The Millennial Career Marathon

There's been a lot of talk about how millennials look at the workplace differently than the generations that preceded them. But when it comes to their post-employment prospects, Gen Y workers apparently share the view of many of their more experienced colleagues.

By Mark McGraw

Millennials and baby boomers share at least one trait in common, according to new research: neither group is certain they'll ever get to retire.

ManpowerGroup's Millennial Careers: 2020 Vision report finds American millennials "preparing to run career ultramarathons," with 66 percent of 1,000 employees between the ages of 20 and 34 saying they expect to work past the age of 65. Thirty-two percent anticipate staying on the job beyond age 70, and 12 percent foresee working until the day they die.

This forecast shouldn't come as a big surprise, says Nicole Francis, managing director of ManpowerGroup's Center of Recruiting Excellence.

"Millennials are the offspring of parents who watched their careers become less and less secure over the years. And many millennials entered the workforce at a time when employment numbers were at an all-time low," says Francis. "So it makes sense that they're pessimistic."

However long they wind up working, millennials will be taking a breather here and there. Indeed, 76 percent of those polled by ManpowerGroup say they're likely to take career breaks longer than four weeks.

More specifically, 66 percent of female millennials indicate they plan to take leave after the birth of their children, while 32 percent of men say the same. Thirty-two percent of women anticipate taking time off to care for parents or aging relatives, compared to 19 percent of men who expect to put their careers on hold at some point for the same reason.

Gen Y still hopes to squeeze in some fun, however. The report points out that both genders aim to prioritize "me-me-me time" and leisure-related breaks, with 29 percent of American millennials planning to take significant breaks for relaxation, travel or vacations.

But, the occasional hiatus aside, it seems millennials are largely unsure about when, or if, they'll get to enjoy their golden years. They're not the only ones, of course, and a new Willis Towers Watson survey is just the latest to underscore this uneasiness.

The consultancy's 2015/2016 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey polled 5,083 U.S. workers, 23 percent of whom believe they won't be able to retire before they turn 70, if at all.

Naturally, fretting over their retirement savings, or lack thereof, is taking a toll on these workers, with 40 percent of those who anticipate working past age 70 saying they have high or above-average stress levels. (Just 30 percent of employees expecting to retire at age 65 report feeling that frazzled.) Forty-seven percent of these employees say they are in very good health, compared to 63 percent of those expressing confidence that they'll be able to walk away at age 65.

The connection between employees' uncertainties about retirement and their stress levels -- regardless of age -- is a logical one. But, with the vast majority of workers counting on their employers' retirement plans as their primary savings tools, organizations have plenty of motivation to act, says Shane Bartling, senior retirement consultant at Willis Towers Watson.

"[Employers] can start by bringing better financial insights to employees, raising awareness through personalized information, technology and metrics," says Bartling.

"Many employees miss out on opportunities due to the complexity or difficulty in identifying ways to save money or take advantage of a service," he says.

Bartling also urges employers to monitor signs of financial stress in the workplace, identifying employees who are "at risk" of under-saving or experiencing "poor financial outcomes."

Some companies have, indeed, begun monitoring workforce financial-health metrics, "better focusing their efforts to improve [employees'] financial health" in order to develop targeted interventions and measure progress, he says.

That said, employers should recognize that some workers are not quite comfortable with them playing an active role in encouraging better financial behaviors, says Bartling, noting the nearly 30 percent of participants in the aforementioned Willis Towers Watson who say they feel that employers should essentially provide a basic retirement plan and let employees do the rest.

"Personalized technology," he says, "may help overcome this lack of comfort and increase usage of valuable financial and counseling resources."

Technology and resources aside, with many employees across several generations likely to have a long professional road ahead of them, it's critical that employers and HR leaders focus on employees' continued professional development as well, adds Francis.

"What that's going to do is make employees sustainable for longer," she says, "by having skills that are in demand and up to date."

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Jul 6, 2016
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