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Psychoanalytic Business Coaching

Job Hopping – How organisations can retain the “generation unable to relate”

In his book of the same name, author Michael Nast describes Generation Y as unable to relate. A provocative statement, which he refers primarily to private relationships. But in the professional context, too, this generation is repeatedly said to be prone to frequent job changes. Organisations react to this by creating incentives in the sense of employee retention, which should bind employees to the company in the long term. In order to understand how such a retention process can really succeed, it is worth taking a closer look at the topic of relational capability. What does incapable of relationship actually mean?

Psychodynamics of relationship inability

According to the psychoanalyst and pioneer of attachment research John Bowlby, the pursuit of close, emotional relationships is an innate basic need of every human being. Bowlby defines attachment behaviour as any behaviour designed to “seek and maintain the closeness of a supposedly more competent person, a behaviour that is most evident during anxiety, fatigue, illness and a corresponding need for attention or care”. As infants, we seek closeness from our caregivers for protection and comfort. Depending on whether and to what degree these early needs have been met, children develop reaction patterns to the actual or threatened loss of an attachment figure, for example when the mother or father is temporarily absent. These reaction patterns are mapped as inner representations and reappear again and again in later relationships. Only when we feel secure of closeness and security can we deal with (temporary) separation and form autonomous impulses. If we do not feel safe, as children we are permanently occupied with gaining a sense of security and preventing being abandoned again. The central theme here is fear of loss. On the other side of the spectrum is the need for autonomy and individuation. If we learned as a child that attachments are only secure if we put our own needs and desires on the back burner or even ignore them, i.e. if we were not allowed to experience our own autonomous impulses, we quickly feel taken over in later relationships or have the feeling of losing ourselves. The central theme here is the fear of being taken over. In order to enter into a supportive relationship, we need a feeling of security and safety on the one hand and the possibility of individuation and autonomy on the other. The negotiation of closeness (security) and distance (autonomy) is a central theme of every relationship, be it a love relationship or a relationship with superiors or colleagues. In terms of our work relationships, security can mean not only job security but also that we feel like we belong and are liked. At the same time, we want to pursue personal goals, develop ourselves and have the opportunity to develop our own professional identity.

Mission self-discovery: The job-hopping phenomenon

For the individuation process, a feeling of security is needed first. For many, a job today no longer stands exclusively for financial security and social belonging, as was once the case. Financially secured by society and socially integrated into various social groups, connected through digital platforms and across national borders, we also feel integrated and held independently of our job. This security gives us room to be curious. We set out in search of ourselves, looking for what we desire and who we are. Security enables us to individuate. So, job-hopping as a self-discovery process can be seen as something quite positive. But what about the criticism that generations Y and Z would be baseless, unable to commit?

The impossibility of possibilities

In times of online job platforms and social networks, the possibilities of finding a new job seem immeasurable. We can find out about new training courses and jobs at any time and without effort, or are contacted by head hunters via Xing and LinkedIn without actively searching. The scope of possibilities seems endless. Again and again, we are encouraged to question: Am I still satisfied with my job or is there an option that suits me better? Am I missing a great opportunity to develop myself if I turn down the job offer? Have I already got the best out of myself?

True to the motto: Don’t settle for less!

The fear of standstill

And then there is the fear of arriving, be it in our private or professional lives. As if arriving means that we suddenly stand still. In a time when everything is constantly changing, this is difficult for many to bear. Standing still then also means that we are no longer distracted by the speed and transience of time. We begin to direct our gaze away from the outside and towards our inner self. What if we then feel all the feelings that we have successfully repressed through the hustle and bustle of everyday life and change?

The limits of job hopping

Certainly, there are a multitude of other factors that favour the job hopping of Millennials. Wanting to promote one’s own development can first be seen as something very positive. Only when the search becomes an addiction, the feeling of being able to find something even better becomes a delusion, only then does the individuation process give way to a feeling of haltlessness.

So, what can organisations do to engage the “generation unable to relate”?

In a time when we feel safe enough to be curious, have opportunities that encourage us to question ourselves and our desires and goals, organisations and their leaders also have a special role: they have the task to support their employees on this path. They have the task to support their employees on this path, to offer them opportunities to develop and to find their inner source of motivation. In agile organisations, this is attempted by making working hours more flexible (part-time, flexitime, job sharing, etc.) as well as the place of work (home office, remote work) and creating collaborative work structures (networked work, mentoring programmes, interdisciplinary projects, etc.), keyword New Work. For managers, this means that they become ambassadors for their employees: Their task is to encourage their employees, to create spaces for creativity and new ideas, to promote independent action and networked working. In this way, not only the initiative and motivation of the employees should be promoted, but also their loyalty to the organisation. In addition to these measures to promote the freedom and personal development of employees, the other side of the spectrum must also be taken into account: Because generations Y and Z want not only freedom, but also security – from notice periods to transparent feedback culture to the creation of organisational belonging. This is the only way the individuation process can succeed.

Leonie Derwahl, Coach at dynaMIND