In logic class, students are taught the various argument fallacies: what makes a good, reasonable claim and — often more importantly — what doesn’t. I remember sitting in class after class as teachers played videos of current celebrities, politicians, news stories and more. After each clip, we were asked to identify problems with the arguments presented. Were they false dichotomies, red herrings, straw man theories, false causes, etc? We are a culture drowning in bad arguments, so the importance of these lessons was clear to me even at the time. Bad arguments can very easily be presented in a way which makes them look like good arguments, therefore large numbers of people constantly fall prey to them.
One such example? Our entire culture has believed and bemoaned the fact Millennials are job-hoppers; they never stay in a job very long but instead flit from one to another. That statement is in itself a fact; it’s true Millennials change jobs often. The lie our culture has come to believe is this is somehow unique to Millennials. That it is yet another way this generation is changing the work environment and cultural expectations. That it is further proof of their laziness and fear of commitment. After years of hearing this message, watching employers freak out and institute new programs to try incentivize Millennials to stay and reading article after article about how employers should best manage these fickle employees, I stumbled upon a recent Pew Research study. Just this past April, the research leader divulged shocking data: Millennials are not leaving their jobs any faster than the previous generation (Gen X) did when they were the same age. In fact, Millennials are staying in their positions slightly longer. According to Pew: “In January 2016, 63.4 percent of employed Millennials reported that they had worked for their current employer at least 13 months. In February 2000, somewhat fewer 18- to 35-year-olds (59.9 percent) — most of whom are today’s Gen Xers — reported similar job tenure.”
The rate at which previous generations changed jobs is data we have always been able to look at. Why is this information just starting to be talked about now? Perhaps because it seemed obvious this was a Millennial problem. It fit with our assumptive narrative Millennials are lazy, entitled and struggle in the current economy, so of course they bounce from job to job. Very few people bothered to look much deeper than that.
This assumption lead our culture to believe a fallacy called “false premise.” In case you’ve forgotten the definitions for all the many fallacies, here is how Wikipedia defines it: “A false premise is an incorrect proposition that forms the basis of an argument. Since the premise (proposition or assumption) is not correct, the conclusion drawn may be in error.”
It seemed true, anecdotally, Millennials were leaving jobs faster than employers had seen before; therefore, it seemed true employers were facing unprecedented retention issues. But because the first thing wasn’t true, the second wasn’t either. And all the money, energy and anxiety wasted on new programs, work incentives and leadership training seminars meant to combat this problem were for naught. What seems even worse, in my mind, is the real issue went unresolved and uninvestigated because society was focused on this false concept. If you are trying to end the exit tide of Millennials based on generational assumptions that aren’t true, then you aren’t identifying the real reason those employees are leaving. The result is Millennials end up feeling more judged than they deserve and you still have an employee retention problem.
So what is the root cause for job-hopping? The truth is hard, hence the ease at which people put blame elsewhere: we don’t know. According to that same Pew study: “The increasing job tenure of college-educated Millennials is consistent with a decline in employer switching among all working-age adults since the 1980s. The reasons for the decline are not well understood.” Meaning, this retention problem has been happening for 30 years and we’re still not fully sure why. Similar studies have also looked at the following issues as possible causes: rise of dual-career households, the decline in middle-skill jobs, occupational licensing and the need for employees to retain health insurance; unfortunately, no definitive proof was found directly linking those issues as the cause either.
It’s easy to jump to conclusions when the answer is elusive and unknown. We are a culture which likes to fix things and you can’t fix what you can’t diagnose. But let’s not be so hasty that we create a worse problem by fixing a false diagnosis.
Emily Enger is a millennial farm kid turned farm journalist. She also works in marketing, serving as Communications Director for a nonprofit that covers nine rural counties in northern Minnesota. These opinions are her own and should not take the place of legal or professional advice. To comment or pitch future topics, email her at email@example.com. For reprint permission, email editor Joan Kark-Wren at firstname.lastname@example.org.