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Talent retention is dying: here’s why that’s a good thing

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By Christina Petersen, co-founder and Head of People at Worksome

For people of our grandfathers’ generation, career progression was linear.

They got jobs straight out of school, gradually moved up the corporate ladder, gained more pristine job titles and a bigger paycheck. He knew he had made it when he reached the corner office – perhaps even one in the executive suite. He stayed at his company until he retired, having only had one employer his entire career.

The world of work is very different today:  people change jobs like babies change diapers. Adam Kingl, a professor at London Business School, found that number of jobs increase exponentially per generation. Our grandparents had 1-2 jobs, our parents had 2-4 jobs, Gen X will have 7-8 jobs, and Millennials are expected to have 8-16 jobs. If this trend continues, Gen Z-ers are likely to have 32 jobs in their professional lifetime.

Of course, one must take these numbers with a pinch of salt. The takeaway isn’t that people will be bouncing mindlessly from one full-time position to another. Rather, people are likely to complete more project-based employment as freelancers and independent consultants.

This means that current working generations’ career paths are more non-linear than linear, and play out across functions, jobs, and even industries.

One of the reasons for this trend towards non-linear careers is that young workers, while no less driven by professional development, prioritize flexibility and hunting down work that they find meaningful. As a result, increasing employee turnover has become an inevitable byproduct of the modern career path.

What does this mean for HR?

HR has for a long time had a visceral drive to retain great employees when they find them, as shown in a recent LinkedIn Global Recruiting Trends. Retention has been viewed as critical to maintaining a competitive advantage.

However, this kind of thinking is no longer sustainable. According to Deloitte, half of Millenials will leave their employer company within two years. Gallup states that 60 per cent of employees are open to accepting better offers from a competitor. And West Monroe Partners found that 45 per cent of employees applied for a job opening at a competitor company within their first year.

As the average tenure of employees is decreasing, retention seems like an increasingly impossible task. Companies that fail to develop strategies that specifically address the higher employee turnover rates risk limiting their access to critical skills.

Instead, companies should focus on creating strategies and a culture that embraces a hybrid workforce, consisting of a mix of full-time employees and external workers like freelancers and consultants.

Fostering a hybrid workforce gives companies access to the critical skills they need to pursue their goals. PwC found that 76 per cent of CEOs are concerned about the availability of critically needed skills in their workforces. Only 26 per cent find that it’s easy to attract such skills.

 In fact, the vast majority of companies surveyed respond to these challenges by accessing talent from the rapidly growing freelance economy.

Since 2001, the number of self-employed workers in the UK has been increasing at a fast rate. And self-employed people (including entrepreneurs, contractors, and freelancers) now account for around 15 per cent of the working population in the UK. One of the reasons for this boom in the freelance economy is people’s want for increased flexibility.

But while the gigster tends to receive most of the publicity, it’s the other group – the highly skilled independent consultants and freelancers -- who are changing the way companies get access to much-needed skills.

Deloitte and PwC both predict that companies in the future will employ more of these highly skilled freelancers to support their businesses. Accenture asserts that future businesses may have only have a small minority of full-time employees, while the majority is freelance.

In Jon Younger’s research for Agile Talent, business leaders explained why they’re increasing their reliance on freelancers. Some of the advantages include greater access to expertise, reduced startup time, being able to attract talent who are otherwise unavailable or too costly to go full time, the ability to manage cost and scope, and increased knowledge transfer to internal staff.

HR plays a key role in handling the current changes in the labour market. But HR has to step up and embrace a larger vision than traditional employment in a traditional company.

Sustainable recruitment practices are all about looking at recruitment as being about accessing talent, not about owning talent.

Retention is slowly dying. And may it rest in peace.

Christina Peterson featured

About the author

Christina Peterson is co-founder and COO of Worksome.

Worksome is a matchmaking platform that connects employees with prospective employees in 24 hours via AI and in work within four days.

Christina Peterson featured

Inspirational Woman: Christina Peterson | Co-Founder & COO, Worksome

Christina Peterson

Christina Peterson is co-founder and COO of Worksome.

Worksome is a matchmaking platform that connects employees with prospective employees in 24 hours via AI and in work within four days.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I was born in Nuuk, Greenland in August 1982, and lived there until the age of seven. I am currently based in Holte, just north of Copenhagen, where I live with my husband and three children – all boys – aged nine, seven and our latest addition who is only a few months old.

Generally, I have always been interested in social dynamics, and what drives and motivates us. This has influenced both my education and career choices, which have centered around psychology and Human Resources. In terms of academic achievements, I am a Master in Human Resource Management, primarily focused on Performance Management and incentive structures. And in terms of my current professional status, I am a co-founder and the Head of People at Worksome. My role is to ensure a scalable and highly motivated organisation, enabling us to realise our vision of becoming facilitators of the free and meaningful work-life.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Absolutely not! My educational and career choices have always been driven by interest and passion, not by blue prints for the future. Looking back, my path has not been a straight line, and it wasn't even on the cards for me to start my own business, but Worksome was too good an idea to let go.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Challenges come with ambition. If you want to develop, to improve, to find that motivation that makes you try even harder, then there will always need to be challenges along the way.

And when you overcome them – because you always do – you not only feel satisfied, but sharper than before.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Besides my children... Definitely founding Worksome. It is an amazing feeling to execute on something you strongly believe in, and actually see it fly. Worksome is not just about building a company. It is also about making room for new and more contemporary ways of working. It’s about helping people to build a better work-life balance and unlock potential.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

Focus on what's important and what is not. Not just focus in terms of concentrating on what´s agreed on, but focus in terms of working out what's the best choice for me, my family, my business in the given situation. It means I am pragmatic and what matters is what works.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I have mentored many students on their last year of their Master’s degree. Mentoring is important and is meaningful - both ways. I believe mentoring/knowledge sharing is crucial professionally and it builds trust between people.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?

Well, I think the general discourse on the topic will be even more relevant and interesting if we start acknowledging differences in preferences between men and women. If we want to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, we have to be that change in our own choices - IF the choices are right for us and are what we really want.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Doing everything with 100 per cent perfection won’t get you anywhere. Learning to prioritise effort is key to success.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

Getting the organisation ready for scale-up. I am so excited and thankful for how far we have come, and I am looking forward to working with our team to build a strong presence across many new markets, as a preferred partner to both companies and independent professionals.