Cara Silletto

How employee loyalty flipped in a generation

26 Jul 2019   |   Culture Leadership

Cara Silletto

How employee loyalty flipped in a generation

26 Jul 2019   |   Culture Leadership

The definition of loyalty has changed over the years in the business world. A lot of older employees have a deeply rooted sense of commitment ingrained in them, resulting in the traditional loyalty to an organization, i.e. I won’t leave if you don’t.

However, we are in a different world where employees and employers assume that most relationships are short term. Should we change our definition of what it means to be loyal? How can managers avoid unnecessary turnover? Cara Silletto explores the different ways.

What we learned from this episode

*The employer-employee relationship has changed over the last several generations. You can’t simply offer a cost-of-living raise at the end of the year and expect people to be happy.

*Millennial leaders often are more holistic in how their treat their team members than older generations.

*Having a good relationship with a manager is the biggest factors for employee happiness, more than pay and schedule.

*The explosion of Christmas wasn’t the kids fault!

*Gen Z folks are going to want more stability while the millennials value mobility.

What you can do right now

*Create a workplace where people want to work and want to come back again tomorrow. Appreciate the little proactive things your employees do or even for doing the best they can.

*Ask questions of your team members beyond just what they are doing. Ask about their future, what their workload is like, and if they can work on specialty projects

Key quotes

“The biggest influencer in that is their relationship with their manager or supervisor. Do they like working for that person? Do they feel appreciated, not just when they go above and beyond, but just for coming to work every day and doing a great job and serving the clients as best they can, do they recognize that you’re doing a good job and you’re continuing to learn and get better and things like that?”

“Most of the millennials came into the work world with a smartphone in hand. And we have access to all of that convenience that comes with it.”

“Don’t blame the millennials for having these high expectations, but realize that our entire society is entitled today.”

Today, our guest is Cara Silletto. She’s the president of Crescendo Strategies. And this is Work Minus Turnover. Hi, Cara. How are you?

Hey. How’s it going, Neil?

Doing very well. Very excited to speak with you today. Why don’t you start off telling us a little bit about yourself and the work you do?

Sure. So, my team at Crescendo Strategies works with clients around the country to reduce unnecessary employee turnover. And we do a lot of training programs with management and senior leaders, as well as a ton of speaking engagements at conferences and for associations and groups like that.

Excellent. Now, you use the word unnecessary turnover. I feel like in today’s world, we’re almost getting to the point where you expect more turnover than maybe happened 10 years ago or so. So, tell us about the current work world. Why is turnover at the rate it is right now?

So, there’s a few factors there. One is that everybody’s hiring. So, it’s a good thing. The unemployment is crazy low right now. And every company is hiring for both growth and backfill of losing the people that are walking away. So, there’s a lot of competition out there for talent right now. That’s a big part of it. Another huge factor is the employer employee relationship has shifted. And a lot of older managers that I talk to, they have more of a deep rooted or deeply ingrained sense of commitment and traditional loyalty to their organization. And that came from decades ago, when companies offered pensions. So, my grandfather had a pension, which I happen to be one of the oldest millennials born in 1981, if that helps you understand my perspective here. But my grandpa was, before the baby boomers, and he had a pension. He worked at Colgate on the line at a factory. And he had that type of employer employee relationship. It didn’t really matter whether he liked his job, he was the sole breadwinner for his family and needed that stability, where over the last several generations and several decades, that employer employee relationship has shifted.

And now I have to let employers know that if you’re just dangling this little bitty carrot out there of “Woo hoo! We’re going to give you a 3% pay increase at the end of the year if you do a great job” that that’s not a carrot anymore. I can go anywhere and get a 3% cost of living adjustment at my company, whether I do great or don’t do great. And so, it’s this perfect storm of great environment for employment with everybody hiring, but also that that relationship has shifted, I have a lot of choices. And then of course, you’ve got millennials who are far more confident. Whether it’s justified or not, we are far more confident in our ability to go find other opportunities, or that we’re worth more, and we want to learn more and do more and change the world. So, all that stuff combined together is why we’ve seen a big shift in turnover. And you’re right that it’s becoming much more expected today. And a lot of organizations are going to have to figure out how do they plan for more turnover, not that everybody’s going to be short-term, but they’re certainly going to be shorter term than they used to. We’re not going to see the 10, 20, 30 year employment that we once saw.

