by Ruth K. Ross
I know I don’t. I know most of my friends who are also baby boomers don’t. We, of a certain demographic, are leaving Corporate America in droves. Every week I’m meeting up with friends of friends who want to hear my story of why and how I left and what it takes to go out on your own. That’s been steadily going on now over the last four years since I pulled the plug on my corporate human resources career. We all joke about ‘voting ourselves off the corporate island’ but the situation really isn’t funny.
In the last year my tea dates have gotten younger and younger, while sigh, I still get older. The millennials are now joining the party in large numbers. As numerous recent articles and studies are showing, millennial workers are saying that they simply don’t aspire to take on senior level roles. It’s not that they don’t believe they have the skills and smarts to do the job, many just don’t feel that it is the right path for them and worth the effort.
Years ago someone thankfully kicked the crap out of the old notion of a career ladder where you moved up one rung at a time. Instead we all began to focus more on building a portfolio of skills and taking lateral moves to gain additional experience to broaden our skill set. But, what didn’t change was the thinking that eventually you’d end up at or near the top. Until recently, that is. Now, people are saying, both with their voices and their feet that their goal isn’t to rise to the top.
So, is this all due to the massive percentage of workers that identify themselves as disengaged or other factors? Frankly it’s a bit of everything. With 68.5% of the US workforce disengaged according to the Gallup Institute (87% globally), it’s easy to simply lay blame here, but I’m also hearing from engaged people who just don’t have the desire to take on the stress and pressure that comes with the top jobs. When I talk to my peers who have walked away, I hear things like “I have nothing left to prove” and “I want to do something that has meaning and I can change lives”.
Perhaps to combat the epidemic of disengagement or it’s just the world we live in today, there is an overwhelming number of people jumping on the bandwagon to talk about how we need to have meaning at work, find our purpose and be happy. Every day I get an email with links to articles on these subjects or inviting me to attend conferences or webinars designed around passion and happiness. Admit it, our curiosity gets peaked when someone promises us we can be happy at work instead of sad, frustrated and miserable. Of course, in the moment we forget that we also have to pay the bills and have health insurance.
What my friends and I have figured out is that it is so much better to work to thrive, rather than work just to survive. However, being the more conservative types that most baby boomers are (having had parents that were depression era babies), we saved a lot to be able to have choices later in our career. What scares me a bit, but also makes me jealous, is that millennial workers are not worrying about having the money to make life changing career decisions, they just do what feels right for them in the moment. Given this, how can companies hope to keep them around while grooming them for more responsibility?
It starts with figuring out what makes them tick, what makes them excited to get up in the morning and come in to work, what is going to give them meaning and purpose in the workplace. It also starts with figuring out how they can have a successful career while not sacrificing their life-work balance outside of the office. And while we are on this subject, let’s not forget about our Gen-Xer’s. They sometimes get lost in the squeeze of worrying about losing the incredible knowledge and experience of the baby boomers and the potential of the millennial generation.
We need to turn back to the basics of creating an engaging work environment where people of all generations can buy in, go all in and remain within while contributing to the passion and mission of the company and worry less about what their job titles are, now and in the future.
Ruth K. Ross is an Engagement evangelist, Speaker, Successful HR Executive for top Fortune 500 companies and Author of Coming Alive: The Journey To Reengage Your Life And Career. After 30 years of working with corporate leaders and managers as a senior human resources leader, Ruth knows firsthand that focusing on engaging your people is the most direct way to improve the bottom line of your business. Disengaged employees can cause even seemingly strong companies to stumble. She has a personal passion for identifying and reengaging the disengaged employee. That’s because she once was one herself. Visit her website at http://www.ruthkross.com or on Twitter @ruthkross.