It never hurts to be reminded that not everything you hear about millennials is true: In fact, most stereotypes about this generation turn out to be incorrect. Looking at US and European labor market data, the Economist is the latest to realize that in the US at least, millennials aren’t doing much job-hopping after all:
Data from America’s Bureau of Labour Statistics show workers aged 25 and over now spend a median of 5.1 years with their employers, slightly more than in 1983 (see chart). Job tenure has declined for the lower end of that age group, but only slightly. Men between the ages of 25 and 34 now spend a median of 2.9 years with each employer, down from 3.2 years in 1983.
This finding is old news to readers of Talent Daily or our research at CEB, now Gartner: A Pew study debunked the millennial job-hopper based on Labor Department data earlier this year, whereas a Namely survey released this summer found that tenures were shortening, but that older employees were job-hopping as much as millennials were.
What our research has found is that millennials do value a range of experiences early in their careers, but don’t necessarily feel the need to change jobs as long as they are getting that range of experiences and building that range of skills with one employer. As such, they value employers with significant internal mobility and internal labor markets, and if they are hopping from one organization to another, it’s because the first organization wasn’t meeting their needs in terms of learning and growth opportunities. This is one of several millennial myths we busted in our research back in 2014.
SHRM’s Dana Wilkie passes along a new survey showing that Americans between 55 and 65 are “hopping” from job to job nearly as frequently as millennials:
The survey from Namely—HR Mythbusters 2017—found that the median tenure at a job for workers between ages 25 to 35 was 1.42 years; the median tenure for those between ages 35 to 55 was just under two years; and for those between ages 55 to 65, it was 2.53 years. …
The findings reveal that “HR teams are up against a trend of shortening tenures,” the survey authors wrote. “For those that have focused primarily on retaining Millennial employees, it’s time to broaden perspective. Companies should consider what retention incentives they can offer employees at all stages.” For instance, flexible work options may appeal not just to Millennials, but to older workers.
The stereotype of millennials as uniquely flighty and disloyal is rooted more in myth than fact: In fact, a study released in April showed that millennials were no more likely to job-hop than members of Generation X were at the same point in their careers.
As part of a project spearheaded by Senator Mike Lee, the US Congress’s Joint Economic Committee recently issued a report titled “What We Do Together” on “the state of associational life in America,” which points to several ways in which “the web of social relationships through which we pursue joint endeavors—namely, our families, our communities, our workplaces, and our religious congregations” has declined in recent decades. One of the report’s findings is that Americans are spending less time outside of work with their co-workers:
There is little data available on social interaction with coworkers, on or off the job. However, time use data indicate that we are spending less time with our coworkers off the job than in the past. Between the mid-1970s (1975-76) and 2012, the average amount of time Americans between the ages of 25 and 54 spent with their coworkers outside the workplace fell from about two-and-a-half hours per week to just under one hour.
This makes sense for many reasons, two of which center around the rise of the individual and the rise of uncertainty in modern life. Workers move around a lot more now. People shop around for what they want, change their minds, move away, and are in greater need of a support network unrelated to their jobs. In the past, many people who graduated and got a job expected to stay at that company for a long time (maybe forever), and even more people expected to at least stay in the same town.
Ask any three people to define who they are talking about when they refer to “millennials,” and you’re apt to get at least four different answers. Generational boundaries are always somewhat blurry, but this generation seems particularly hard to pin down. Demographers usually define millennials as everyone born between the early 1980s and the late 1990s, or sometimes the early 2000s, but the lines are not hard and fast.
Meanwhile, the difference in life experience between a person born in 1982 and one born in 1998 is substantial: For one thing, the former remembers a time before the Internet, while the latter is a genuine digital native. For another, the older millennial was already in the workforce during the financial crisis of 2008, while the latter was still in grade school. Those are some of the key differences that lead Jesse Singal at Science of Us to wonder whether the millennials are not in fact two distinct generations, which he dubs Old Millennials and Young Millennials:
Old Millennials, as I’ll call them, who were born around 1988 or earlier (meaning they’re 29 and older today), really have lived substantively different lives than Young Millennials, who were born around 1989 or later, as a result of two epochal events that occurred around the time when members of the older group were mostly young adults and when members of the younger were mostly early adolescents: the financial crisis and smartphones’ profound takeover of society. And according to Jean Twenge, a social psychologist at San Diego State University and the author of Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled—and More Miserable Than Ever Before, there’s some early, emerging evidence that, in certain ways, these two groups act like different, self-contained generations.
