Remember when I used to blog? You may have noticed that one of my favorite topics to ponder and write about was… Millennials. I’ve written about them here, here, here and here.

Well, Christmas came in August as a new study called the Millennial Report was published by XYZ University and it’s fascinating. If you’re poor like me, you can read this article by XYZ University CEO Sarah Sladek on LinkedIn.

Did You Know About the Millennial Turnover Trend?

What I’ve always been fascinated by – partly because I’ve experienced it myself – is the idea that Millennials hop around from job to job.

The article sums up the current job turnover situation very well:

Millennials are notorious for job-hopping.

These young adults, ages 21-34 and also known as Generation Y, change jobs three times more often than other generations. In fact, 48% of Millennials are planning to leave their jobs within the next 24 months.

Employee turnover is now costing U.S. companies an estimated $30.5 billion per year. (Yes, that’s billion with a b.)

But why? What’s causing these high rates of employee turnover and what can employers do to reduce it?

As the saying goes, denial isn’t a river in Egypt. The inability to retain Millennials is crippling our collective bottom line, yet many employers are shoulder-shrugging and passing blame.

I am sure you’ve heard all the negative stereotypes that employers like to use. I sat in a room full of HR professionals for a workshop on talent retention last year, and I was appalled to hear their stereotypes of Millennials were that we are lazy, entitled and have no work ethic. That is absolutely not true, in my experience. My closest Millennial pals are all high-achieving professionals who want nothing more than to work hard and be compensated for it. We only ask what we genuinely believe we have earned, and many of us started out much lower with fewer benefits and perks than our predecessors every decade past.

beyonce-smashing-with-a-bat
Smashing stereotypes – Lady Bey via

I loved this quote that perfectly captured my own experiences in hearing older generations generalize mine:

At XYZ University, we’ve heard every possible excuse for why employers can’t keep their Millennial talent, such as:

  • It’s youth rebellion. (“No worries! Job-hopping is something they will eventually outgrow.”)

  • It’s a character flaw. (“Those Millennials are such an entitled, needy, difficult-to-please generation! They have no work ethic.”)

  • It’s a culture problem. (“We just need to add more perks, like nap rooms and Bring Your Dog to Work Day.”)

Are You Part of The Millennial Turnover Trend?

The fact that I’ve been a part of Millennial job turnover trend is part of my fascination. The thought that I’ve been at my current job for over a year and a half is already pretty insane to me since I haven’t stayed with one employer for this long since I graduated from law school.

But it’s not because I’m lazy or entitled. I also want to stay with one employer. However, I started out at a disadvantage when the economy was terrible, and I am still trying to play catchup to earn what I am worth because of that.

I’m the Type-A-iest of Type A’s at work. I genuinely love to work. I could work for hours and love it if I’m doing what I enjoy and feeling like I am contributing to something. However, I also have to put my foot down about not feeling like I am being taken advantage of. As much as I love my current job, I am being taken advantage of financially. The work I do and my education, credentials and experience are not being compensated fairly. That’s not to say that I’m not grateful:

  • I got to create a brand new department from ideas and protocols scattered across the institution that needed a central person and a centralized way of doing things.
  • I have the opportunity to grow every day, determine my own priorities and connect with fantastic, underserved human beings.

But, I am working. I’m not volunteering to do those things. I deserve fair pay.

So What’s Missing?

After doing some research at my institution, I discovered two very disheartening things: that I am underpaid and undertitled. Despite a law degree, and the fact that I negotiated for my current salary.

  1. Underpaid, You Say?

When I took on my role, I negotiated for my salary, but was told that the position I was taking was maxed out at the salary I ended up with. However, what I hadn’t considered asking was who was doing this kind of work before me, and what were their qualifications? You see, my position was previously housed in a different department (just one department) and held by someone without any kind of graduate degree. The person only managed safety for that one department. However, our leaders discovered that other institutions had a central safety office that did a lot more than that person did for the whole institution! So they pulled my position out of that department, and brought it under a department that serves all departments, including that one department. So yes, the title sounded like I was doing the same thing as that role that required lower qualifications and had a much narrower set of initiatives for just the one department. Instead, I had to develop a whole new department from scratch, figure out what other safety needs were across the University, manage our hazardous waste program and reporting (which the person with that title did not do), and also figure out what liabilities the institution is exposed to because nobody was ever in a position to even consider those things.

I ended up doing work far beyond what my job description ever accounted for because of a lack of leadership (or absenteeism) of from well, my leaders (see below in my discussion about my title not reflecting the work I perform).

And then I discovered that while my title was manager, I was using my law degree as much as, if not more, than my lawyer colleagues who had those coveted director titles. I found the numbers to back up how much money I had potentially saved our institution by creating initiatives and changing practices to meet regulations or help avoid relatively predictable problems.

As it turns out, I’m underpaid by about $15k compared to even my peers at the same institution with my law degree and experience.

