LeBron James: A Lesson in Gen Y Employee Retention

The assumption that NBA superstar LeBron James would demonstrate blind loyalty to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers should surprise no one – as long as they had been paying attention to the world views of different generations.   

While Baby Boomer and Veteran workers placed a high value on undying loyalty to the organization, Generation Y (born 1980-2000) are looking for opportunity, mobility, and work-life balance. One survey, released in 2004 by Harris Interactive, found that only 47% of those 18 to 34 years old “really care about the fate” of the enterprise for which they work. That compares with 64% of those 55 and older. In other words, younger workers don’t see themselves sticking around in any one place too long. 

Ironically they don’t see themselves as disloyal. Loyalty for Generation Y, sometimes called Millennials, feel loyalty is as much as spiritual thing as it is physical. 

A recent analysis by Princeton economist Henry Farber shows that the percentage of private-sector male workers who’ve been with the same employer for at least 10 years fell from 50% in 1973 to just 35% in 2006, and the proportion of those with 20-year tenures dropped from 35% to 20% over the same period.

The erosion in loyalty is not the fault of Generation Y alone.  Greedy corporations, widespread outsourcing, and wholesale layoffs have soured almost every generation toward blind loyalty to the business enterprise.

In his book, “The Trophy Kids Grow Up: How the Millennial Generation Is Shaking Up the Workplace,” Ron Alsop cites a study in which two-thirds of 18- to 28-year-olds said they plan to “surf” from one job to the next. And 44%, he reports, go so far as to say that they’d renege after having accepted a job if a better offer came along.

The over-hyped LeBron James saga is over but how it played out should serve as a wake-up for every executive and business owner.  Throwing buckets of money and lavish benefits may still work when acquiring top talent but it’s no longer enough to retain high-potential and high-performing young workers.

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