First of all, the millennial “job hopping” behavior (so far anyway) is not that different than Boomers and Xers, who also job-hopped when they were that age (ah, how quickly we forget). At least that’s what the Bureau of Labor statistics says. I think the basic truth here is that all young people move from job to job, and we should really stop worrying.
Second, our concern about them leaving is based on a seriously flawed assumption: That the goal is to have people come work at your organization and never leave. Yes, I recognize lots of turnover can be disruptive and inefficient, but there is nothing particularly “natural” about working one place your whole career either, particularly if it limits learning and growth.
As an alternative, I like what LinkedIn co-founder Reed Hoffman suggests in his book, “The Alliance:” base your hiring on a “tour of duty” concept, rather than an expectation of lifetime employment. For each hire, make an explicit tour of duty plan. Tours can be any length (one year, three years, even 10 years or more), but they have explicit agreements about what the company and the employee are going to get out of the relationship. Some tours are “rotational” and not necessarily exciting (as in, an entry level job where you learn the basics), but all of that is spelled out, and the employee agrees to it because it meets their needs right now.
At the end of the tour, the employee has a choice to re-up or go somewhere else, and either choice is fine. If they choose to stay, then you develop a new tour (with new agreements) and if that employee wants to continuously re-up, they can stay with you forever.
But if they choose to leave, that is also fine. Now they become an alumnus, and you still maintain a positive relationship with them as they go pursue a different tour with a different organization. Maybe they needed to go somewhere else in order to learn something that you just couldn’t offer them right now. But if you maintain an alumni-like relationship, you’ve got the chance to bring them back later — with new skills — for a new tour.
When you take the “lifetime employment” approach, you end up not treating people that way. Someone leaving is viewed as a divorce. Look at the language we use: they “quit.” As in, they gave up, they abandoned us. We lost them.
That is obviously an undesirable outcome, so we all pretend it’s never going to happen, and that ends up being a grave disservice to the people in our organization. It prevents us from moving in the directions we need to move. Too many people stay too long, and too many people leave unnecessarily because they feel unable to negotiate a job that properly meets their needs.
Embracing the tour of duty approach might mean some turnover in your organization, but when you’re aligning the work with the needs of your people, that turnover ends up being okay.