Should You Approach Millennials in a Radically Different Way?

Imagine you are having the following conversation with a new millennial hire:

“We expect you to give us a really strong tour of duty for two to three years. When you leave, we expect you to be part of our corporate alumni group. We want you to be part of our corporate alumni network. We want you to help recruit new employees. We want you to be lifelong ambassadors and evangelists for our products and services. But we know you’re super talented and will come upon many other career opportunities while you work here. We know your tenure at the company may not last more than a few years.”

Not quite what you had in mind, right? Well, I recently came across an article that offers this as a template of sorts for conversations to occur between employers and incoming millennials, or “young people,” as they’re referred to in the piece.

At this point, you may be inclined to think: Wait a minute. Are you saying we should essentially throw all our retention strategies out the window and assume every incoming Gen Y employee sees his or her job as a stepping stone to something bigger and better?

My reaction — and keep in mind I’m a millennial — would be: Whoa! Are they expecting me to leave in a short time span — and if I don’t, will they think I’m an underachiever? Furthermore, if I do decide I only want to contribute a few years of service to this company and then look for greener pastures, why would I be motivated to perform to the best of my ability on a daily basis?

To me, this approach is analogous to an athlete walking onto the field knowing he will be traded imminently. Operating under that presumption, I’m willing to bet that any feelings of loyalty or determination to enhance one’s performance go out the window.

When we talk about engaging employees, a key motivator is purpose — for employees to feel like they are making valuable contributions that will somehow leave a mark on the world.

I certainly didn’t interview for my current job thinking, “How can I optimize my limited time at this company before moving on?” And, to be honest, I wouldn’t think any employer would want me if I held such a conviction.

The days of lifelong service to a single company may be gone, but presuming to know someone’s career expectations is just as unrealistic.