The Talent Retention Myth: A Devil’s Advocate Viewpoint

We hear it all the time, the continuous chatter of experts reiterating the same old talking points about what organizations need to do to retain and engage a younger workforce. All this talk got me thinking.

What if we got it all wrong? What if we are being held captive by our own beliefs and assumptions about the very nature and structure of work in today’s society?

Common thinking is that we, as leaders of organizations, should retain talent as long as possible in order to capitalize on things like organizational knowledge, relationships with co-workers and vendors and that, somehow, employees who stay with us will be eternally motivated and highly productive team members. We may also subscribe to the risk mitigation side of the argument, seeking to keep talent to avoid the costs, financial and otherwise, of having to recruit new talent to fill in the gaps that departing employees leave.

The issue with this philosophy is that we are basing these rationales on our own (older generational) beliefs that the longer the tenure of the employee the more productive, engaged and fulfilled they are. We equate tenure with loyalty and loyalty is a sought after attribute. Workers of the millennial generation, and younger, don’t necessarily view their experience with one employer from a permanence perspective. Instead, they move from job to job, and organization to organization, in a constant effort to find a place where they can make a meaningful contribution and develop.

What if, rather than trying our best to hold onto younger employees and satisfying our own needs, we redesigned work to be accomplished by people who would give us their all while they were with us, but who could also quickly and easily pass the knowledge onto new generations of employees when they moved on? Rather than fighting against the values and trends of the times, what if we embraced the values of younger generations and evolved the way in which we do business to capitalize on a more consistent stream of new and fresh viewpoints and ideas? What if, instead of spending mounting resources trying to retain talent, we used those resources elsewhere and flexed our way of thinking to thrive in a new age of business?

With the speed of change in organizations today, is the job even the same thing it was two or three years ago? One might argue that many jobs today evolve rather quickly and the gains of retaining talent are a bit overstated. Let’s think about re-designing work and re-shaping organizational cultures to take advantage of new talent that fills these roles over time.