Tell me about pensions real quick. We know they’re all going away. But at the same time, employees are throwing lots of perks at people, throwing lots of things. Is it even possible that pensions will make a comeback one day?

I think we learned our lesson, Neil. So, I don’t think pensions will happen again because, if history teaches us anything, it’s you never know what future costs are going to be. You never know how long people are going to live. And that’s really what happened. I mean, if healthcare had not just gone absolutely berserk over the last 20 years, then pensions might have worked. But the fact that you told somebody if you work for me 30 years, and then I will take care of you and your spouse forever, for life, then you let people age out at anywhere from 55 to 70 years old, they could easily live, them and their spouses, could live another 20, 30, and we may be talking 40 years that they’re supporting those folks. So, I don’t see that happening. It’s funny that you said we see all these perks throwing at, like unlimited paid time off, even though you still have to get your job done. So, you’re never going to take a day off.

They’re like calculated perks.

Exactly. So, we’re seeing perks like that, little things, snack bars and free lunches, and happy hours and ping pong tables, all kinds of things like that. And in reality, it’s more about creating a place where people want to work, where they want to come back tomorrow. And we find that the biggest influencer in that is their relationship with their manager or supervisor. Do they like working for that person? Do they feel appreciated, not just when they go above and beyond, but just for coming to work every day and doing a great job and serving the clients as best they can, do they recognize that you’re doing a good job and you’re continuing to learn and get better and things like that? So, there’s really a lot of different things that go into why people stay or why people go. And unfortunately, too many managers, they just think it’s pay and schedules. That’s it.

I’ve heard it said that you don’t quit a job. You usually quit a manager. You quit a team. Is that pretty consistent in what you’ve seen?

Absolutely. And I’ve also seen it, many, many studies will show you that if a person loves their boss and loves the environment in which they’re in, they will turn down offers for more money. They will turn down other opportunities even that fall in their lap because they are happy where they’re at. And most people, most of the studies will show that most people, particularly the millennials, they will stay somewhere for a little less money if it’s satisfying, or they’re going to leave, even take a pay cut, if they’re not happy there, if they’re not satisfied or engaged.

And what is the correlation between happiness and a good manager? Would you say it’s 90% of the equation or 15%? How much of that the person you report to and the small culture that’s created there is relevant in the happiness?

Oh, gosh, I’ve never had to put a number on it. But I would definitely say it is the biggest factor of everything else, the schedule, the pay, everything else that the manager relationship is the biggest influencer of all of that. So, I mean, if you had to put a number on it, I’m saying at least 70% or 80% that comes down to that. And also, a lot of things fall under that. So, it’s not just, oh, my manager is a great person, or is a great manager. But does that person understand your workload, for example? So, my team, I’m constantly asking them, how are you workload wise? Are you completely overloaded and you’re about to burn out on me? Or are you a little bit bored? Do you have some free time? I know you mentioned some special projects you wanted your hand in. And hey, if you’ve got time this month, now would be a great time to work on something like that together if you want. And you know what I mean? So, that’s something that a great manager is going to do, the workload check in with their folks, how are you doing, being able to shift things around as best they can, when needed. But also going back to that appreciation, keeping folks in the know, being a great communicator and cascading information down to your team so that they don’t feel left out. And you’re as transparent as you can be. There’s a lot of things that go into making a great manager. And if that manager really does that stuff well, that could easily be 80% to 90% of the influencing factor of why someone would stay or go, for sure.

Let’s get into that millennial mindset that you talk a lot about. I don’t know if it’s faded out yet but it’s still pretty popular to say this is a very entitled generation, they feel like everything should be given to them. What’s your response to that?

