Gen Y And Gen X Are Leaving The Building – The Great Quit And You

February 22, 2022

I recently spoke to a senior candidate competing for a global role in the manufacturing industry. He was telling me that he considers himself a “slasher”! I learned that this is someone who has a principal job, ”/”, and one or more secondary jobs like a Consultant or a Blogger. He is hoping he can eventually piece together a living.

I have no arguments from my search mandate against such a self-managed plan in life.

I later interviewed a long-range flight captain in his late forties for an airline client. As you might imagine, the hours for this role can be brutal and there is a lot of time away from home. This interview took an interesting turn. The candidate expressed dissatisfaction with his life and said he would soon be leaving the profession altogether. He plans to go back to school to study art history and philosophy. When I asked him what career move, he was considering, he said, “None, I want to make my life meaningful again and be happy.”

These are not isolated encounters. My team and I have seen a significant “quitting” pattern over the last 6 months.

The great resignation is upon us

Mid and late career professionals, specifically those between thirty-five and fifty, are quitting their jobs in droves. Like many trends in business, what many are calling, “The Great Quit” or “The Great Resignation,” peaked in the U.S. last summer and is now making its way into the European market.

A recent Microsoft study showed that 41% of employees worldwide are currently thinking about leaving their current job.

Why this age group? One would imagine that it would be the younger professionals who have had enough of their managers trying to build team through Zoom? That’s not what the data show us. On the contrary, beginning career professionals and those approaching retirement have been holding tight. Gen Y and to a certain extent my own Gen X’ers – those in the middle – are fleeing the building through the swinging glass doors.


Hiring managers’ denial is part of the mourning process

I have spoken to many hiring managers and business leaders in recent months. Most are very disturbed by the resignation trend and there is some desire to blame Gen’s Y and X; hyperbolizing a decay of workplace culture and the business apocalypse it portends. Few are eager to see that this is a broader trend and consider how to respond strategically.

This denial is partly because they have zero data on the matter. They would prefer to move on quickly from their talent loss; asking me to get busy with their executive search. This is good for my business, but frankly speaking, retention is cheaper than hiring, and that should be addressed first.


Lessons from my field

An international service industry client of mine discovered that the wages of their service workers were low enough that it was more attractive for many to collect unemployment and make up the difference with cash work in the neighborhood. The client is now working with national governments to increase tax free corporate benefits so they can retain these workers.

At an international consultancy I serve, I have discovered that extended parental leave and number of holidays list above salary and other traditional incentives as the top priority for my mid-career candidates (newly promoted Directors and Junior Partners). International mobility or fast track careers are ranking lowest. This is a significant flip for this highly demanding industry!!

This client is now leading marketing efforts with their generous parental leave benefit and workday flexibility.

Allow me to suggest a few tested, personal pieces of advice.


Advice for hiring managers

Code departure rationale from your exit interviews, have a team make follow up phone-calls, send anonymous surveys. Get the data about your departures and analyze it.

With analysis from data in hand, put aside your emotions and judgments and get to work. Companies that are nimble and adjust their benefits structures, promotion schedules, and workplace accommodations to keep pace with the shifting culture will attract and retain the top talent. As an additional benefit, you will make my life much easier 😉


Advice for mid-career professionals

You have every right to live a life on your own terms, and in harmony with the esprit de corps for your generation. The way we do business is changing in many ways for the better as a result of your positive pressure. Keep pushing.

Seek advice from experts in the field about what lifestyle accommodations are possible in your field and at your level of seniority. Consider asking for what you want where you are as you shop for other options. Now is a great time to renegotiate any aspect of your full compensation package.

Become a slasher first. Give it a try without abandoning ship entirely and see whether the winds of change heat you up or cool you down.


#vanlife isn’t for everyone

Not everyone can be happy living the #vanlife or whatever parallel version of it you can fantasize about. Most of us thrive as leaders or contributors in a larger organization – even though we may have weeks or even months on end that make us question our station. Many find happiness in collective purpose, and the world of business is nothing if not full of purpose.

Change is never easy. And there is nothing quite like a global pandemic (except perhaps war?) to drive change at the rapid pace we are living through right now. I advise that you accept the change for what it is, seek expert advice for your transitions, and maybe you or your employees can have enough time to justify a van in the driveway for regular unplugged adventures?



Pierre Collowald is a Senior Partner at Robertson Associates.