Why Do Millennials Stay in Their Jobs? Recent Research

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The Gallup report has dubbed Millennials as the ‘Job-Hopping Generation’, with high turnover rates and low engagement scores seemingly supporting such characterization of the generation. Indeed, the ‘job-hopping’ millennial is a common media portrayal, and academic evidence generally supports this reputation as well. Should we conclude that millennials as a generation are more fickle in their career pursuits than others then? Not quite. While millennials might have more career transitions than previous generations, the academic evidence for stark generational differences is not overwhelming. Also, some statistics statistics show millennials to be no worse than previous generations, implying that engagement and turnover challenges of younger recruits are nothing new…

As a researcher, I assume that it is never that simple, one way or another and so I tend to look deeper for different factors that predict whether millennials are more or less likely to leave their employers. Together with my colleagues Claudia Holtschlag, Aline Masuda and Carlos Morales (2020), we did exactly that, and examined how and when millennials’ protean career orientation explain changes in turnover intentions.

The concept of protean career orientation (PCO) reflects the idea that individuals are primarily in charge of their own careers by (a) defining career success according to internal standards and (b) actively managing to reach these standards. According to PCO theory, such self-determined orientation of one’s career implies characteristics of awareness (e.g. knowing what is important to me), agency (e.g. actively moving towards personal values) and adaptability (e.g. adapting to circumstances for the sake of moving forward). It seems reasonable to expect that employees with better awareness, higher agency and adaptability might also do better in their jobs. Therefore, we hypothesised that millennials with higher PCO are more likely to progress towards their personally meaningful work goals compared with their low-PCO peers. Moreover, we assumed that more personal work goal progress, in turn, predicts decreases in turnover intentions. Hence, progress towards one’s personally meaningful work goals mediates the negative relationship between PCO and turnover intentions.

The results of our time-lagged study with 138 professionals supported our assumptions, showing that individuals high in PCO were more likely to experience a decrease in their turnover intentions in the span of three month. The link was not direct though, and as we predicted, PCO related to decreases in turnover intentions through goal progress. In other words, employees high in PCO are successfully moving towards their personally meaningful work goals, which decreases their intentions to change employer. Herein lies a clear managerial implication for keeping millennials – employees should be allowed to and supported in advancing towards their individually valued goals. It also shows that the extent to which work is perceived as meaningful to employees increases their loyalty, no matter their generational group and career orientation.

Our results also showed the moderating effect of organizational career management, namely the career support provided by the organization. As hypothesised, our data showed that the indirect effect of PCO on changes in turnover intentions was less pronounced when individuals received extensive career support from their companies. In other words, organizational career management may compensate for a lack of progress towards personally meaningful work goals. These findings point to the importance of providing ample career support, such as training opportunities or coaching, especially in the case of employees low in PCO.

Further reading:

Holtschlag, C., Masuda, A. D., Reiche, B. S., & Morales, C. (2020). Why do millennials stay in their jobs? The roles of protean career orientation, goal progress and organizational career management. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 118.

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