Recent graduates – especially women – unhappy in roles, research finds

Research from the Institute of Leadership & Management and Ashridge Business School published on Thursday reveals that recent UK graduates are looking to move on from their current jobs in record numbers.

More than half (57 per cent) of recent graduates – part of the so-called Generation Y – expect to leave their present role within two years, and 40 per cent hope to leave within 12 months.

The research – based on responses from almost 2,000 graduates and more than 600 managers – shows the intergenerational disconnect between graduates and managers is higher than ever, which may lead to expensive recruitment challenges for UK companies.

Many of the findings chime with characteristics typically ascribed to Generation Y: resistance to long hours in the office or taking work home; fluid approaches to the boundaries between work and personal life; and a lack of receptiveness to “command and control” management styles.

“The level of commitment and engagement has changed,” says Penny de Valk, chief executive of the ILM. “No organisation can promise security any longer. But we were expecting to find recessionary pressure on jobs having more of an impact than this research shows it is [having] on graduate restlessness.”

The gap in expectation between recent graduates and managers has been prised open even wider by what de Valk calls a “heady cocktail” of financial strictures limiting opportunities to move up the career ladder, record numbers of graduates entering the UK workplace, and a generation for whom career pace is a real issue.

“Powering people up the career ladder is difficult during a recession when the pressures on headcount limit flexibility,” she points out.

Graduates listed challenging work as their main driver (33 per cent), with money a close second (32 per cent).

“However, we know that pay is usually a proxy for other issues in that, in general, 60 per cent of those who get a salary rise will have left in six months’ time,” says de Valk.

She advises companies to be careful not to oversell the opportunities they can offer at the recruitment stage. “Whatever you promise, do,” she says.

Managers also need to adopt a more consultative coaching style with their new recruits and improve the quality of interaction with them. “Good feedback is essential,” she advises. “No news is bad news for this generation. Offer development opportunities, set a learning curve, give open feedback on behaviour – such as casual approaches to timekeeping – and be a mentor rather than a taskmaster.”

Women are particularly disaffected, according to the research. While slightly more than one in 10 recent male graduates (11 per cent) were looking to leave their job as soon as possible, almost one in five women (19 per cent) surveyed said they were seeking a quick move.

They also emphasised other factors affecting their job satisfaction. While 47 per cent of women ranked the importance of their managers’ respect among their top three priorities, only 37 per cent of men did. More women (61 per cent) than men (48 per cent) said they wanted a coaching and mentoring relationship with their managers.

“It is important for managers, especially when managing someone of the other sex, not to assume that he or she will share the same priorities,” says de Valk.

Companies cannot afford to ignore this research. Failure to engage recent graduates in corporate life spells trouble in both the short and the long term, and it would appear such failure is particularly acute for the new generation of female graduates.


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Liz Bolshaw

Liz Bolshaw is a business journalist and editor. She has been a successful book publisher, online editor, magazine editor and publisher.

She was launch editor of the Europe-wide online community Entrepreneur Country, has published magazines for PwC, 3i, dunhill and Bafta, and launched The Sharp Edge, a magazine for and about entrepreneurs, with Duncan Bannatyne. She is a regular contributor to Thomson Reuters’ Venture Capital Journal.

Her last project for the Financial Times was as editor of the paper’s Business Education magazine.

Rebecca Knight

Rebecca Knight is a freelance journalist based in Boston. She writes regularly for the FT on business education, entrepreneurship, and management.

Andrew Hill

Andrew Hill is an associate editor and the management editor of the FT. He was City editor of the FT and editor of the daily Lombard column on British business and finance from September 2006 to December 2010.

He was the FT’s financial editor from June 2005 to September 2006, with overall responsibility for coverage of companies and markets. Before becoming financial editor, he was the FT’s comment & analysis editor, in charge of the paper’s opinion and features pages.

From 1999 to 2003, he was the FT’s New York bureau chief. He joined the FT in 1988 and has also worked as foreign news editor, UK companies reporter and correspondent in Brussels and Milan.

Pino Bethencourt

Pino Bethencourt is a professor and leadership expert at IE Business School in Madrid. She is also an author and executive coach.

Lynda Gratton

Lynda Gratton is professor of management practice at London Business School.

Linda Tarr-Whelan

Linda Tarr-Whelan, former ambassador to the UN commission on the status of women, is a Demos distinguished senior fellow.