Life at Work

Today I shared lunch with a group of HR managers from companies in rural communities. The primary topic of discussion that day was retention of new (and generally younger) employees. This group agreed that the greatest risk of employee departure at about 2 years after their hire. To compound the impact, the first two years tend to require the greatest amount of company investment for the employee return. (New employees tend to be very excited, but not very effective.)

The conversation started with generational differences of the “Generation Z”, but more experienced individuals reminded us that the early-career flight risk was not something new. It has always been there. A common trend across generations is that employees leave at about this two-year juncture because they are making other life decisions about marriage and buying a home, which causes them to rethink where they want to live or where their spouse will work. On this topic, a number of stories were shared about employees giving two-week notice because they wanted to move “closer to home”.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be closer to your parents or in a familiar location to raise a family. The most important theme in the shared stories was the employees’ managers didn’t know the first thing about the employee’s life situation (where they were from, if they were married or not, or making arrangements to do so.)

When we talk about work/life balance we think of the scales of justice where work is one side, and life is on the other. However, the reality of work and life is that it’s a work-life blend. It has become the norm that we take work home, but it is still not the norm to bring home to work. Not that children should be brought to the factory, but managers should know about the big life decisions that employees are making and contemplating so that the employer can support both work and life of their employees. This requires that managers and their team members have a relationship that is more than just assigning tasks and measuring performance.  

Many managers have gotten comfortable at understanding what drives each person at work in order to the right role and even to give career guidance. However, none of us are making decisions in a vacuum. It is important to know what else is going on in their life that might affect their workplace performance—including a sick child, a child going to college, or another upcoming lifestyle change.  Only if you know what’s going on with your team do you have the capacity to help such as assisting the employee to find a different role in the same company closer to home, for example, or setting up a different working arrangement to make it more appealing to stay longer.

Coming back to the age of most new employees –21-25 years old, they might do well to have a more experienced person in their life to help them make the decision. In this way, the manager has the opportunity to be a mentor for their younger team members as they make these major life-work decisions.

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