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Old Problem, New Twist
(October 21, 2003) - 
Recently, we digested a couple of studies that claimed that compensation was the fifth of five reasons that people changed jobs. Compensation is a 'hygiene' issue, in other words. By the time that someone is complaining about pay, you may have already lost them. In order of importance, the reasons that people leave include:
  1. Challenge. i.e., my work isn't making me grow. The job has become boring.
  2. Respect. i.e., my ideas don't get support. I know how to do it better but can't because of the way work is organized here.
  3. Meaning. i.e., my work isn't meaningful to me. I am not a part of a bigger idea.
  4. Love. i.e., I don't feel like I belong here. I don't feel like I am a part of a group.
  5. Reward. i.e., I don't get paid enough. 

Each of the five issues can be managed in a variety of ways. The studies were clear about the fact that involvement on more than one 'quality'-type program is the best policy for building a retention program that capitalizes on these somewhat predictable human needs. Another way of thinking about the five reasons for leaving is that they are just another way of describing Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

Imagine, for a moment, that we are completely wrong about the way that the labor shortage will play out. There's some reason to believe that enough 401Ks and pension plans have been wiped out to get the soon to retire baby-boomers to put another 10 or fifteen years on the job. That would certainly change things.

Demographic pressures are certain, their form is somewhat debatable. 

So, if the baby-boomers don't retire, what happens? Imagine a workplace in which the first promotion isn't available for fifteen years. It was more or less like that in the US during the 70s when the average age of a fist level supervisor soared to nearly 40 as the baby boomers joined the ranks. 

A gerontocracy is a society or organization dominated by old people. It is usually risk averse and slow to grow. The young do not get respect unless they put in huge amounts of time. In the scenario that includes no labor shortage, there is a profound challenge, respect and meaning shortage for the younger (under 40) members of the workforce. To get ahead, you simply wait for your boss to die.

On some levels, that simply sounds like life today in a large organization. It's no accident that young people indicate a limited interest in going to work for large companies. The CEO and pension scandals are just the surface of a world that appears to offer limited opportunity for the young.

This current generation of children have every reason to believe that they'll live to be 120. It's a different form of the youthful sense of immortality that we all experienced. It has some level of reality base. On the 120 year plan, it doesn't make much sense to settle into a gerontocracy unless you are in search of mediocrity and security.

That means that brand-level communication with workers in the GenY group might just last a decade before they can be converted into employment relationships. In those communication relationships, the ideas of challenge, meaning and respect will need to flow from employers. Figuring out how to manage a rapidly aging workforce may be the most immediate problem. Figuring out how to make that same environment exciting for the young will be number 2.

- John Sumser



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