So, my response is, yes, the millennials, like me, are entitled, but the reason we are so entitled is because we now live in a world of convenience. And we don’t know a professional world without smartphones. I got my first smartphone when I was 24. And I’m one of the oldest millennials. So, most of the millennials came into the work world with a smartphone in hand. And we have access to all of that convenience that comes with it. In fact, if we look back, when we teach about the millennial mindset, we look back into the 80s and 90s of what happened in our world and in our society that made the millennials a more entitled generation or what made them less loyal in a traditional sense, for example. And if you look at what happened in the 80s and 90s, it’s just phenomenal to me how much our society changed, in that credit cards became mainstream for middle class families to have and use, for example. And that meant that our generation is the one that benefited from the explosion of holidays. If you ask anybody who remembers the holidays before the 80s and you say what were the holidays like back then, that was a time when kids got a few presents, a couple presents. That was it. Many baby boomers will tell me stories about I got oranges and nuts in my stocking. Like that was a treat was to get fresh fruit and things like that. I certainly didn’t get an iPod or anything that was expensive. I didn’t get anything expensive for Christmas.

You’re even dating yourself there, Cara, with the iPod.

I know. I know. I mean, they got homemade gifts. They had the brown paper packaging that they would use and things like that. And today, we’ve just exploded our holidays, particularly Christmas, but birthdays and everything. It’s like the parents feel like, well, I’ve got to give my kids everything they ask for. And now of course the grandparents are spoiling the grandkids and things like that, which didn’t use to happen decades ago. So, that entitlement factor, the way that I talk to leadership about that is don’t blame the millennials for having these high expectations, but realize that our entire society is entitled today. I mean, heck, they’re shifting two day free shipping at Amazon to one day, free shipping because we’re not pleased yet. We want it the day of, by God, that type of thing. So, we’re going to continue to get more and more conveniences. And now, I wouldn’t dream of paying $10 for shipping for something and waiting a week or two to get it. Are you kidding me? No, I have Amazon Prime. I don’t need to wait. And so, that shifts, it recalibrates your expectations when you have access to those things. So, it’s really not about whether you’re a millennial or not. It’s which of these conveniences did you grow up with and which of these conveniences have you embraced? Because you might ask a 55-year-old, would you pay $10 for a 10-day shipping on something? And if they have Amazon Prime, they’re going to go, “No way.” But if they don’t have Amazon Prime, they’re going to say, “Yeah, that seems pretty reasonable.” So, it’s all relative.

Let’s shift a little bit. We’re talking about millennials right now. And you say you talk to a lot of leaders. But millennials aren’t getting any younger. We’re approaching 40s. And often when you’re talking to leaders, you’re talking to millennials, you’re talking to people who are leading themselves and also there’s a new generation that’s coming in to report. So, how is that making shifts? Are millennials effective at managing others their own age and younger? Are they able to stem turnover in that divide? What’s been your observation?

Great question. So, it’s interesting to me because I find that a lot of the millennial leaders are just knocking it out of the park, as long as they keep their ego in check. So, as long as they aren’t power hungry and getting into management positions, and saying, “Yes, now I’m the boss, and I can tell people what to do.” As long as they don’t go down that path, I find most millennials are amazing leaders because we were built to believe that one size doesn’t fit all. I don’t know if you remember, Neil, when we were growing up all those afterschool specials about how special we were and how everyone was so unique and whatnot. And what a lot of the older managers were raised on is, it is what it is, that’s the policy, you’ve got to follow it, that’s your boss, deal with them. And they were not given options. And they were never told how great they were as an individual. It was just if you work really hard, then you can succeed, maybe.

So, the millennial leaders that are coming in, they are asking people, hey, how was your weekend? How are your kids? What’s going on? What’s your workload look like? Anything I can help you with? And so, a lot of my companies who have millennial managers, their older managers are looking to those millennial managers and say, “Wow, how are you keeping your staff so long when my department is turning over so much?” And we typically find that where a lot of the turn happens is more in the old school departments. It’s the old school companies that are set in their ways, or the old school leaders that refuse to evolve or are evolving terribly slowly. And the managers that are millennials, I’m telling you, I mean, the ones that I’m seeing, they are just awesome. And people love to work for them because it’s almost more of a friendship, more egalitarian where we’re all on the same page here. We’re all on the same team. I mean, yeah, I know I’m the manager of the department, I’ve got some different responsibilities, but I can’t do it without you. And we know that, that we need everybody on the team, versus a traditional hierarchical view that some older managers or just traditional thinking managers would have.

