I recently consulted with a Boomer employer and Millennial employee. The Millennial was leaving. She had learned a lot in the position, she explained, but she wanted to do more and different things, and she didn’t see that happening anytime soon.
At one point, the Boomer said, “I wish you’d stay. You’ve only been here two years.” The Millennial’s reaction was swift and sure. “Right. I’ve been here Two. Years.” Same words, different meaning altogether.
“I wish you’d stay. You’ve only been here two years.”
“Right. I’ve been here. for. Two. Years.”
The elephant in the room, of course, was loyalty—which means different things to different gens. When boomers entered the workforce, loyalty was a two-way street. Companies proved their loyalty to employees by providing pensions, healthcare and job security. Employees were loyal, in turn, by staying in their jobs. They turned over their time and their futures to the company.
By the time Gen Xers went to work that agreement was broken. During decades of layoffs, downsizing, and rightsizing, fewer and fewer companies were “loyal” to employees, and employees began retracting their loyalty as well.
When Gen X took control of their time,
they took their careers into their own hands.
The Loyalty Fault Line
The result is a fault line running through the workplace. Older generations of employees remember job security. But younger gens never even smelled it. For them, job security is a tale told around a campfire. TWEET THIS
62% of Boomers believe people should stay in thier jobs at least 4 years before looking for new roles. In contrast 26% of Millennials say you should start looking before the first year is up.
In other words, “You’ve only been here two years.” “Right. I’ve been here two years.”
What's to Come
Loyalty has changed its flavor. Young gens of employees are loyal. But they are loyal to their individual careers, to growing their skill sets and to the immediate circle of people with whom they work. If that means changing jobs, so be it. Not because Millennials want to job-hop, and not because Gen X wants to change jobs either. But because unless they perceive loyalty coming at them like a ball tossed through they air, they won’t—can’t—catch it and throw it back.
We are at an interesting point in generational history. As loyalty has eroded at work a gig economy has grown, but the system is a confusing, half-changed amalgam. The next decade is likely to reveal a new model for employee-employer relationships unlike those we know today. We will redefine loyalty, and it will be interesting.
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President of Generational Edge, Amy Lynch has researched the generations for 15 years. She has spoken to 100s of groups from MTV and Comcast to Boeing, J&J and the staff of the U.S. Senate. Amy has been quoted in national publications, including The Washington Post, USA Today, Boston Globe, Huffington Post, Chicago Tribune and NBC Evening News, among others.