Like many other businesses, we annually welcome a new crop of recent college and graduate school graduates into our organization.Every relationship with a new employee begins with optimism. We tell them we hope they will build a career at the Deloitte U.S. firms. They tell us they want to do just that. But amid this jolly collegiality, one truth usually remains unspoken - we all know that somewhere along the line some of these new employees will dust off their résumés and look for work elsewhere. We have decided that being honest about that fact is essential to keeping American businesses like ours strong and competitive as the demographics of employment shift.
Most people think of the corporate world as a zero-sum game, with absolute winners (the people who end up in the corner offices) and losers (those in the latter category of the "up or out" paradigm).
And it's true, that's how most businesses have always been managed. But Generation Y (born after 1980) is far less interested than previous generations in the pursuit of prestige, power and recognition. Studies tell us that only about 16 percent of Gen Y-ers put work first in their lives, so faced with "up or out," Gen Y-ers will cheerfully choose the latter.
My organization alone forecasts that we will hire between 30,000 and 50,000 people in the next five years, and many other companies are in the same boat. And if we can't find ways to be relevant to Gen Y, it's going to become harder and harder to stay afloat.
Most companies have few qualms about investing in physical assets - but then, a multi-million-dollar technology infrastructure is not likely to clean out its desk one day and go to work for a competitor. That scenario is all too plausible when the investment is made in a company's human assets. But invest in them we must. So how does a business justify this kind of expense?
In the short term, we all recognize that retaining an employee - especially an experienced person - is significantly less expensive than replacing him or her. But even if the employee does eventually leave, the investment is not lost. Helping employees to grow professionally adds value for both the employee and for the employer, especially when that employer is a client-driven organization.
The benefits for the employees?
The longer they stay with us - learning and stretching, building capabilities, confidence and professional relationships - the more valuable they will be to the outside world.
The benefits to us?
When departing employees retain good feelings for their corporate alma mater, they will be more likely to refer talented employees to us, to reinforce opinions about our eminence, and to enhance our brand. And there's nothing preventing them from returning to us someday, bringing with them the investments that other employers have made in enhancing their careers.
In our last fiscal year, nearly 10 percent of the experienced people joining us from outside the organization were rehires, or "boomerangs." Former employees return to us for different reasons.
"I had such good mentors here," said one woman, who left us when her husband's job required them to move. Another told us, "I did what I set out to do by leaving, which was to obtain more diverse experience, but when a partner reached out to me to see if I would consider rejoining the organization, I was happy to do so."
An employee who left to pursue a different - and ultimately unsatisfying - career underscored the value that social networking can add for businesses today: "Even though I left the organization, I didn't leave my friends."
As talented workers grow scarcer, and job openings become more plentiful, organizations of all types would do well - with apologies to President Kennedy - to ask not what their employees can do for them, but what they can do for their employees. When an organization is a career-enhancer, everybody wins.
Barry Salzberg is the managing partner of Deloitte & Touche USA LLP.
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