And then when you talk about the latest generation that comes to the workforce, one that is completely digitally native, at least for people in our generation, we got the devices when we were of a certain age, we weren’t born with them in our hands. And now you’re seeing people that do come from that. Are there major differences between these two generations that are causing a lot more turnover among the youngest part of the workforce?

So, Gen Z is now just hitting 21. So, we’re seeing them in some more temporary jobs or like summer jobs and things. We’re not seeing them in the professional world as much. They’re just starting to trickle in. But a few of the things that we’re seeing is, if you think that the millennials are entitled, the Gen Z is truly an on demand generation. Just as you said, they are the digital natives, they grew up with this stuff in our world from day one. And so, if they click a button on their laptop, or on your company software, and it churns, that’s going to be a problem, if it does not just click and go, click and go, that is a group that’s going to have very low tolerance and very low patience for slow technology, and that type of stuff. But so far, the studies, and I can’t say that I’ve seen this personally because I haven’t worked with a whole lot of companies that are hiring a ton of Gen Z yet. But what the studies are showing that I’m keeping on top of, they’re showing that the Gen Z folks are going to want more stability while the millennials value mobility and that they want to be able to move and go and I don’t think I want to buy a house in this city because what if I meet a new partner or what if I get a job somewhere else or I want to travel for a while, things like that, where the studies on Gen Z are showing that they want to grow their roots a little faster or sooner, that type of thing. So, we’ll see if that truly happens. But I think they’ve just seen so much chaos of people moving and coming and going and layoffs and changes and all of this, that it’s showing that Gen Z is going to want a little bit more stability. So, I’ll be curious to see what that does for turnover. But I still think as long as we’re in a good workforce market, good employment market, that they will still have the same expectations of great bosses, great culture, great environment, and that this job and this company works for me and my lifestyle.

I want to come back to a couple of themes you mentioned before of three words, loyalty, confidence, and fear. So, when you talk about millennials, especially you talked about they have a lot of confidence that they can just up and leave this job and find a new one. It’s not a problem. Whereas people in older generations may have had that fear of I can’t leave this job, one, because I’ll lose my pension, but also because maybe no one else is hiring, it’s difficult to be there. And we interpret loyalty in different ways. Loyalty for many people just means, hey, this person doesn’t leave. They just stick around. They may be scared out of their mind that something’s going to happen. But they’re loyal because they’re not leaving. Whereas there may be loyalty in other ways. So, how do you define loyalty? How do younger people define loyalty? What do you see that in the workforce?

This is one of the biggest issues that we talk about. And that is that the older generations were taught, if you make a commitment, you stick it out, period. That’s it. It’s your handshake is your word, you’re going to do it, and your vows are forever, for example. But if again, we look back to the 80s and 90s, divorce peaked in the 1980s. And so, most of the millennials saw their parents in the 80s, 90s, or 2000s, they saw their parents split during those formative childhood years. So, my parents, for example, split when I was 11. And I remember my mom being very transparent about everything and why she was leaving my dad, and all of this stuff. And so, we saw that commitment breakdown right in front of us. And it was explained to me, and I remember being a child and saying, “Yeah, Mom, you’re right. We need to move on.” We had that family conversation when I was 10 years old. And so, very different upbringing where she told me, Cara, do not ever depend on a spouse who could leave you. Don’t ever depend on a company that could let you go. And my mom was a corporate accountant. Before I graduated high school, my mom got laid off three times. And she was a hard worker. She would stay late, she did whatever her bosses told her, but every time because the internet had come into Corporate America in the 1990s, that caused globalization.

So, if you look back at company growth, and when shareholder value became more important than employees for companies, that was in the 80s and 90s. So, that was when my mom’s whole accounting department would get outsourced to an overseas company, or they would consolidate. I remember one time, she said, “Well, my company told me today that we can either relocate to Green Bay or my job is gone in 30 days.” That was the option because they were consolidating, they got bought out by a bigger company, consolidating the accounting department, she could keep her job, but we had to move, and that type of thing. So, that’s where she just told me you’ve got to look out for yourself. Don’t depend on anybody. Don’t ever be naive and try not to get blindsided, which is what happened to her. And I’m not saying that you can always do that, that you’re not always going to know that it’s coming. But I really encourage, millennials especially, to understand what’s going on with the company, read your annual reports, get your hands on as much information as you can, that you have access to, to understand the financial standings of your company so that hopefully, that wouldn’t be a situation you would be blindsided by.

