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Feb. 18, 2018
“It sounds so strange. Who does this? Who just quits their job?”
You’d be surprised, I told my friend in reply.
In the past six months, I’ve had multiple conversations with friends in their 50s to early 60s doing exactly that.
They are top performers leaving well-regarded organizations without another job lined up.
And the themes behind the departures are similar. These are financially secure people who see themselves with five, maybe 10 years left in the workplace. And they no longer feel like the employer where they have invested years is where they want to use their ability for the remainder of their careers.
In many cases, these baby boomers sound a lot like stereotypical millennials as we talk about what they’re seeking in a new role. They want to feel like their contributions are valued. They want flexibility. They want to try new things.
“They’ve been there, done it, for a long time, and I think they are just at a next stage of their careers,” said Kerri Tietgen, the owner of leadership and organizational development consulting firm KT Consulting, who told me she is seeing the same executive exodus.
“They want new challenges. They want the next level, and they’re not being provided that. There are A+ players inside organizations that organizations have forgotten to care about.”
In some cases, my perception is that organizations are so concerned with succession planning and leaner management that they are pushing people out who still have much to contribute.
“They add on responsibilities and aren’t really thinking about how they’re giving growth opportunities or appreciating the contributions,” Tietgen said.
“These are people who don’t need a whole bunch of extra, unreasonable stuff. They are leaders of our organizations who keep being rewarded with more responsibilities and more expectations and with less thank-yous and recognition.”
A message she shared on social media caught my attention recently, so I reached out to learn more.
One of her clients was hiring for a director of operations, she wrote in what she calls “the most generic synopsis of what I’m looking for.”
“And the response was huge,” she continued. “Within minutes my phone blew up. To the point that I probably have 30 really strong candidates.”
She was shocked seeing how many star performers would consider leaving their organizations.
“Which makes me wonder what’s going on,” she said. “I’ve put a lot of thought into this trying to rationalize why. I think people are looking for a change.”
The interaction also highlights how drawn people are to relationship-based hiring, she added.
And that’s an increasing rarity.
Many who reached out to Tietgen said they trusted that if she was speaking for the company it was worth a look. But she wonders what would happen if she spoke on their behalf to other businesses.
Often the response from the top executive is “Great, let me set you up with HR.” And then someone in HR will say “Great, have them go to our website and fill out a form.”
And we all know what can happen after that. Fill out a field in the “wrong” way or neglect your keywords and you often can be filtered out.
Imagine if leadership took the same approach with a potential client, Tietgen added.
“What if I said I have someone who’s a $100,000 to $300,000 customer interested in your company, and they said, ‘We’ll set them up with the sales team.’ And the sales team said, ‘Great, go to our website and have them fill out a form if they’re interested.’ ”
“Sometimes, HR is handcuffed by the systems in place. They are huge disconnects for talent.”
Which brings me back to the talented baby boomers I know who are re-entering the job marketplace for the first time in decades or considering it. Companies that capture the opportunity these workers present will be the ones that understand relationship-based hiring.
I cringe a little at these workers filling out an online form to get into an applicant pool. Even if they were able to game the system — likely with some help from their adult children — their resume and cover letter will never fully capture the depth and breadth of what they could bring to an organization.
“These are high-level people at well-known organizations,” Tietgen agreed. “They aren’t going to send their resume to a cyber abyss and trust that they’re going to get to someone where it will be meaningful.”
I also fear businesses will look at the stage these people are at in their careers and pause before making the offer.
“Do you think businesses should be more open to hiring older workers?” I asked Tietgen.
“Absolutely. No question,” she replied. “We have to re-evaluate what we think about in terms of age.”
That’s on both sides of the employment equation. She has clients at age 50 saying “they’re trying to get through until retirement.”
If that’s you, meet the boomers I referenced earlier. It might be time to look elsewhere. And if you’re the employer in that equation that has been known to “reorganize” older workers out, consider this:
“Think about who runs for president. They’re auditioning in their 60s. They’re not stopping at their 50s,” Tietgen said.
“So why in the rest of the world are we saying at 50 you should be thinking about retirement? Some of these norms and expectations are getting in the way of us seeing real talent.”
I’m excited to see which organizations end up benefiting from the talent offered by my friends who are looking for new opportunities. Fortunately, this community is filled with places and people who will value it.
“There are some employers who do a wonderful job thinking broadly and progressively about developing current employees as well as connecting with great talent in the community,” Tietgen agreed.
But we could always use more.
Many top performers are deciding to quit their jobs. But are businesses positioned to capitalize?