Startup Chic vs Corporate Geek: Can Gen-Y retention predict success?
A 2011 study on global employee engagement by BlessingWhite Research revealed that of all generations currently in the work force, Generation Y is the highest retention risk for employers this year.
Specifically in North America, 56% of millennials noted they are either “actively planning to” or “on the fence” about leaving their employer, citing “lack of career growth opportunities” as the number one reason for their departure.
It’s no secret those of us who fall into the Gen-Y demographic grow tired of jobs we master much quicker than prior generations.
But with our above-average need to be continually challenged come the perks of rapid learning speeds, tech savvy and the jaw-dropping light-speed at which we multi-task our way through a workday.
Yet, the stats show the unique needs of the Gen-Y workforce are clearly not being addressed by managers at large organizations not just in North America, but globally, despite truckloads of information available to corporations on exactly that.
The highlights below are just a few of many from the report that should scare the apathy out of any company not currently focusing on improving Gen-Y retention:
- Gen Y reports the highest % of disengaged employees in the workplace globally at 25%
- Lack of visible career growth opportunities & little direct feedback from managers are top reasons for leaving
- Direct size/engagement correlation: The larger the company, the more disengaged young employees
- Technology ranks worst of all sectors in total % disengaged
So, what does this mean for the travel industry, especially at larger companies like airlines, hotel chains, GDSs and travel management companies where Gen Y is statistically at greater risk to become disengaged?
Small is to Sexy as Big is to Bureaucratic
To dig deeper into this issue, I asked a few of my millennial peers to share their thoughts, with all having worked for both start-ups and large companies in travel.
“The most critical factor for me is that my work has an impact on the business. I strongly like working in organizations where I can see the day to day impact my ideas and initiatives have, on the bottom line, and throughout the organization.”
But when stating what comes to mind when considering the alternative of working for a giant like those mentioned above, Gillease, Evan Konwiser, co-founder of Flightcaster, and Kyle Duffy, VP of global accounts at Revinate, all describe their apprehension with one word: bureaucracy.
“I think [airlines and GDSs] can be exciting companies with massive challenges that I’m itching to try and solve,” says Konwiser. “I’m just deathly afraid of getting stuck in a job that doesn’t excite me or motivate me.”
Gillease isn’t as interested, identifying her optimal company size at 100-150, where you know everyone’s name.
“I would seriously be concerned about an airline or GDS being crushed under the weight of their own bureaucracy,” she says.
And when sharing how action-oriented her current employer is, she fears a role in middle management at a larger organization would be ineffective:
“While I would love to try to solve all their [airline or GDSs] problems, I’m not sure they’d let me.”
Middle management = a kick in the shorts
When it comes to middle management, the general consensus seems to be… well… that it sucks.
Gillease noted two key challenges she thinks explain why it rarely is an enjoyable rung on anyone’s career ladder.
- Too many mediocre managers clogging the ranks due to lack of accountability
- Little-to-no influence in big decisions due to too much hierarchy
While I’ve personally chosen to muddle through the middle, I’ve found my biggest challenge isn’t one listed above. Instead, it’s remembering to relentlessly do the same things with the same gusto that got me there in the first place.
Otherwise, I risk being lulled into a state of complacency, and that puts anyone at danger to become disengaged. That’s also why I have to remind myself it’s okay to be impatiently over-performing my way out of the long slog through the middle.
But even in middle management, I believe there are opportunities for millennials to learn a TON.
Personally, I feel lucky to be learning the guts of the most complex industry in the world from a giant 50 years in the making. That knowledge will be priceless to the future leader I plan to be.
But on the days I envy my peers climbing the start-up ladder faster than I can walk from the parking garage to my cubicle, I have to remember that my passion for our business and thirst for knowledge is why I’ve chosen to learn on this path… And the travel distribution mothership is one hell of a teacher.
But when stumbled into by a millennial without having proper expectations set up front, middle management at any large company can be kryptonite to long-term retention.
Is location really everything?
Location is another important factor in technology recruiting, as both Konwiser and Gillease point out.
“Location is a big deal,” Konwiser states. “Where is travel tech? Dallas, Atlanta. Chicago. None of those cities can support thousands of top talent engineers.”
Gillease shared another perspective.
“The stability of working at a GDS and the more family-friendly nature of their locations (cheaper real estate, better public schools) does make them appealing for people who are really geared toward an easier family life.”
She’s quite right.
But it begs the question, will the companies that are good at retaining employees interested in “stability” and an “easy family life” be the same ones best positioned to compete in a rapidly evolving technology ecosystem? Especially one touting more attempts at start-up disruption than almost any other industry.
Maybe. Maybe not. But as Gillease points out, it’s possible the continued globalization of our workforces one day makes location a moot point. Time will tell.
Duffy has had experience working at an airline and an OTA owned by a GDS, and from his perspective, some employees at large companies are enjoying that stability a little too much.
“It takes a long time make significant changes [at an airline or GDS]. Many of the employees are ‘lifers’ who are happy receiving a paycheck and float along.”
What’s apparent is that by nature Gen-Y will shun the concept of “lifetime employment” and gather broad ranges of experience. But conversely, in one of the most complex industries in the world… it goes back to the core question: Will it become difficult for today’s large travel companies to be successful long-term without retention?
Winning the millennial talent war
Ultimately, Konwiser believes that the biggest challenge will not be merely filling cubicles, but competing with the rest of the industry for those recruits who are truly the cream of the crop.
“The startup world is so sexy nowadays and it’s so easy to be on your own, even at a young age. The biggest concern [for GDSs and airlines] is how to fill out the ranks with people that have options.”
So, if we agree the battle to retain young leaders today will ultimately impact the industry’s winners and losers tomorrow, who’s winning the war?
NB: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Sabre Holdings, its partners, customers or subsidiaries.
Sarah Kennedy Ellis is a contributing Node to Tnooz and director of Sabre Labs, a dedicated emerging technology incubator and trends research lab at Sabre Holdings.
At Sabre since 2007, Sarah has spent time working in a variety of divisions including everything from strategy and product development to social media marketing and R&D.
She was selected as one of the first members of PhoCusWright's inaugural "Class of 35" in 2009, recognizing the top 35 young leaders under the age of 35 in travel.
She also is invited to speak at a variety of technology conferences & industry events each year on topics including emerging technology and innovation management.
The views expressed by Sarah on Tnooz are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Sabre Holdings, its partners, customers or subsidiaries.