Younger Workers and Conscious Quitting: The Secret Attraction and Retention Formula of Today

by Sarah McVanel, Chief Recognition Officer, Greatness Magnified

Millennials are disloyal. No one wants to work anymore. Young people don’t care.

image of 2 young women and 2 young men sitting on the floor leaning on the wall looking at their phonesWow, judge much?

If I had a nickel for the number of comments I’ve heard about our younger generation of workers. People often point to today’s workforce challenges as “a generational thing.” It’s ‘age’ that’s the issue.

Here’s what it’s really about:

Every generation’s perspective on work – and resulting actions – reflects the employment and social context of their formative years.

Said another way, our younger workers entering the workforce have experienced unprecedented change and upheaval (like the “Veterans” generation did in their younger years), which stays with them from their first job to their last.

Think about what the younger generations have seen over the last few years alone and consider the mindset that might result from it:

  • furloughed parents in some industries … “employers are not loyal.”
  • burnt out adults … “work isn’t worth sacrificing health or relationships.”
  • the rapid transition to online learning and work … “work must be adaptable.”
  • workforce shortages … “I am a commodity.”
  • millions lost their lives in a global pandemic .. “life is too short to be miserable.”

From a social context, the story deepens.

Younger workers have been forever changed due to the social context during this same timeframe.

  • Massive burial sites revealed the tragic hushed death of indigenous children that led to the Every Child Matters movement (and they call BS on the pace Canada is acting on the 94 recommendations of the Truth & Conciliation Commission).
  • Schools acknowledge now that bullying happens fueled by such movements as Pink Shirt Day (unlike generations gone by who had to “tough it out”)
  • Students can easily and quickly self-organize when they see injustices to call for immediate and sweeping social change (such as the #MeToo movement and #BlackLivesMatters)

Younger people have a voice and aren’t afraid to use it; they expect their employers to be part of the solution. Welcome to the age of conscious quitting.

Let me give you an example close to the home of what the job search looks like for young people today. First, let’s stroll down memory lane…

What Getting A First Job Used to Involve

Here was my experience when I found my first job:

image of the want ads in the newspaper with a hand holding a pen to circle jobs and a cup of coffeeI got the newspaper, circled the want ads, printed my piddly resume, biked all across town nervously dropping off resumes, put on my mom’s scratchy work skirt for the interview, waited for an hour in an empty room full of chairs in a department called “HR”, sat across from a harried brisk dining room manager firing questions at me, told essentially “don’t call us we’ll call you”, received a “job offer” in the form of a message on my answering machine (remember those?) saying “you need to start work tomorrow.”

My onboarding, you ask?

I showed up with no idea what to wear, put on a “uniform” that made me look like a peasant girl (but way less cool), was told to “stand over there,” was yelled at by my new colleagues to “stop standing around,” given a tray of eight dinner plates two rows high to bring into the dining room, dropped said plates all in front of a room full of patrons (who, of course, laughed), found out a month later (when they finally started issuing pay cheques) that I was charged for all of the dinners (staff discount rate of course…they were reasonable after all!)

Now, I may write this and sound bitter. But actually, I never thought much about it. It was how my friends and I experienced this new and not-so-great thing called “work.”

There was no way my daughter was going to put up with that. Ironically, the hub and I told her not to expect much from her first job. Let me tell you, she was having none of that narrative.

What Getting a First Job Looks Like Today

image of a young woman looking at her laptop for employment opportunitites holding a coffeeSimonne thought for a year before she got her first job because she wanted to be ready and know what she was looking for. She made an exhaustive list. She wanted to work in a restaurant, preferably family-run, aligning with her food preferences (vegetarian), supported a cause (charity, environmental, etc.), had good reviews on social, and was responsive to her application.

She narrowed it down to two in all of Niagara. Two. That’s it. She got a call back from both.

