Dive deep

September 19, 2018

Deloitte Millennial Survey—a 2016 study across 29 countries including 17 emerging and 12 developed markets—finally broke the illusion of millennial engagement. It revealed a global trend—two in every three millennials plan to leave their employer by the year 2020. In India, the number is even higher, with 76 percent of them planning to follow suit (Deloitte, 2016).

the bad news–most millennials are looking to leave their current employers

This is indeed worrisome for companies as it means escalated cost and lost opportunities. It also clearly pointed to the fact that traditional engagement strategies have not completely addressed the millennial cause, more so because they were never designed keeping this cohort in mind. Dr Karunakaran Ramaswamy, physician, Sidra Medicine, Qatar says “… a traditional approach will fail miserably with this generation. This generational cohort is different from the previous generation and has a unique attitude, mindset, and behavior. Their life realties are different and they live in a transformed macro context. There is a renewed need to understand this generation, their life, aspirations, needs, attitudes, concerns, and then create an engagement plan. Leaders need to address this issue with a sense of urgency.” Naga Siddharth, Group CHRO, The Total Environment Group, adds, “Many millennials are born into plentiness, typically those from urban India. Keeping them in an organization needs authentic engagement and respectful leadership.”

R Yuvakumar, MD and Chief consultant, Centre for Awakened Learning and Management FZ LLC, UAE, feels that the sheer growing numbers, presence in the workplace and market place, and certain unique engagement challenges that millennials pose have created the need for serious deliberations and pragmatic applications to cash in on this discerning demographic.

the good news-millennials are not job hoppers

The Deloitte study cited above as well as a recent Gallup study—which showed that six in every ten millennials are open for a new job opportunity—accuse millennials of being job hoppers. But surprisingly, they are not. A recent Pew research shows that college-educated millennials are sticking to their jobs longer than their Gen X counterparts. It compared millennials with Gen X when they were of the same age as millennials, and the findings revealed that the percentage of 18- to 35-year-old employees who stayed with their employers for 13 months or more was 63.4 percent for millennials in 2016 and 59.9 percent for Gen Xers in 2000 (Fry, 2017). On top of that, the percentage of the same groups who had been with their employers for five years or more were 22 percent for millennials in 2016 and 21.8 percent for Gen Xers in 2000. So contrary to the popular perception, millennials are not job-hoppers. But at the same time, they are not afraid of changing jobs. This, in turn, means that it is possible to retain millennial talent by creating a strong positive engagement.

why more millennials are likely to change jobs

In my book, The Life of Y – Engaging Millennials as Employees and Consumers, I have included conversations with millennials who lost their job a week after receiving an appreciation letter from the company. The VUCA world that the millennials live in throws a strange paradox at them. I call this the ‘career-job paradox’. Having been brought up by overbearing boomer parents who have always told them that they could achieve pretty much anything, coupled with good education and a globalized world has opened wide career choices for them. They are willing to experiment and are not averse to shifting careers if that matches with their passion. However, the volatility and uncertainty in the macro context make them vulnerable to low or even no job security. They might be doing very well in their jobs, yet they do not know whether it will last. Recently, automation and AI have led to widespread job losses. A two-year study by McKinsey Global Institute suggests that by 2030 (McKinsey, 2017), intelligent agents and robots could eliminate as much as 30 percent of the world’s human labor. It further states that depending on the various adoption scenarios, automation will displace between 400 and 800 million jobs by 2030, requiring as many as 375 million people to switch job categories entirely. Left with no job security at all, millennials look forward to making most of the opportunities that come their way. And if that means changing jobs, they are not afraid to do it. That is perhaps the only way to respond to such high levels of uncertainty and ambiguity in the environment. However, it will be wrong to believe that millennials’ likelihood of changing jobs more frequently can only be attributed to macro contextual forces. Various studies also point to a ‘sign of neglect’ that millennials are experiencing in organizations around the globe. I attribute this to incompatible organizational designs and lack of leadership and managerial empathy for this generational cohort. Dr Alex Fenton, lecturer in digital business and an award winning digital-developer and trainer, University of Salford, UK says, “Here in Salford Business School, we work with a lot of millennials, both as our students and in some cases as teaching and support staff. I also work closely with our employability hub and companies to help create opportunities for our students and graduates. We’ve seen cases where our interns and grads have been placed with the wrong company or have been mistreated in some way by recruiters. Our millennial students expect to work hard, but they expect to be treated fairly and ethically. When they experience injustice, it is sometimes the first time they have seen such things in business and they are genuinely shocked and turn to us for help and support. As people get more experienced, they realize that the millennial opportunity can be a double-edged sword and it is up to us to help them understand how to ride the wave and evade some of the pitfalls.”

how we can retain millennial talent

Organizational design is fundamental to engagement. Organizations need to reinvent their culture if they want to stand any chance of engaging this unique generation. James Murphy, CEO and Founder, Engage International, UK opines, “…when it comes to retaining millennials, we build our culture around innovation: an environment that inspires employees, every hour they’re at work, to seek out innovative opportunities. To do this, we need a diverse workforce, and to make this work we must also have an inclusive leadership.” Prathap, CEO, GroundReality, feels that building social responsibility, inspiration to add societal value, getting and giving larger picture, and impact along with being relevant are key to managing millennial talent.

