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CTO at $152bn tech firm is embracing boomerang hires: ‘If you don’t lean in, you’re going to lose’

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The next generation of workers have no interest in “jobs for life” that were desirable in boomer times. But while hiring and retaining skilled talent is a continual worry for businesses, the CTO of tech giant ServiceNow believes the best strategy is to lean into the trend.

Gen Z and millennials are increasingly ‘job hopping’ to climb the corporate ladder faster and up their pay package in return.

It’s a departure from the traditional 9-to-5 career known and loved by many of their predecessors, who found a job and stuck with it for the remainder of their working lives.

Indeed, according to a 2023 study from ResumeLab, 83% of Gen Z workers see themselves as “job hoppers,” with just a third of the 1,100 people surveyed saying they intend to stay in their current role for more than two years.

The story with millennials is slightly more complex.

Those born between 1981 and 1996 are often thought of as the ‘original’ job hoppers, yet according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, older millennials—those born between 1980 and 1984—held an average of seven jobs by age 28, one less than baby boomers at the same age.

At age 34, millennials averaged 8.6 jobs, about one less than baby boomers at the same age.

Gen Z shift

The shift to job hopping—which is set to become more pronounced as the proportion of Gen Z employees in the workforce increases—may be a worry to some businesses that rely on growing and fostering in-house talent.

But according to Simon Cox, chief transformation officer at software giant ServiceNow, the best strategy to retain top talent is to take a long-term view and foster and encourage individuals’ desire to roam.

“One thing I’ve seen organizations start to look at is their alumni,” Cox told finance conference MoneyLive Summit on Wednesday. “Gen Z and millennials are curious, they want different experiences, they’re not going to have a job for life at the bank.

“So let them go. Keep in touch with them, see how they do, and eventually, you can welcome them back.”

Some businesses are already ahead of the curve.

Deloitte, for example, has an alumni network of more than 20,000 individuals who are offered networking events, insight opportunities and referral rewards.

In his role, ServiceNow’s Cox talks to a range of organizations from major finance players to tech peers, as well as helping inform internal hiring policy at his California-based employer, which has a market cap nearing $152 billion.

However, the U.K.-based CTO says companies need to look beyond their C-suite, and even their middle management levels, to fully understand the career propositions that will entice young talent on board.

Gen Z and millennial staff need to be part of forming a business’s hiring strategy, Cox said, as opposed to it being dominated by older workers trying to relate to them.

The motivations behind leaving a firm and joining another can range from mental health needs to financial reasons, Cox pointed out in a further interview with Fortune.

These cross-generational issues therefore demand “a broader approach to talent acquisition and retention that can be varied based on the generations. There’s such a wide-ranging set of behaviors you need a wide-ranging strategy so that you get the best talent you can.”

Deja vu

Cox suggests hiring managers should capitalize on a habit already established in the workforce: boomerang employees. These are staff members who leave a company and rejoin the ranks at a later date.

Experts have different views on how healthy so-called boomerang staffers are.

On the one hand, these hires already know the business and culture. On the other hand, it may have a cyclical effect on creativity and comes with onboarding costs.

A 2023 study published in the Harvard Business Review, which analyzed more than three million employee records, found boomerang employees typically return within 13 months of leaving for a new role, and got an average pay rise of 25%.

Authors Anthony Klotz, Andrea Derler, Carlina Kim, and Manda Winlaw suggest the key to hiring alumni is to outline their return as a progression instead of a step back: “Indeed, 40% of the boomerang employees in our dataset were previously individual contributors who returned to their former firms in managerial positions, suggesting that this can be a very effective way to entice people to come back.”

It’s a take Cox entirely agrees with, saying he’d do away with the ‘boomerang’ moniker entirely: “You probably have someone who didn’t necessarily want to leave, but are curious and want to gain experiences they can’t get with you. And they want to come back and use those experiences for yours and their benefit—surely that’s a positive?

“It’s very simple: if you don’t lean in, you’re going to lose. It’s not something new in the last six months, we’re talking millennials who have been around for a while now. We can see the trends and the data—it’s going to change again with future generations, so why wouldn’t you adapt to these because it’s going to happen again.”

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