Nervously, she went into the restaurant where she now works. The owner greeted her like an old friend. She and her husband employ family, serve vegan food, cook as much from scratch on-site as possible, run a charity (see more below about how they feed over 1000 children annually in an orphanage in Uganda), drive an electric vehicle, have monthly socials as a team, and nurture a family-first micro work culture.

Simonne did some serious research for her first job.

This is not your mother’s job hunt. And why should it be?

Work Expectations Forever Changed (And Maybe That’s Not So Bad)

Simonne, two years later, is still there. She also hasn’t suffered other things that I had by her age:

  • regular public dressings down
  • working 30-days straight with no days off
  • docked pay for mistakes
  • cutting words from bosses that made me cry
  • sexually inappropriate looks and pats (colleagues and patrons)
  • being asked to break laws like serving alcohol underage
  • doing unsafe work, like getting into tight spaces by myself

You may think, “I didn’t experience that,” or “there is no way we would let that happen!” Great! Regardless, today is the age of conscious quitting and no one will tolerate it.

People will leave in principle.

image of a notebook on a desk with a pencil and writing that says Conscious QuittingWe can get mad about the speed at which people leave or the expectations that exist. We can rail against “cancel culture” (I know I have). However, we can all agree that some of what we lived through we shouldn’t have had to. People deserve to have the choice to quit toxic, unsafe situations riddled with broken promises.

And here’s the good news: the age of the employee experience gives us a reason to align employee and corporate purpose for a better shared today and tomorrow. And because that starts before someone starts working for us, ensuring job hunters can see this alignment too.

Job hunters like 15-year-olds like Simonne are included in this recruitment focus. It’s not just professional white-collar roles; it’s not just those who can work at Google; it’s not just those who opted into working for NFPs (not-for-profits). It’s a widespread expectation of our workforce today.

Here’s an unspoken mantra of serious job seekers today:

If I can work anywhere, I want to work somewhere that makes me feel I’m a part of something that makes a difference.

I’ve seen a monumental shift from my early years in organizational/industrial psychology, where we used to hammer home the difference between a job, a career and a vocation (with less engagement to more); the difference in expectations is compressing. Everyone wants to ensure their efforts mean something. That may vary from person to person, but the bar is higher overall.

Image of the employee experience journey that begins with attract, then hire, onboard, engage, perform, develop, retire.

Can job seekers see your company or team’s social, environmental, and cultural consciousness levels?

  • If you’re hiring someone to remove waste, what is your environmental commitment?
  • If you’re recruiting clerks at the checkout line, how many cans of healthy soup do you donate to the local food bank (above and beyond customer donations)?
  • If you are selecting an accountant, do they see how some profit flows back to support a charity or cause (that is truly meaningful to the community and staff versus marketing in disguise)?

So here’s your next step: take a look at what a prospective employee can find about you. Are you helping them make a conscious hiring decision? For “bonus marks,” how do you retain them by fulfilling a conscious retention promise?

image of a paper that says Talent Management and a hand pointing to icons that say Attract, Select, Engage, Develop and RetainWe can look at the root issue as soon as we stop blaming younger generations for disloyalty (which is ageism, and they won’t put up with that either). If we understand what’s happening, we can do something about it and use it to our advantage in the talent shortage. After all, when you know what people want, you can help them see you’re the perfect one to give it to them.‌

Here are more yummy tips to help you find and retain younger workers:

P.S. – Learn more about The Lemon Tree (where Simonne works) and their charity Ryan’s Bowl. Better yet, support their work by making a small donation to help feed 1000 children; tell them in the note that Simonne sent you 😉

P.P.S. –  to get meta for a second, did you notice how a socially conscious staff can create a ripple effect? I just told you about The Lemon Tree and their social consciousness in this article, so now you and the 10,000 people who get access to this article know about their greatness! Is there better marketing to prospective employees and customers than socially conscious word-of-mouth?

“There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread.”

– Mother Teresa

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