When the lemons got you feeling down... Lady Bey via
When the lemons got you feeling down… Lady Bey via
  1. Undertitled

I’m pretty sure I made up the word undertitled, but what I mean by this is that I hold a lower title than the actual work I am performing and my credentials. While my job description very vaguely lumps “other duties as assigned” to the things I initially started working on, the “other duties” are to create a vision and strategy for the department I developed.

In my case, undertitled because my job title is manager, while I developed a department with absentee bosses who were unable/unwilling to guide the priorities I had to set independently. Managers generally receive a set of priorities and things to achieve every year, and they can think creatively about how they achieve them. Typically, a person with a director position sets priorities, develops larger strategies, and determines how to best serve the stakeholders of a new department. This is something that I’ve seen at my own institution and across many others.

Instead, in my case, because my direct bosses and their boss were some combination of disinterested, unable, unwilling, and absent since I began my role, the circumstances required that I fill their shoes to create this new department from scattered ideas, and protocols that had been neglected or unenforced for years. I ended up having to figure out my little department’s long term strategy by a carefully considered combination of:

  • Networking/learning from others in my role at peer institutions,
  • Researching the regulations to figure out what the heck we even needed to comply with, and
  • Thinking outside the box to figure out how I could develop initiatives that would actually reach my constituents.

Believe me, it wasn’t for a lack of asking. I have had two bosses since I took on my role, and am in a weird limbo phase awaiting for a new boss as my last boss left a couple months ago. I’ve asked so many times: could we just have a conversation to discuss my vision for this department. And each time my well-intentioned bosses just ran out of time because they deal with risks and emergencies that are unpredictable. So I’ve just had to fill their role by doing that myself. I developed my own plans for the department after talking to so many of our stakeholders to figure out what unmet needs are out there. I spent my first few months just meeting everyone, listening to the people who felt like they did not have much of a voice. Anyways, long story short: I have tried very hard to get even a smidgen of guidance about longterm strategy from above, and instead had to just direct my own department into a direction that would allow our institution to prosper and regain respect in this field.

And I’m not saying I have had unhelpful bosses. I have a tremendous amount of respect for them. They were available to me for the many questions I had in terms of specifics for projects I dreamt up and decided to focus on. It wasn’t a complete Wild West out there – I always got permission to do the things I wanted to do.

However, there’s a huge distinction between:

  • a manager who gets handed a list of priorities and projects that he or she needs to work on, and
  • a director who has to take a step back, evaluate his or her constituents needs and the legal requirements in the field, and then formulate a broad strategy, and then figure out what projects fit into those bigger picture categories, and then execute those projects!

In the meantime, I noticed some very huge gaps across our institution, and ended up covering our behind on many occasions in which we were exposed to huge liability. Yes, I kept my bosses informed about the liability, in some cases informed our general counsel about it to partner with them to make sure I got traction on the more widespread risks, but it is not something a manager should be responsible for alone.

Ok, If You’re So Underpaid and Undertitled, Why Don’t You Do Something About It?

And that gets us straight back to the big Millenial question – why do Millenials continue to leave their jobs instead of staying for a long time?

In my situation, I graduated from law school in the midst of one of the worst economic recessions we’d seen in years. I have $250k+ in debt that I need to pay back monthly, and yet was unable to land a job that paid more than $15 an hour for nearly a year. After taking (and also passing) a bar exam in a second state to see if I would fare better in a less lawyer-saturated city, I found a work that compensated twice that original pay, but where I had to work an insane amount of hours representing heartless corporations and being treated like a number instead of a person. I applied for several thousand jobs for four years, in the hope of finding a job that allowed me to use my talents to help others.

So when I learned of a job where I could grow and serve others, and GOT IT, I knew I had to take it.

I took the job because as you may remember, I was making good money doing mindless work for many hours for heartless law firms that turned normal people into rude lunatics. I dramatize, but the experience was soul crushing and I was desperate to find a career that would lead me somewhere, help me feel like I was contributing to a greater cause, and where I could advance and be rewarded for my dedication and out-of-the-box thinking.

Even though I negotiated and asked for a salary of which I would be more deserving, I was told that there was no budget for more that year. I understood this to mean that we would renegotiate before the next fiscal year, and that there would be opportunities to grow. So I took the job at the lower salary.

The Ask

When I began to discover that I am earning far less than my peers with a law degree, and that my title does not match up with what I’m actually doing, the Overachiever that I am, I started doing my homework.

Getting ready for the Ask - Lady Bey via
Getting ready for the Ask – Lady Bey via

Beginning in the winter, I started talking to my negotiations experts and planning a friendly and well-informed request to move up. I backed it up with the information I needed and explained what I had accomplished with the department I created. I also researched what others were earning for the same things I do internally, and what was acceptable for the kind of duties for even my sister department.

When I asked for the title change and corresponding raise in March, I was completely surprised to have received a No so resounding and closed off from even discussing my request, that I was a bit disheartened. I wasn’t expecting them to agree to everything I had asked for, but I was at least hoping we could have a conversation about it and figure out a plan of action.

As I learned later, when your boss’ boss is absent for nine months for pre, during and post-maternity leave “work from home,” she actually has no way of knowing that you created a department and that nobody helped you with the strategizing, or more importantly for passing that crucial detail on to her VP.