So, to circle back around here, I tell you that because that’s why millennials don’t have that traditional sense of loyalty of if you make a commitment, you stick it out. No, that’s baloney. If we’re not happy, we’re going to leave. And that’s what our parents taught us. If you’re not happy with the person you’re married to, if you’re not happy with the job you have or the boss you have, try to work it out. But if you can’t, you move on. And life is too short to be miserable for long. And, of course, some of us have swung that pendulum too far. And I would encourage a lot of millennials to make sure that you can weather the storm. Make sure that you have thick enough skin that you can get through some hard times. And you’ve got to balance that with when do I weather the storm versus when do I get out because it’s not going to get better. So, that’s why loyalty has changed quite a bit in that sense.

And like you said, it’s not just that these millennials maybe feel a sense of entitlement, but they also see that corporations, companies aren’t as loyal to employees as they were before and can just take all the jobs and move them somewhere else or totally get rid of different sections, too. So, it’s not just a matter of one side, like you said, even with the divorce situation, it’s both sides saying, hey, we’re not as stuck to this as we were before.

And as our companies evolve, it gets much more difficult to cross train folks because if we look back 50 years ago, if a company was growing in one department and shrinking in another department, they would just cross train people. “So, we’re shutting down that line, but we’re going to open this new line, and we’ll just shift people over to the new department.” But now you can’t do that. I mean, if you decide to outsource your IT department, but your customer service department is growing, we can’t shift those people from one of those careers over to the other or vice versa. And so, I see big giant companies that are doing that. They’ll lay off 200 people, and yet, they’re hiring 350 jobs in other areas, but it may not be the same people. And in years past, that didn’t happen. They would always cross train and try to find them some other opportunities. And today, because it’s such a competitive global environment in business, you just can’t always do that.

Cara, there’s so much we could go into and get into this deeper, but tell us where we can go to stay in touch with what you’re doing and what you’re saying.

So, I’m on LinkedIn, Cara Silletto. And I have a book on Amazon. It’s called “Staying Power: Why Your Employees Leave and How to Keep Them Longer,” which has a huge component, almost 50% of that book actually explains the millennial mindset and how much our workforce has changed and evolved over the last 20 or 30 years. So, really powerful piece there. And of course, is our company and where our contact information is.

Awesome. And your favorite 90s cultural reference is?



Nice. Love it. Okay. Well, Cara, thanks so much for being on the show. We appreciate you coming on and sharing what you’re talking about. And we learned a lot from this one. Thanks.

Thank you, Neil.

Cara Silletto, MBA, works with organizations to reduce unnecessary employee turnover by bridging generational gaps and making managers more effective in their roles. She’s a highly-sought-after strong female speaker conducting 50-100 programs annually, and as a Millennial herself, she knows first-hand what it is like to have a heightened sense of entitlement, very little employee loyalty, and a dependency upon her smartphone. Cara has figured out exactly how these attributes were cultivated in her formative years and she now shares those powerful stories about today’s new workforce with leaders across the country, including teams at Toyota, UPS, Cintas, MGM, and Humana’s Learning Consortium.

Cara spent 12 years in the workforce learning early in her career what “professionalism” meant to her Baby Boomer and GenX mentors BEFORE she became a speaker. She absorbed critical information about management expectations, which she learned the hard way and has the scars and stories to share about how generational gaps impact businesses today. She earned her Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) from the top-ranked University of Louisville Entrepreneurship program, lived overseas teaching German executives about business practices in the U.S., and then started her own consulting business in 2012.

Cara is the author of the 2018 book, “Staying Power: Why Your Employees Leave & How to Keep Them Longer,” and has been quoted in Forbes, The Boston Globe, the Huffington Post and many more publications. She was recognized by Workforce Magazine in Chicago as a “Game Changer” for her innovative approach to solving generational issues in the workplace. named her in their “Top 10 Company Culture Experts to Watch” list and she’s a 2018 “Forty Under 40” recipient in Louisville, KY. She has served as the President of the Association for Talent Development (ATD) Kentuckiana Chapter and the Kentucky Chapter of the National Speakers Association (NSA).

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