Retaining Today’s Young Managers

It was 20 years ago that the movie “Jerry Maguire” created a mantra for our time: “Show me the money!” Today’s young professionals most definitely absorbed that message, but money’s not the only way to stop them from packing it in.

It’s tax season, and the U.S. Internal Revenue Service expects that more than 153 million federal individual tax returns will be filed this year. That’s a lot of people looking at their annual wage statements and assessing — either at a glance, or with some amount of angst — whether the upsides and downsides of their workplace balance out, given their top-line compensation and take-home pay.

We know that today’s young professionals are inclined to always be looking for better opportunities. Monika Hamori, Burak Koyuncu, Jie Cao, and Thomas Graf reported in “What High-Potential Young Managers Want,” an article in the Fall 2015 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review, that one reason, obviously, is salary. Hamori et al.’s research showed that pursuing frequent job changes was a successful strategy: “We found that, over a period that averaged five years, the frequency of employer changes increased pay for these workers. While those who stayed with the same employer received average annual pay increases of 11%, those with two employers received 13% average annual pay increases, and those with three or more employers saw average annual pay increases of 15%.”

Another reason that young managers have a roving eye when it comes to company loyalty is that they are often able to get more responsibility by leaving and starting fresh at another company. The authors note that job hopping to find better opportunities is new: “A decade ago, it was generally believed that promotions accompanied with a disproportionately large increase in responsibility were more likely to be given to insiders than outsiders. … Our research suggests that this advantage seems to have eroded.”

Today’s young professionals appear to always have one foot, if not out the door, then creeping toward the door. Hamori et al. write that “this relentless job search is not necessarily driven by dissatisfaction with the job and an intention to leave the organization.” Instead, it’s about remaining active, instead of passive, about the course of their careers. “One high-potential person revealed that he went to interviews and constantly had contacts with recruiters and headhunters because he did ‘not want to be taken advantage of,’” wrote the authors. “He considered interviews a learning opportunity and the chance to obtain information about the labor market.” As well, we live in a time when young professionals have what the authors term “a new, technology-enabled outlook on job tenure and job searching.” With everyone putting a work bio up on LinkedIn, everyone is, by default, always in the job market.

How should employers respond? Hamori et al. offer tangible suggestions:

  • Know what matters. Recognize that young managers are hungry for high-stakes assignments and support from senior management. Create flexible promotion paths into roles that offer both.
  • Be creative if you don’t have cash. If frequent promotions are not possible (often the case in smaller organizations with limited numbers of managerial- and executive-level positions), be inventive about offering challenging work and interaction with senior managers.
  • Invest in employee development, even if it seems counterintuitive. “Our study suggests that developmental practices are essential,” note the authors. “Employers should not be afraid that such practices will cost them employees; on the contrary, employee development decreases job search behaviors and boosts organizational commitment.” Organizations that can give young professionals these forms of development are the ones most likely to attract and keep these valuable resources.
  • Weigh the losses. Understand that if a company has rigid timelines about promotions and salary raises, it will lose valuable talent.

For more on the development practices that matter most to today’s young professionals and strategies for retaining this antsy generation, we invite you to revisit this article from our archives.