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The Millennial Problem



There’s a belief, at least around Silicon Valley, that the so-called Millennials (those born somewhere between the years 1980 and 2000) just simply aren’t engaged at work.

Source: Vimeo

This isn’t limited to startups. Companies like Google with enormous resources and brainpower are hiring “Millennial consultants” to better understand younger workers. Oracle and HBO want to stem employment churn and have made commitments to better understanding workforces in their 20s to early 30s.

When we look at our data (specifically, our New Tech Benchmark), we see a lot of this too. Workers under 33 years of age simply have lower overall engagement than other age groups. Scores are out of a possible 100.

However, if we factor for the question “I see myself at Company X in two years time,” and remove its influence on the overall engagement score, the cohort under 33 years of age appear to be just as engaged as everyone else.

This effect suggests that younger workers simply have no intentions to stay at the company they work for, across the board and regardless of situation — even if they are highly engaged.

This is a big deal because retaining workers consistently ranks as a high-priority for many organizations. It’s expensive to make up for the ones you’ve lost, even for an “average” worker. Not to mention the intangible damages like morale. But why is retention seemingly so much more difficult for Millennials?

Let’s look at the data:

Workforce Development Lags Behind

Particularly in Silicon Valley, the growth of technology is outpacing the need to learn it. Hell, the speed at which technology becomes obsolete is outpacing the speed at which someone can learn it.

Our data show a similar trend. People at their jobs are not too happy with the level of L&D they receive. Indeed, it is one of the overall lowest scoring metrics we collect:

In the gig economy, a good way to learn new skills is to leave your current job and go to a new one. Work a job for a few years, pick up new skills, and move on to the next with new skills in-hand. Top-ranked business schools like INSEAD are teaching people to build portfolios, telling people to “switch employers and industries frequently and change paths.”

“… the training or education programs of most companies tend to fall far behind employees’ needs.“ — Quartz

And Your Value Can Double By Leaving

Compounding the lack of training, there were 5 million job openings in April 2016, the highest number in history. Workers are finding that their skills are increasingly more valuable not just at their job, but everywhere else, too. If employers aren’t training their staff and won’t hire people that need training, the only choice is to hire people from other companies. This quickly turn into a very expensive bidding war for talent.

The signal to employees: you must shop around constantly for a better deal, or you are leaving money on the table. In Haseed Qureshi’s case, his salary more than doubled without a single day at a job.

Take Consideration of The Long Play

Let’s talk pensions — how many of us have them? Traditional Defined-Benefit (DB) pensions have decreased steadily at least for a couple of generations. Defined benefits are what people are usually talking about in America when they say “pension”— a guaranteed amount that’s paid out after retiring with your company — 80% of workers had these in 1985. In 20 years, or about one generation, that number has decreased to 34%.

Source: Social Security Administration

While there are benefits to having full control of your own retirement accounts and not being tied to a job until retirement, 401ks and IRAs will only be on par with DB pensions if people put (a lot) more money into them than they are right now. And the easiest way to do that is simply to earn more. An easy way to earn more is to get a new job.

Tying it Together

There are a lot of reasons for Millennials to be fickle about the workplace. The last few decades left them with no pensions, insufficient training in the areas they need, and the rise of the gig economy. So, it comes as a bit of a surprise that companies are left asking why they can’t keep workers around by offering ping-pong tables and free beer at the price tag of $20,000 an hour.

But, there’s one giant catch: there is no evidence to suggest Millennials are leaving their jobs at a more frequent rate than previous generations.

The Problem of the Millennial Problem

When it comes to staying at a job, Millennials are no statistically different than generations past. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ data shows that median tenure at a job has held steady across younger workers for at least 30 years.

Older workers, of course, have longer median tenures because they’ve been in the workforce longer. But what’s interesting is how steady the increases of medians are between cohorts. Our data shows a complementary effect: older workers answer more positively on retention-related questions (i.e. I plan on staying at Company X for the next two years) in a steadily increasing manner.

The implication here is younger people simply feel less confident about their career trajectory and and grow more confident as they are more established (obvious). Simultaneously, younger workers have been staying at their jobs at a consistent rate for decades. In short, there is nothing wrong with the kids these days. They are not leaving jobs more frequently. They are just as committed, proud, and motivated as everyone else.

Our sires’ age was worse than our grandsires’. We, their sons, are more worthless than they; so in our turn we shall give the world a progeny yet more corrupt. — Horace

Though the factors stated earlier heavily coincide with the timing of Millennials entering the job market, it should be emphasized that these factors reflect the current reality of employment for everyone. Everyone cares about retirement, skills development, and making more money. These are the benefits of employment that every person has a right to and should care about — not just a specific, arbitrarily-chosen subsection of people born between a certain time period like Millennials or Sagittariusses. (Sagittarii? Sagitarians?)

