, Singapore

In defence of Singapore's job-hopping Millennials

By Aniz Sirajudin

Job-hopping in Singapore is fairly standard practice, much to the frustration of employers and HR teams. And evidently this is not just an issue with senior and middle management – even recent graduates are, apparently, prepared to hop, skip, and jump between roles making moving employers an Olympic sport.

When anyone under the age of 30 moves job, the knee-jerk reaction is to blame this behavior on the 'Millennials' (it used to be Gen Y). The ungrateful youth of today – they can't focus, there's no loyalty, and they are only interested in what's in it for them!

But how often do Managers and Directors stay in a long-term career for lower pay and fewer benefits? Because the statistics show that if you want to get ahead, quickly, you really need to move jobs. And often these very managers contribute to the job-hopping culture by bringing their best people along whenever they move.

In this context, commentary by graduates from the recent NUS Business School commencement ceremony showed remarkable maturity – 'take the long-term view of a career'; 'stop looking for the "ideal" role'; 'don't job-hop for a few hundred dollars.'

Naturally this view was supported by recruiters claiming that unjustified short-term roles on the CV were now a damaging trait…though this was not, seemingly, the case for good quality managers and the accompanying placement commissions.

Is a possible recession a job-hopping game changer?

For Millennials, the elephant in the room is a possible economic slow-down. After all, elephants have famously poor hopping skills. Singapore, much like Australia, has survived the GFC far better than most countries, though for very different reasons.

When jobs are in plentiful supply, there is little incentive to stay put in one role. However, if job prospects get tougher, employer loyalty becomes a greatly appreciated trait. Australia has seen the job security pain at the end of the commodities boom; the jury is still out on the possible impact of an economic slowdown in Singapore.

But this is a very simplistic view of Millennials and the local employment environment. Perhaps the job-hopping Millennials are not the problem. Perhaps they are just delivering an uncomfortable message. A message that previous generations (X, Y, 3.1, Vista, Silver, and Pioneer) have been unable, or unwilling, to articulate.

The problem might actually be that businesses are not treating their staff well enough. Careers may not be planned; jobs which should be good are just a monotonous routine; mentors might be the ones yelling at you; staff might feel exposed and unappreciated; foreign staff might get better training from their time overseas, and thus be given better career opportunities. No-one wants to be part of an uncaring machine.

Engaging staff at different points of their careers

There can be little doubt that incentives have a huge part to play in driving employee satisfaction and reducing employee mobility. But incentive programs tend to be static – a gym membership, healthcare for you and your family, dental, team-building, and work-based activities. And we wonder why these offerings don't strike a chord with graduates?!

What right-minded 24-year-old wants to hang out with middle-aged managers at the gym or company picnic? And if they're even thinking of dependents' health insurance, they probably have a few bigger problems to take care of.

Benefit incentive plans are clearly not targeting the graduate market. And if this is not the case, there is probably a good chance graduates feel their careers, potential, and value within a company are unappreciated.

A company which is always thinking about developing the best people will usually have incentive and career plans which reflect an individual's immediate needs and long-term goals. And, it should be noted, these are not always the same.

Flexibility vs flexible benefits for Millennials

Millennials do understand that in a fast-paced environment, expectations run high and more is expected to be completed in a given space of time. This pressure to produce more work, at a higher standard, often does not result in more down-time for success. It results in being given more work. Millennials are, rightfully, asking where is the time for oneself?

It may therefore be the case that flexible benefits are of much greater value to millennial talent, than for more experienced staff. Explaining to Millennials how they fit in to an organisation over time might be a good way to engage them – but that flexibility also means more responsibility. The job still has to be done.

But a reward for success will be how the company adapts to their changing needs. In 2015 a key benefit might be a weekend away in Bali or regular placements in other parts of the company… but in 2025 the family healthcare might be of more use.

Increasingly organisations overseas are looking to include employment sabbaticals as part of a benefits package – go and work for someone else for two years, develop key skills, and return a better employee… and retain key benefits while you're doing this.

It may be then, that a culture of job-hopping is not the fault of Millennials. If anything, Millennials are just showing employers that neither side should demand too much in a healthy employer-employee relationship. Perhaps businesses need to consider more innovative ways to keep individuals at all levels professionally and personally engaged.

We know benefits do help staff retention – indeed, well-structured programmes can even save businesses money. But certainly, it is clear that one size does not fit all.

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