One of these differences concerns the stereotype of the millennial job hopper, which persists despite not really being borne out in labor market data. Singal, who was born in 1983, adds that his life experience and that of his contemporaries don’t fit that narrative:
The notion that millennials are uniquely prone to job-hopping has always been based more in stereotype than fact, but a new analysis from the Pew Research Center provides yet more reason to doubt this millennial myth. Looking at historical data from the US Department of Labor’s Current Population Survey, Pew’s Richard Fry discovers that millennials don’t seem to be changing jobs any more often than members of Generation X did at the same age. In fact, they appear slightly less likely to leave their employer in less than a year:
In January 2016, 63.4% of employed Millennials, the generation born between 1981 and 1998, reported that they had worked for their current employer at least 13 months. In February 2000, somewhat fewer 18- to 35-year-olds (59.9%) – most of whom are today’s Gen Xers – reported similar job tenure. Looking at young workers with longer tenures, 22% of Millennial workers had been with their employer for at least five years as of 2016, similar to the share of Gen X workers (21.8%) in 2000.
One factor that may be contributing to Millennials staying with employers longer is their relatively high levels of education, which is typically associated with longer tenure. Among 25- to 35-year-old workers in 2016, 38% of Millennial men and 46% of Millennial women had completed at least a bachelor’s degree. The Gen X workforce back in 2000 had significantly lower levels of educational attainment: 31% of male 25- to 35-year-old workers had finished college, as had only 34% of female workers. These college-educated Millennials are sticking with their jobs longer than their Gen X counterparts.
A new report on the millennial workforce from MetLife debunks some persistent misconceptions about the youngest and largest generation of employees. “The Millennial Benefits Perspective” pulls data from MetLife’s 14th annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends study to draw some conclusions about the millennial generation’s commitment to their employers and what kinds of benefit offerings can be used to retain them most effectively. For one thing, the report confirms that the myth of the millennial job-hopper is just that, a myth:
Much of what has been written about Millennials in the workplace supports a generation constantly on the look-out for the next best career opportunity without much thought to committing to one employer or to their financial security. While this behavior may exist for some Millennials entering the workforce, the study shows a different
picture emerging as well.
Older Millennials are taking the security of their financial futures very seriously. They are reviewing their retirement savings plans, re-balancing investment portfolios and paying more attention to their employers’ benefits offerings. They also acknowledge that certain benefits, such as short and long-term disability, can play a role in reducing their financial stress. Furthermore, the majority of all Millennials are quite committed to their jobs. In fact, 64% of Younger Millennials say that they intend to still be working for the same organization in 12 months’ time. This statistic increases to three-quarters of Older Millennials who feel the same.
This finding squares with what we’ve found in our research on millennials at CEB: Millennials aren’t job-hoppers, but they do value a variety of experiences in their lives and careers; employers can take advantage of this generational trait to retain millennials by offering them that variety within their organization. (CEB Corporate Leadership Council members can read more about this and other millennial myths here.)
So what kinds of benefits are millennials looking for?
In an incisive essay at the New Republic, Laura Marsh pushes back on the idea of millennials as cultural rebels, ruining entire industries with their refusal to buy cars, take vacations, or use napkins:
None of this is true. The idea that these “trends” in consumption are driven primarily by cultural preferences, rather than a faltering economy and ever-rising costs of living, is difficult to believe, but that’s the prevailing narrative. Business Insider’s story blaming millennials for a slump in the sales of paper napkins is a perfect example of why that interpretation is absurd. The article contends that, like eating cereal, buying paper napkins is too much work for millennials. Similarly, The Washington Post has pointed out that young people have found ways to make the paper napkin’s rival, the paper towel, look chic on social media, the only thing they really care about. Neither article mentions that millennials are the first cohort in American history to enjoy lower living standards than their parents. Not buying napkins is a pretty painless way to save money.
Which explanation seems more likely? Do we use Zipcar because we are ideologically committed to sharing, or because car ownership is still out of reach for a lot of people and renting piecemeal is the next best thing? Does a married couple decide to live with roommates because of our generational “openness to communal living” or because people in New York face impossible rents? Do people stop using napkins because of unshakeable cultural convictions, or because they’re a waste of money? If the new generation were really waging war on their forebears’ way of life, I doubt they’d start with the disposable table settings. …
But the language of these articles tells another story on top of those, one that isn’t backed up by any evidence at all: that millennials are “killing” those things, choosing to eliminate them from our shared life. That’s a deeply frustrating story to keep reading, when headlines of “Millennials are killing the X industry” could just as easily read “Millennials are locked out of the X industry.” There’s nothing like being told precarity is actually your cool lifestyle choice.