But we also can’t forget that we live in a system of Catch-22s — train your workforce well and they might leave for a bigger paycheck; guaranteed pensions are unpopular with shareholders and investors; offer more money, and someone else will counter. But one thing is for sure: organizations that only provide people with a basic paycheck are at a disadvantage versus those companies that go beyond.


About the Author

This article was written by Hyon S Chu. Hyon is a data scientist at Culture Amp — where we conduct analytics and research with data that comes from real people at companies like yours. Reach out to join the conversation.

Callum Connects

Benjamin Kwan, Co-Founder of TravelClef



Making music to create a life for his family, Benjamin Kwan, started an online tuition portal and his music business grew from there.

What’s your story?
I am Benjamin and I’m the Co-Founder of TravelClef Group Pte Ltd, a travelling music school that conducts music classes in companies as well as team building with music programmes. We also run an online educational platform which matches private students to freelance music teachers. We also manufacture our own instruments. I started this company in 2011 when I was still a freshman at NUS, majoring in Mechanical Engineering.

I was born to a lower income family, my father drove a taxi and was the sole breadwinner to a family of 7. I have always dreamed of becoming rich so that I could lessen the burden placed on my father and give my family a good life.

After working really hard in my first semester at NUS, my results didn’t reflect the hard work and effort I put in. At the same time, I was left with just $42 in my bank account and it suddenly dawned on me that if I were to graduate with mediocre results, I would probably end up with a mediocre salary as well. I knew I had to do something to gain control of my future.

During that summer break, I read a book “Internet Riches” by Scott Fox and I knew that the only way I could ever start my own business with my last $42 would be to start an online business. That was how our online tuition portal started and after taking 4 days to learn Photoshop and website building on my own, I started the business.

What excites you most about your industry?
Music itself is a constant form of excitement to me as I have always been an avid lover of music. As one of the world’s first travelling music schools, we are always very eager and excited to find innovative ways to a very traditional business model of a music teaching.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore and I love the fact that despite our diversity in culture, there’s always a common language that we share, music.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Hands down, SINGAPORE! Although we are currently in talks to expand to other regions within Asia, Singapore is the best place for business. I have had friends asking me if they should consider venturing into entrepreneurship in Singapore, my answer is always a big fat YES! There’s a low barrier of entry, and most importantly, the government is very supportive of entrepreneurship.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
I have been blessed by many people and mentors who constantly give me great advice but right now, I would say the best piece of advice that I received would be from Dr Patrick Liew who said, “Work on the business, not in it.” This advice is constantly ringing in my head as I work towards scaling the business.

Who inspires you?
My dad. My dad has always been my inspiration in life, for the amount of sacrifices that he has made for the family and the love he has for us. He was the umbrella for all the storms that my family faced and we were always safe in his shelter. Although my dad passed away after a brief fight with colorectal cancer, the lessons that he imparted to me were very valuable as I build my own family and business.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
You can not buy time, but you can spend money to save time! With this realisation, I was willing to allow myself to spend some money, in order to save more time. Like taking Grab/Uber to shuttle around instead of spending time travelling on public transport. While I spend more money on travelling, I save a lot more time! This doesn’t mean that I spend lavishly and extravagantly, I am still generally prudent with my money.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have taken more time to spend with my family and especially my father. While it is important to focus our time to build our businesses, we should always try our best to allocate family time. Because as an entrepreneur, there is no such thing as “after I finish my work,” because our work is never finished. If our work finishes, the business is also finished. But our time with our family is always limited and no matter how much money and how many successes we achieve, we can never use it to trade back the time we have with our family.

How do you unwind?
I am a very simple man. I enjoy TV time with my wife and a simple dinner with my family and friends.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Batam, it’s close to Singapore and there’s really nothing much to do except for massages and a relaxing resort life. If I travel to other countries for shopping or sightseeing, I am constantly thinking of business and how I can possibly expand to the country I am visiting. But while relaxing at the beach or at a massage, I tend to allow myself to drift into emptiness and just clear my mind of any thoughts.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Work The System, by Sam Carpenter. This book teaches entrepreneurs the importance of creating systems and how to leverage on systems to improve productivity and create more time.

Shameless plug for your business:
If you are looking for a team building programme that your colleagues will enjoy and your bosses will be happy with, you have to consider our programmes at TravelClef! While our programmes are guaranteed fun and engaging, it is also equipped with many team building deliverables and organizational skills.

How can people connect with you?
My email is [email protected] and I am very active on Facebook as well!

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
Download free copies of his books here:

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Before you enter a Startup or before you choose your founding team or new hires read, “Entering Startupland” by Jeff Bussgang



Before you enter a Startup or before you choose your founding team or new hires read “Entering Startupland” by Jeff Bussgang.

