If Millennials Want to Change Jobs All The Time Do You Owe Them Development?

I’m a huge proponent of developing your employees. I was raised by a Baby Boomer who would tell me, “If you spend money on developing employees, they’ll just leave for a better job, so it’s a waste of money!” I’m sure many of you reading this probably have current bosses who have the same theory of management and employee development.

Early on in my career, I had some great mentors, thankfully, who taught me the complete opposite. “If you don’t develop your employees, they’ll be crappy, and stay with you forever because no one else will want to hire them!” The philosophy being, sure, some employees might get better skills and leave you for new positions, but there’s a dirty little secret that happens in development.

What’s the secret?

If you do develop your employees, they’re actually more likely to stay at your organization than leave. Employees find out really quickly that organizations that invest in their personal development are few and far between. Sure, you’ll get giant companies who will spend money on development, but most employees are hired working for small and medium-sized businesses that are usually budget constrained.

Then come along these Millennials. They love to change jobs every two to three years. They like to believe they invented the gig economy. They are not loyal to an employer and are proud of it. The theory that you’ll develop people and that will actually help you retain them gets thrown out the window.

So, the question is, do you still spend organizational resources to develop employees when they are predisposed to leave you regardless?

It’s not a simple question.

I’m wondering if I personally decide that I want a career path where I jump from company to company, from project to project, because that is my career preference, shouldn’t I then own my own professional development?

Organizations put resources into developing their employees because there is a return on investment to the organization. If I spend $3000 per year developing you as an employee, I expect over the next year or two, that investment will pay dividends. The organization will actually make more than the $3000 we spent on your development. Otherwise, the developing employees would be a losing money proposition.

I know the organizations I know—private, public and nonprofit—are not in the money-losing business!

So, now I’m perplexed. On one side I hear my mom telling me don’t spend money on your employees, they’ll just leave you! I have my mentors telling me it’s better to develop and have a great talent for a time, even if it’s not for a long time, so spend that money and develop!

We are in a place and time in our country where we have more jobs than talent to fill them, so we are being forced to face this employee development dilemma. Spend a huge amount of organizational resources on developing the talent you desperately need, or spend even more money and buy the talent you need at the top of the market.

There is a light on the horizon. GenZ, the generation coming into the workforce today, is different than the Millennials. Their character traits are loyalty and realism. They saw family and friends lose jobs and homes during the great recession. They overheard stressful conversations of their parents during hard times. They didn’t get to go to Disney, and had to do “Staycations”.

I’m going to keep developing my employees. I’m still a believer that I would rather develop someone to be great, and work to show them why staying ‘here’ is better than leaving. To figure out how to give them the challenge they’re looking for in my barn, not someone else’s. It won’t work every time. I’ll have good people leave that I spent a bunch of resources on, but my hope is those people will say good things about us, and it’ll come back full circle.

FOT Background Check

Tim Sackett
Tim Sackett SPHR, is the ultimate Mama’s Boy!  After 15+ years of successfully leading HR and Talent Acquisition departments for Fortune 500s and smaller technical firms, Tim took over running the contingent staffing firm HRU Technical Resources in Lansing, MI. Serving as the Executive Vice President, Tim runs the company his mother started over 30 years ago, and don’t tell Mom, but he thinks he does a better job at it than she did!  Check out his blog at www.timsackett.com. Because he's got A LOT to say, and FOT just isn't enough for him.


  1. KD says:

    It’s an easy path to say “don’t develop on spend” if average tenure is down…. But the question remains, what if that’s what they are looking for and will make them stay longer? I agree, you have to do it anyway…


  2. I’ll add another benefit to investing in your employees — even in an environment with job switching — a reputation for investment is an attraction to the best talent. Do it and let the market know that you do. Attraction, performance, retention: goals of many policies. Development hits on all three.

  3. Scott Stinson says:

    The spend may come from the company but the action will be seen as coming from the manager. If the manager leaves the company, most likely the (developed) employee is hoping the manager will be taking her/him with them! The workforce right now is like the song, “Love the one you’re with…” I don’t think it’s a question of “owing them development”. I think it’s a question of providing development for them at a fast enough rate to keep them engaged. Remember, it’s not a relationship with this generation…we are not dating, we are just hanging out.

