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90% of Millennials Don’t Plan to Stay with an Employer for more than 5 Years. Now What!?

The vast majority of Millennials (90%) do not plan to stay with any given employer for more than five years.  More than a third of Millennials (37%) say they plan to stay no more than two years.  Almost 40% of Millennials start a new role already planning their next career move in the immediate future.  These were the recent numbers coming from a five-year survey of Gen Y (Millennials) done by Adam Kingl and Richard Hytner of the London-based newspaper, The Guardian.

As it has become custom when discussing the Millennial generation (1980-2001), these numbers are disturbing to many employers who are looking to build a long-term, loyal workforce – one in which they can invest time, money, training, and resources into without feeling slapped in the face when those pesky Millennials decide to leave too soon!

I enjoy talking about Millennials because my role at New Directions has given me many unique opportunities to sit down with CEOs, plant managers, senior level managers and the like and discuss some real challenges and real success stories.  Like when we recently met one Millennial who, before a teaming culture shift, was just an hourly worker on the shop floor, but now he runs the daily team huddles, facilitates weekly team meetings and just last week went before the CEO of the company to discuss the importance of teams in the workplace.  Or, the young Millennial women we’ve been working with for over two years.  She was put on a multi-functional leadership and culture team to redefine the future of an institution – over the past two years she has become one of the strongest members on that team adding new insight, new technology, and a fresh, enthusiastic passion to the project impressing the senior leaders on the team with her.  (Read our recent post on why Millennials and High Performance Team cultures might be a perfect match for engagement and retention)

A millennial myself (born 1985), I enjoy the ability to sit at the table with many seasoned veterans of business and try to figure out my own generation and what makes us tick.  Likewise, my life is full of friends and family members of the Millennial generation, so I can listen to their fears and worries, challenges and successes.  It’s a very unique place to be and one where I hope I can add value and perspective for both “camps.”

Here are a couple of my ongoing observations from where I sit…

The Environment Former Generations Created
In many ways, older generations need to recognize that this is the environment you’ve created.  The reason Millennials are so mobile and considered the “backpack generation” (named for their ability to acquire new skills and talents, put them in their ‘backpack’ and then leave) is because the business world operates like that.  I have one friend who knew that if he stayed at his first job for more than a year it would be the death of his career; he’d always be seen as the freshman ‘intern’ in the company. Likewise, he left his next job within 2 years because his industry requires him to have vast and diverse experience and so he was doing what he had to in order to bolster up his resume with experience.  This is not necessarily a world he created, but a world defined by the rat race of company interviews, resume reviews, cut-throat hiring practices, and finding the perfect employee.  It’s no wonder that Millennials don’t have a problem leaving.

Additionally, Millennials watched as their parents were let go after years of loyal service to a company.  Many Millennials say, “forget that, I’ll watch my own back and take care of myself” merely because no one took care of their parents when the time came.  This is not the complete fault of organizations who had no other choice than to lay-off massive amounts of people in the Great Recession, but consequently this has left the Millennial ‘numb’ to the courting of companies to retain them.

Using C.A.M.P. to Motivate and Retain
 Discussed in our book, Survival of the Hive: 7 Leadership Lessons from a Beehive, the CAMP Method of Motivation is a great tool to continually measure the morale of Millennials.

  • The C in CAMP stands for competency.  Where is your Millennial in terms of their competency and level of skill in their job?  What could be added daily, monthly, yearly to increase their competency?  Things like mentorship, corporate-sponsored leadership volunteerism with local charities, chambers or associations, and being part of a multi-functional team (like our Millennial in the beginning of this post) are great ways to add competency accelerators to a Millennial’s world.


  • A is for Autonomy – what are you doing to add little bits of autonomy to a Millennials’ work each month?  Maybe it starts with letting them decide when to go to lunch.  As they grow in maturity and accountability, the autonomy can increase to running their own team meetings, defining their flex hours, deciding to work from home, etc.


  • Meaningfulness is represented by the M.   Millennials need two levels of meaningfulness, one in the form of ‘do they personally provide meaning to the company and how’ – this can be illustrated by managerial walk-arounds and pats on the back, to quarterly reviews.  The second part of meaningfulness is ‘does the company do meaningful work.’ The Guardian survey indicated that Millennials (39%) most identify with CEOs whose aim is to make the company and the world a better place.  A great place to start with showing the Millennial the corporate-wide meaningfulness is by allowing them to sit on teams that help them see the bigger picture of the company and where their role fits.


  • Finally, P is for progress.  This is crucial for Millennials and a place where I see a lot of organizations fall short.  Progress doesn’t always mean being named VP by week two or by a pay increase.  Progress can be new leadership positions, taking on more diverse projects, being recognized in a company’s Rewards and Recognition program, and by developing a Leadership Growth Lattice which identifies key mile markers for the Millennial to hit.

The Boomerang Millennial Worker
My first boss always encouraged people to leave his company.  He would say, “We have a revolving door in this business, people come and go, and usually find themselves right back here, except this time when they come back their smarter, more seasoned and they’ve got the ‘itch’ out.”  Or as The Guardian article recently wrote, companies can “reap the benefits of growth without all the costs of nurturing it.”  I’m not sure if it’s the Millennial generation specifically or just the life stage of all humans and being in our 20’s, but the ability to move and try new things is crucial to our development and growth.  What you invest in one lost Millennial, will be what you gain when a new, older Millennial walks through your doors – whether they be the same millennial or a new one.

So, 90% of Millennials plan to leave their jobs in the next 5 years.  I bet we’re not the only generation planning that (I would imagine 90% of Baby Boomers, age 60, plan to leave too!).  We need to stop worrying about lost training and development cost at the detriment of a lack-luster workforce if organizations don’t invest.  So let’s invest – invest in mentorship programs, Leadership Growth Lattices, multi-functional teams, developing an Adaptive Coaching model for your managers and reuniting with Boomerang Millennials.

Invest in Millennials, they only appreciate in value as time goes on.


Matthew Harrington will be presenting “Leading Millennials: How to Motivate, Lead and Retain the Millennial Generation in Your Workplace” for the Vermont Association for Talent Development on June 19th at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont.

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