Here's a key reason why millennials are leaving their companies in droves

Bored at workFlickr/sunshinecityMany millennials are dissatisfied with their organisation’s sense of purpose, or lack thereof.

Millennials are proving a somewhat slippery group for employers to hold onto.

A recent Deloitte survey found that two-thirds of millennials across the globe plan to leave their current organisation by 2020 and one-quarter plan to change companies within the next year.

One reason why millennials, who now make up the largest segment of the US workforce, are driven to job-hopping is because they don’t see enough opportunities for leadership development. But there’s a second reason behind millennials’ restlessness — and it’s considerably harder to fix.

The problem is what Deloitte calls the “purpose gap,” and it refers to the difference between what millennials want out of business and what business offers them.

According to the survey, 87% of millennials believe that the success of a business should be measured in terms of more than just its financial performance.

So what kind of metrics do they value?

The important business outcomes that millennials feel their organisations are neglecting include: improving the skills, income, and satisfaction levels of employees; creating jobs; and providing services and goods that make a positive difference in people’s lives.

The survey found that, among millennials planning to stay with their current company for more than five years, 88% said they were satisfied with the company’s sense of purpose. Meanwhile, only 63% of those planning to leave within two years were satisfied with that aspect of the organisation.

To be sure, the survey notes that millennials aren’t opposed to focusing on profit: “Millennials are not anti-profit and recognise money making as a vital component of business success. They would simply advise against placing too much emphasis on short-term profit maximization.”

In fact, the survey found that pay and financial benefits are the most important factors when millennials are choosing where to work. It’s when they’re choosing between similar companies that other factors, like purpose, come into play.

This focus on purpose beyond profit is unique to millennials, compared to older generations of workers, said David Cruickshank, Deloitte’s global chairman.

Two decades ago, people joining the workforce were probably looking for “great training experience” but weren’t necessarily focused on an organisation’s wider purpose, Cruickshank told Business Insider. Within the last five to 10 years, young workers have become much more concerned about the organisation’s purpose, especially when deciding whether to stay with that organisation.

BossVFS Digital Design/FlickrOrganisations’ emphasis on people development isn’t sufficient.

Cruickshank said he was surprised to see that so many millennials were planning to leave their companies within a few years, given that organisations have recently started emphasising people development.

“That’s obviously not having the right impact,” he said. “The number of people who want to leave nevertheless seems very high, so there’s a disconnect there.”

Cruickshank emphasised that the way to cultivate and communicate a greater purpose depends heavily on the individual organisation and industry. In general, he said, it involves “using the organisation’s strengths to do things in the wider society,” and giving millennials the chance to participate.

As an example, he pointed to firms in London that often invest in outreach programs with disadvantaged local schools so that they can help give students skills that will make them more employable.

Regardless of the specific organisation or industry, Cruickshank said closing the purpose gap is “not an easy fix” and is a long-term process.

In fact, he said that any attempt to close the gap quickly “could do more damage than good” because people will see the efforts as superficial.

Cruickshank noted that, in the last five years or so, companies have been placing greater emphasis on making sure their wider purpose is well understood within and outside their organisations. Those efforts could be a response to millennials’ needs or to the demands of clients who increasingly want to know what’s going on in the supply chain.

Whether they’re employees or customers, Cruickshank said “people want to be associated with companies that are doing good things.”

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