January 4

Young people must feel associated, not retained

Many companies and organizations lose their young employees who see no value in being stuck in a traditional hierarchy and rigid system. And they definitely do not want managers who do not understand how to take care of their (young) employees.

By Emilia van Hauen, cultural sociologist, board member, author, TEDx speaker

“Your life?! I do not want that!”

That sentence struck a senior partner in a prestigious consulting firm when he was talking to one of the young forward-thinking men in the group. And even though the partner already had a feeling that his life’s career might not be quite as attractive to aspire to as when he was young, he was still rattled. This was what he had spent his entire working life doing: climbing up to the top of the system by putting in an enormous number of hours at work to eventually end up with the supreme partner position – and be envied and admired. Until now, that is, when his entire way of life was rendered irrelevant.

If he was the only one, I’d heard that story from, I might write him off as just having an especially boring life. But the problem for the many companies who are based on partner models and long-term employment is that the majority of young people do not support that model. On the contrary. And if the status-giving organizations, that have access to the big prestigious tasks and clients, have problems retaining young people, then it should be completely impossible for the less prestigious organizations. Unless you can offer something else.

Deloitte’s Millenial Survey 2022 (which now also includes generation Z and thus the youngest on the labour market) has just been released and says something very interesting about management.

Because it turns out that a good salary, great responsibility, job security, and progressive career development are no longer what young people are looking for. Instead, if a manager wants to be attractive, she or he must prioritize well-being and be competent in mental health, and must therefore be able to prevent, talk about, and deal with problems. And she/he must therefore also not send emails outside of working hours, which is of course a necessity for maintaining a reasonable balance between work and private life.

The study shows some discouraging figures because it turns out that 50 percent of Generation Z (born between 1995-2010) have stayed at home due to stress or anxiety, but less than half have dared to say why. Instead, they have given another reason they are afraid of how their manager will perceive them. Mental health is therefore still stigmatized in the workplace, and this is, of course, a big problem, because according to the WHO, our mental health is the biggest challenge in the future.

 But it is even worse to read that Deloitte’s study shows that as many as 38 percent of young people feel burnt out. Burned out? Before they turn 30!

24 percent will stay at their current workplace for more than five years and 39 percent intend to leave it within two years. And 20 percent say that the reason they are leaving their job is that the COVID-19 period has made them reflect on their values ​​and ambitions. This is in line with what is known today as the great resignation; that the United States fell short of filling over 10 million positions last summer because people had simply decided to live less stressful lives and had therefore begun to organize their lives differently. What young people value the most is feeling their work makes sense, and this, therefore, takes precedence over a high salary or other financial benefits.

 If all this is combined with the fact that freelancing is the fastest-growing form of work in the EU (according to a 2019 report, Malt and EFIP, it has increased by 45 percent since the year 2000), including the most highly educated who also choose to start as freelancers, and that almost 30 percent get their assignments through social media, a very clear picture of the future labour market begins to emerge. And not least of the desired working life amongst the younger generations. Therefore, it is completely absurd to talk about retention, because young people do not want to have that kind of relationship with their work. 

And that’s why it’s smart to use the word associated, as this little brain hack points towards voluntariness, equality, initiative, inclusion and more. This is exactly what young people are asking for because it’s about being part of a community that makes sense for them to spend their hours and souls on, and which is orchestrated by a leader who simply understands people. And no, it shouldn’t just be the middle managers who have to show that kind of leadership; it must reach all the way to the leader of the board. Which actually is a kind of freelancer…

Published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in June 2022

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