Jeff knows how to spot and groom good culture, as the book session was held in Zestfinance a company he invested in and now, “The Best Workplaces for Women” and for “The Best Workplaces for Tech”, by Fortune.

These are the questions during the Book Launch.

How to know if a hire including the founder is Startup material?
Jeff says to watch for these qualities.

First, do the hires think like an owner?
Second, do the hires test the limits, to see how things can it be done better?
Are they problem solvers and are biased toward action?
Do they like managing uncertainty and being comfortable with uncertainty? And comfortable with rapid decision-making?
Are they comfortable with flexible enough to take in a series of undefined roles and task?

How do we know if we are simply too corporate to be startup?

Corporate mindsets more interested in going deep into a particular functional area? These corporate beings are more comfortable with clear and distinct lines of responsibility, control, and communication? They are more hesitant or unable to put in the extra effort because “it’s not my job”.

If you do still want to enter a startup despite the very small gains at the onset, Jeff offers a few key considerations on how to pick a right one.

He suggests you pick a city as each city has a different ecosystems stakeholders and funding sources and market strengths. You have to invest in the ecosystem and this is your due diligence. Understand it so you can find the best match when it arises.
Next, to pick a domain, research and solidify your understanding with every informational interview and discussion you begin. Then, pick a stage you are willing to enter at. They are usually 1)in the Jungle, 2) the Dirt Road or 3) the Highway. The Jungle has 1-50 staff and no clear path with distractions everywhere and very tough conditions. The Dirt Road gets clearer but is definitely bumpy and windy. Well the Highway speaks for itself, doesn’t it?

Finally Please – Pick a winner!

Ask people on the inside – the Venture Capitalists, the lawyers, the recruiters and evaluate the team quality like any venture capitalists would. Would you want to work for the team again and again? And is the startup working in a massive market? Is there a clear recurring business model?

After you have picked a winning team and product, how would you get in through the door?

You need to know that warm introductions have to be done. That’s the way to get their attention. Startups value relationships and people as they need social capital to grow. If you have little experience or seemingly irrelevant experience, go bearing a gift. Jeff shared a story of a young ambitious and bright candidate with no tech experience who went and did a thorough customer survey of the users of the startup she intended to work with. She came with point-of-view and presented her findings, and they found in her, what they needed at that stage. She became their Director of Growth. Go in with the philosophy of adding value-add you can get any job you want.

And as any true advisor would do, Jeff did not mince his words, when he reminded the audience that, “If you can’t get introduced you may not be resourceful enough to be in startup.”

Startupland is not a Traditional Career or Learning Cycles

Remember to see your career stage as a runs of 5 years, 8 or 10 – it is not a life long career. In Startup land consider each startup as a single career for you.

Douglas Merrill, founder of Zestfinance added from his hard-earned experience that retention is a challenge. Startup Leaders to keep your people, do help them with the quick learning cycles. Essentially from Jungle to Dirt road, the transition can be rapid and so each communication model that starts and exists, gets changed quickly. Every twelve months, the communication model will have no choice but to break down and you have to reinvent the communication model. Be ready as a founder and be ready as a member of the startup.

Another suggestion was to have no titles for first two years. So that everyone was hands-on and also able to move as one entity.

Effective Startupland Leaders paint a Vision of the Future yet unseen.

What I really enjoyed and resonated with as a coach and psychologist was how Douglas at the 10th hire thought very carefully what he was promising each of his new team member. He was reminded that startups die at their 10th and their 100th hires. He took some mindful down time and reflected. He then wrote a story for each person in his own team and literally wrote out what the company would look like and their individual part in it. In He writing each of the team members’ stories into his vision and giving each person this story, it was a powerful communication piece. He definitely increased the touch points and communication here is the effective startup’s leverage.

Douglas and Jeff both suggested transparency from the onset.

If you think like an owner and if you think of your founding team as problem solvers. Then getting transparent about financials with your team is probably a good idea. As a member of a startup, you should insist on knowing these things
Such skills and domain knowledge will be valuable. There is now historical evidence of people leaving startups and being a successful founder themselves because they were in the financial trenches in their initial startup. Think Paypal and Facebook Mafia.

What drives people to enter a startup?

The whole nature of work is changing. Many are ready to pay to learn. Daniel Pink’s book Drive showed how people are motivated by certain qualities like Mastery, Autonomy and Where your work fits into big picture. Startups do that naturally. There is a huge amount of passion and the quality of team today and as it grows then the quality of company changes.

The Progress principle is in place, why people love their startup jobs is not money rather are my contributions being valued? Do I see a path of progress and do I have autonomy over work and am I treated well?

Find out more about StartupLand on Amazon

And learn from Zestfinance

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