It's not them, it's you

That’s right: the dreaded ‘M’ word. Whether you’re a Baby Boomer, Gen X, Millennial (Gen Y) or even Gen Z, you will have heard or had discussions about those pesky millennials, often branded as ‘disloyal’, ‘unrealistic’, ‘weak’, ‘self-centred’ and ‘naïve’ professionals. Wherever you position yourself in the ‘M’ word debate, discussions usually centre on their ‘annoying’ habit of, well, jumping ship. It’s a challenge facing organisations around the world, with many now conceding that high staff turnover rates are just the ‘new norm’, something to build into business plans, accept and move on.

But is it as simple as accepting that ‘it’s just the way they are’ and moving on? Or can millennial workers (and the hot-on-their-heels Generation Z’s) be persuaded to stay with organisations for longer than 2 or 3 years? According to a number of empirical investigations, millennials are considered to be the most loyal and optimistic generation to ever enter the workforce (Jayson 2007; Kirk 2006).

So what exactly is the problem? It’s not actually generational. It’s cultural.

Millennials, unlike their predecessors in Gen X and the Baby Boomers, are not intrinsically ‘loyal’ to corporations. The unwavering commitment of previous generations to ‘fall in line’, working long hours without pay or recognition, to miss out on family dinners, to sacrifice hobbies and interests, or to put personal well-being and mental health second to professional progression, are trade offs millennials just aren’t willing to make; at least not in the long run anyway.

Millennials are the first generation to be loyal to themselves. They extend this loyalty to their families, friends and their own lives above all else. The priority here is personal wellbeing and fulfilment. They are the first generation with the brass to say ‘no’ without the fear of professional repercussions. Relieved from the desperate struggle of balancing priorities, trading off personal happiness for professional success, millennials have more autonomy and are more empowered than any other generation to come before. They focus their attentions on the problems to be solved, the impact they can have and the real difference they can make. An organisation unable to offer its millennial talent the autonomy it craves will undoubtedly lose that talent. If the shoe doesn’t fit, millennials will head out into the world and find a better one.

So what are millennials actually looking for?

It really does all come down to corporate culture. Millennials (and the even more moralistically driven Gen Z) are professionally driven, motivated and inspired by genuinely positive corporate cultures. When the priority is personal wellbeing, fulfilment and happiness, when loyalty to corporations is out, and when the workforce has the autonomy and freedom to choose what’s best for them, is it any wonder that millennials continue to search for greener grass?

According to NG, Schweitzer & Lyons (2010) millennials want a job that is both meaningful and satisfying. They want to work for organisations in which they make a difference. They want their work to have value, meaning, impact. Autonomy, transparency and honesty are key cultural values that this empowered workforce expects. Flat organisational structures with easy access to senior management also feature high on the want-list. For organisations looking to attract and retain millennial talent, this means having a positive corporate culture is now absolutely critical. Without this the job becomes, well, just another job. A monotonous chore that must be completed each day to ensure that life goes on. And, we know, that just won’t cut it for this self-respecting generation of challenge seekers hell bent on changing the world in whatever small way they can.

The cultural change required to retain and attract millennial talent may seem like a daunting prospect, particularly for large global organisations. But there is no denying, those organisations able to make the shift to people-centric cultures will benefit from a talented, inspired and loyal workforce. A workforce committed to problem solving and bettering their companies and worlds. Organisations can no longer ignore the cultural wants of this moralistically driven and highly principled generation. Cultural transformation can no longer be seen as a box ticking exercise. It is not an academic exercise completed solely to give credence to the phrase: ‘we have a good corporate culture here’. It is an imperative, salient element of business strategy that can be measured in overall organisational success.

Give your workforce something to believe in. Give them something to get behind. Give them something that keeps them coming back each and every day with gusto. Review your corporate culture and build a stronger brand today.

5 signs it might be your corporate culture:

  1. You’re losing talent: you’ve made some great hires in the last few years all of whom were skilled, eager and capable yet they never seem to stay with the business beyond the 2/ 3 year mark.
  2. Staff meetings are quiet: if your staff meetings go quiet, particularly when ‘big issues’ or organisational change are on the agenda, then you need to consider why no one is speaking up.
  3. Shop floor grumblings: most people get their information on the scuttlebug from the office floor and not from official communications. Side conversations and a reluctance to speak up can have catastrophic effects for corporations.
  4. Low morale: you’ve got great corporate benefits, your office is open plan and your leadership is committed, but the troops just won’t seem to rally. Low morale can be caused by a number of different factors but if your workforce is lacking motivation, drive and self-efficacy despite their apparent talent and ability, then it might be time to assess the larger underlying cultural causes.
  5. Recruitment is a challenge: you’ve got some great opportunities, with more being added as your existing talent continues to move on to pastures new, but you can’t attract quality candidates. Employer brand and corporate culture is high on the want-list for potential new candidates and if your company isn’t right, the talent will look elsewhere.

Contact the Fifth Ring team for more information on how you can build a more positive corporate culture.