My saving grace was that my direct boss at the time was completely on my side. And even though several months later, he announced that he was leaving, he proved to be my advocate to set me up for the second ask which is probably going to happen in the fall when I [Side note: he left not at all to my surprise, because I think he, too, felt that he was getting zero guidance from his superiors about setting priorities and that makes things challenging when you’re new and trying to innovate.]

So Where Do I Stand Now?

Take matters into your own hands - Lady Bey via
Take matters into your own hands – Lady Bey via

Currently, I am in a place where I cannot afford to stay at my current salary after this coming January. I planned The Ask for March because I wanted to give my bosses enough time before the fiscal year, which began August 1. So now I have my firm deadline of January, when I will have to find another job elsewhere if I do not get the promotion and raise that I expect. And believe me, I really hope that I can stay where I am. I love the people, the work, and I really do not think my work is finished her. I have a lot more that I want and need to do to make my department outstanding!

Getting that Resounding No in March, ended up being a good thing because I got on the radar of not only my boss’ boss (a Chief Officer) and her boss (a VP). While they were surprised by my request in March, they started paying attention to the work I did. I really owe my then-boss (Director) for starting to share some of the scope of what I did, and prepare the Chief Officer and VP for a second Ask by sharing my reasoning with them more specifically. I was surprised when, on his last day, my boss shared that he had told them not only to expect me to ask again, but that he agreed with me that my position had been miscategorized and that I had been doing essentially the same thing as another attorney when she started out as director of another regulatory department, that parallels the work I do.

Also, the timing of my request was actually perfect because I did not know that my boss was going to be leaving, and he had nothing to request for himself during the time when you normally talk to your supervisors things you want for yourself before the new fiscal year begins. Instead, my boss faithfully fought on my behalf to get me on their radar and get more high-end duties onto my plate from his plate during the time there would be no boss in his place.

So in the meantime, yes, I continue not to be compensated for the work I do. I have taken on even more confidential and sensitive duties. I am more overworked than I had already been. However, I am also getting on the radar of the decision-makers, and I am getting great feedback because, let’s face it, I’m the over-achieveriest overachiever.

Make Lemonade Out of Lemons

Instead of being discouraged, I decided to take the No as an opportunity to better inform my superiors. It also gave me huge insight into the fact that they had NO CLUE what I was doing. That was both discouraging and alarming, but it also meant that I had the opportunity to think strategically about how to change my image in their eyes from being “just somebody” who “does something for us” to “Let’s ask Mirabelle to do this because we know she is dedicated, a good communicator and wants to continue to get more responsibility.”

So yes, I will be asking again in a couple months. And I will hope for the best, because I love what I do. I genuinely want more responsibility and I truly care about the well-being of the constituents I serve. I don’t think they’ll be able to replace me with someone as caring, hardworking and dedicated to thinking outside the box.

Advocate For Your Future

However, I am also not a total pushover. I am not going to remain paralyzed if I get another No or if I get a 3% increase. I have to think about my future. At the rate I’m at, I am not saving much for retirement, and I am I struggling to make end’s meet living paycheck to paycheck.

Someone with a law degree should not be constantly worrying about paying the bills and renting a room out of a house. I will be turning thirty next spring, and I am too old to be living the same way I was living in my twenties. I am responsible, plan for my future, pay my bills on time, and spend responsibly. I pack my lunch and rarely eat out, and plan thrifty vacations. It really should not be this hard to get out of the red and into the prosperous savings zone in the green.

An overachiever who brings great value to an institution should be compensated for the work they do. Let’s face it, if my employer believes that I am doing outstanding work, they need to back that up with some action. I have plenty of other opportunities. Yes, I’d rather continue to build on what I’ve worked tirelessly to grow, but I am also not messing around with my future. I know what I’m worth and I am not going to be taken advantage of – not for long.

The Takeaway

In my view, other Millennials are much like me.  We want to stay where we are, but the tougher environment we’ve found ourselves in means that we often need to move out to move up.  And since we often started with less than our predecessors, but are weighed down with considerably more debt than past generations had ever had, we have to be smart about our career moves (hence all the moving).  We are, however, hardworking, conscientious and deeply loyal once you’ve earned our trust by your actions, rather than merely praising us without backing that up with more substantial things.

If you’re in a pickle, here’s what I’d recommend:

  1. Evaluate your situation and do your homework in assessing those similarly situated as you. It’s important to have numbers and facts.
  2. Determine if you’re under-something – undercompensated, undervalued, undertitled, whatever… Assess, are you outperforming others in your area? What would you be worth at a different institution?
  3. Prepare for the Ask.
  4. Prepare for a Hard No, and research your alternatives if you do get a No.
  5. Reassess after a likely obstacle. Squeeze some lemonade!
  6. Accept an amazing offer, or move on.

Please comment, share your thoughts and let me know what you think. Please help me keep this a positive forum, though. I am so excited for some debate, but let’s respect each other please. I reserve the right to monitor and delete inappropriate posts. Thanks in advance!

Feature image via.

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