have their experience exposed and acknowledged too early, at the expense of trusting others to nurture and further improve the experience they have. I believe as Tier 1 leaders, we need to strike a balance of utilizing and empowering the education and gifts Millennials have with compelling them that the wisdom we’ve obtained thru tenure and experience will create a workplace environment of trust, respect & honor.

    Without this balance, sides will pit against each other, when we should fit with each other; causing production in the organization to increase tremendously!

    • Hi Mark–thanks for adding to the conversation. I think that leaders can address the problem directly if they–as you have pointed out–nurture and improve the experience Millennials have and utilizing and empowering the gifts they bring to the work environment. Good advice–really for all employees–thanks!

  3. “If young employees aren’t having their needs for professional development met, they will seek opportunities elsewhere.”
    Throughout my career, the above statement generally has been true regardless if you’re a millennium or not. As a leader, those employees that are talented, determined and adding tremendous value to the organization should be recognized and treated accordingly, regardless of their station or tenure. If they are not,and they are that good, I would expect them to move on.
    One of the great challenges I find is to work through the entitlement attitude of today where young employees feel entitled and expect “special treatment” regardless of what they had contributed to their team or organization.

    • Hi Stephen–thanks for reminding us that development and growth are two of the most important engagement factors for most employees–and certainly for high-potentials. As business author Beverly Kaye says, “Help them grow–or watch them go.” The entitlement attitude is tricky–mostly because we are dealing with people’s perceptions of fairness in the workplace. Researchers at The Ken Blanchard Companies have looked into this extensively because of its impact on intentions to apply discretionary effort and be a good team player. (See more on this under the Employee Work Passion research section.) Thanks for joining in the conversation!

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