  4. C says:

    I’m technically not a millennial, but I’m only 3 years older than the range and feel impacted by the same factors as millennials. “Millennial” based on how I’m seeing it used has devolved (if it was ever imbued with any positive connotations) into an grossly inaccurate derogatory term that describes a caricature of a generations and places the blame on said generation. In the past week alone, between articles and podcasts I’ve heard several unkind references to millennials expecting “participation trophies.”. I never received one of these, but maybe a ribbon from track and field day in elementary school. Even as a 10 year old that ribbon meant less than nothing to me – if anything it’s a slap in the face; it’s a memento of losing at something and I seriously doubt millennials are graduating high school convinced that everyone is a winner etc. Indeed the quintessential element of the millenial caricature is the notion that we (to just go ahead and lump myself in) are an entitled and bratty bunch. Painting with a bit of broad f*cking brush to sum up an entire generation in such uninspiring and uninspired terms isn’t it?? Now, to add further insult to injury, we’re also being tacked with disloyal to our precious patriarchal employers. Oh wait, most of us get employed by profit driven heartless corporations – and even small and medium sized businesses will squeeze you for every drop of blood you have – they won’t invest, they hardly ever promote, so it’s ludicrous to accuse millennials of disloyalty – where was loyalty engendered in the first place? I don’t hear anyone criticizing employers for disloyalty to employees – that’s just viewed as cold hard business, and if that’s the extent of the relationship, then by all means we SHOULD switch when a better position is available – isn’t that what the free market economy is all about? Loyalty is a two-way street, but are employers offering any protection in worse times for the loyal? Is hard work and effort recognized? Sometimes, sure, but by and large employers just feel entitled to perfect obedient employees – just to turn the tables a bit. This article for what it’s worth, although I disagree with the statement that millennials “love” to switch jobs, is ultimately in line with the crux of my argument here which is: treat us better and we will treat you better – just like you ought to treat your fellow adult human beings. I’m sure I’m not alone as a person in an older age bracket affected by the hyper competitive disloyal economy. Aside from that just recognize “millennial” for what it is: prejudice and agism, pure and simple.

  5. Mike Townsend says:

    Let me answer the title of the article. YES, you owe your employees development. Will they leave for “better” positions? Maybe. Sometimes the grass isn’t always greener on the other side and it takes leaving a company to figure that out. Development is important because of technology changes, process improvements, and work becomes different. Development should happen to allow the employee to perform better at the company with changes that could affect them. (i.e. new systems, how to deal with people in a new position, etc). If development wasn’t important, Onboarding wouldn’t be a big deal. That is the start of developing any new employee at any level. If they leave, they leave. Maybe they didn’t consume that training that was given properly. If a person takes their development seriously, they will make their own opportunities in a company.

  6. yakshack says:

    I’m a millennial and just spent ~$2K of my own money to attend a prestigious leadership development program. My company has a limit for professional development funds that doesn’t even come close to covering this cost, though I heard through the employee grapevine that these funds are rarely used, there’s a surplus now that it’s year-end, and other employees have gotten their expensive professional development programs paid for in full.

    The program I paid for may now lead to a fruitful and necessary (aka: profitable) public-private partnership with my organization. I also now have access to an active alumni cohort of thousands who can potentially partner with my org. I love my job and my organization and am generally pretty happy. But now I’m casually looking for new opportunities.

  7. Simone says:

    There are always going to be those people that can’t stay put in one place for too long, but you said it best, “We are in a place and time in our country where we have more jobs than talent to fill them” and employees are going to go to the best possible job they can get. Check out this article on how to retain the best IT talent novusviatech.com/2016/06/15/blog4/ I think this is what we should focus on. So yes, if employees need professional development or continuing education to be pleased with their job, then do it. That’s how you retain employees!

  8. I will take a chance on my employees and invest in their development. When they see that management cares about them, they will be motivated to work together for the success of the company. Maybe they will stay for a long time. Even if they leave for greener pastures, they will have nice things to say about the company, which as you put it “it’ll come back full circle”.

    Khris Villoria

  9. The millennials are sons and daughters of globalization. They are always connected to the world and are better adapted to change. They want to learn something new and make a difference in the world. I think that role rotation, routine changes the design of new challenges and, in general, a working environment that integrates technology and people are central to develop millennial and maintain they interest in the work they do.

  10. Honestly, this is a controversial issue. Companies are worried that all that investment would go to waste. But I’ve always been an advocate of investing in employees. Yes, the market is rife with opportunities. Yes, there are more jobs that real talent to fill it. Yes, rival firms are always looking to poach the best talent.

    But, there’s always a flip side. The employee can stay. You can build the best workforce possible. They can utilize the knowledge that they acquired from the professional development courses to help your firm grow and increase revenue.

    And the reputation of relentlessly investing in employees will always attract the best and most motivated talents. You just have to make sure that your company stays innovative, so these bright talents don’t have to go seek their job fulfillment elsewhere.

    For me, the pros of investing in employees always outweigh the cons.

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