Shubha Kadiyali, Senior HR, Allegion India Private Limited, shares, “At present, 80 percent of Allegion India employees are millennials. We’ve found that a key criteria to retain millennial workers is helping connect them to the larger purpose of organizations and empowering them to create a business impact. One example is the Allegion’s global Trailblazer Innovation Tournament. This gives our employees a chance to develop and pitch their innovative business ideas directly to senior leadership. They can focus on product innovation or on non-product innovation after analyzing and understanding the potential problems and opportunities in the market by connecting with the business leaders. Regional contests are held in the Americas, Europe, Asia-Pacific, and India, with those winners earning the opportunity to present to Allegion executives and a chance to be named as the company’s annual Trailblazer champion. This has resulted in strong engagement and retention rate in engineering/IT in India.”

Culture is the basic fabric on which engagement principles are embedded; a mismatched culture is the biggest culprit in poor engagement of millennials. Culture is not the only design element that needs to change; organizational structures, control systems, and rewards systems also need to change. But change into what? That is a more critical issue than just knowing that we need to change the design. Ramesh Sampath, Country HR Director, Valeo India Private Limited, adds, “There is a significant change in the way the millennial employees are looking at the job and their opinion about the organization. We are continuously reviewing the HR systems and workplace dynamics through internal feedbacks and market practices, and I personally think that we can no longer drive HR only through rules and regulations.”

For knowing what to change, how to change, and most importantly why to change, we need to understand this generation, their lives, the many paradoxes that dot all their wellness elements. Millennials, also known as Gen Y, are unfortunately a misunderstood generation and many myths prevail about their behaviors. Troy Samuel Logan, a millennial researcher from Canada confesses, “As an older millennial who was born closer to the cusp of the Generation X cohort, I served as an advocate for new millennial talent in the workplace. Although most of my millennial peers transitioned out of their positions as a direct result of being misunderstood in the workplace, I practised a bit more grit and withstood the lack of empathy. The transition from having my ideas laughed at or ignored to being acknowledged and implemented took a few years and a lot of resilience.”

A serious effort to understand them, their attitudes, and mindsets can only be the correct descriptor and predictor of their behavior. I call this deep empathy. Leaders and managers need to dive in deep into the life of Y, rework the design, and develop new elements of engagement.

MEET© Model

I worked for close to a decade, talking, interviewing thousands of millennials from different parts of the world, discussing with various heads of human resources, business leaders, and heads of organizations. This, in turn, became a sound basis for not only understanding the millennial life and attitudes but also developing a practical model for engaging millennials employees. The Millennial Employee Engagement Trail (MEET©) Model incorporates seven major elements of engagement and 28 underlying factors.

These seven major elements are also descriptive of how organizations should be in terms of their design—autonomous, challenging, connected, unconventional, responsible, responsive, and supportive. Such designs are better compatible with new-generation workers. MEET© Model is, however, a generic model and helps organizations develop a unique set of leadership, managerial, and process engagement interventions and strategies connected to the vision, mission, and strategy of the organization, nature of their business, and macro-cultural variables. MEET© Model is a meeting point of old and new organizational designs, old and new generations, and old and new engagement strategies. Let us make an attempt to first understand them before we attempt to engage them.


Deloitte. (2016). The 2016 Millennial Survey Report – Winning over the next geenration leaders. Retrieved 08 31, 2018, from Deloitte: https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/global/Documents/About-Deloitte/gx-millenial-survey-2016-exec-summary.pdf

Fry, R. (2017, 04 19). Millennials aren’t job-hopping any faster than Generation X did. Retrieved 08 31, 2018, from Pew Research Center: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/04/19/millennials-arent-job-hopping-any-faster-than-generation-x-did/

McKinsey. (2017, 12). Jobs lost, jobs gained: What the future of work will mean for jobs, skills, and wages. Retrieved 08 31, 2018, from McKinsey and Company: https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/McKinsey/Featured%20Insights/Future%20of%20Organizations/What%20the%20future%20of%20work%20will%20mean%20for%20jobs%20skills%20and%20wages/MGI-Jobs-Lost-Jobs-Gained-Report-December-6-2017.ashx