There’s no denying that the way we think about employment has changed dramatically in the past decade. While it’s tempting to use fear-inducing terms like “The Great Resignation,” what companies worldwide are seeing isn’t about people resigning en masse in some singular event. We’re witnessing a permanent change in how people think about work and long-term career development. Covid was just an accelerant for existing trends—an opportunity for many people to stop and think about what they want to do with their lives.
Even just a decade ago, leaving your job after less than a year was unusual, but nowadays, it doesn’t surprise anyone. Except, as is very telling, people who judge others' career choices by their ability to "hold a steady job". They’re missing that the new relationship between the employer and the employee is much healthier if both sides approach it thoughtfully. How does one do this? I have a few ideas.
In 2016, millennials surpassed Gen Xers to become the largest generation in the US labor force. The first generation to grow up fueled by the opportunities of home computers and the internet is very different than its predecessors when it comes to employment. We are more individualistic, less preoccupied with stability (as nothing is stable in our world), and are more driven to succeed. So we hop between jobs frequently. Me? I’ve worked for five companies in the past decade. And I’m far from being a record-holder in this regard.
This isn’t to say that we’re squandering away our future or even that we care less about professional development than our parents did. The opposite is true—we care about maximizing our potential throughout the time we have in the workforce.
A steady paycheck and a yearly 1-2% raise aren’t enough, nor is having a long-term career at a company. We have another way of approaching the whole topic of professional development—one that also considers our desire to have a healthy work-life balance. In fact, we prioritize a balanced workplace and development over salary and other benefits.
What's new about this generation is the way in which we assume personal responsibility for our careers. We don’t wait for our bosses to notice we’re ready to be promoted. Instead, every new job is a stepping stone on the way to bigger and better things - hopefully in the current company, but if not, we're no longer afraid to move and find it elsewhere. That’s why we care about more than just compensation—the workplace is there not just to pay for our services, but to prepare us for the next career step. In other words, we took control of our brand and our advancement path out of our employers’ hands.
The coronavirus crisis accelerated the processes I’ve described in numerous ways. When the first waves of COVID-19 hit and brought massive layoffs, many people saw how replaceable they were and decided to make themselves valuable enough not to let anything like that happen to them again.
Meanwhile, detached from on-site work, other employees discovered how reliant they were on their site for learning processes. With professional development a priority for them, their growth trajectory suddenly became far less certain, satisfaction dropped, and LinkedIn profiles got updated.
By 2025, millennials will represent 75% of the global workforce. The shifts I’ve described? They’re going to become the new normal. The sooner employers understand that the age of the 40-year long, single-workplace career is over, the better they will be equipped to retain employees for as long as possible.
Firstly, every employer should concern itself with the added value to its employees. Money (including stock options/RSUs) and perks aren’t nearly enough; think more in the direction of personalized career development plans. Employees will compromise on salary but not on professional development. Many will decline a job offer unless it offers a development path.
Startups like Wilco could never compete with multinationals dollar-for-dollar in compensation. How did we assemble our very talented team, filled with people who could have their pick of employers? A large part of that is the opportunity to focus on their professional development at a company that is all about development enablement.
Secondly, the talent shortage is real, and it’s getting worse. Even if not for the sake of their employees but for their own, businesses should invest more in upskilling and start reskilling their existing employees. They should do it now and at scale. It’s much cheaper to retain an employee than find and train a new one.
Not everyone will adapt quickly. Some companies just move too slowly, and some employees are too hesitant to look for a job even when they’ve exhausted their professional development avenues. In the short term, those two will find each other. But among the benefits of this new and development-focused world is a more skilled workforce producing better products. Disregarding this maxim is a recipe for failure—employees and products unable to keep up with the market, destined to lose relevance in a world that’s moving faster and faster. The winners will be the ones who give their people the right tools to grow, help them reinvent themself every now and then, and retain them in the long run.