Singapore millennials on why they'll quit their jobs: It boils down to similar reasons

PHOTO: Vulcan Post

The term "millennial" is more often than not cast in a negative light.

Usually stereotyped to be flakey, idealistic and entitled, employers tend to be more wary of them, and there are some around me, while falling into the definition solely based on age, who refuse to be identified as 'the M word'.

"How dare you call me a millennial," quipped my friend-respondent, half seriously and half jokingly (but mostly seriously).

But the polarising feelings towards the term don't just appear out of nowhere - in research by recruitment agency Robert Half in 2015, the group is shown to be more prone to looking for a new job as compared to other more passive options when refused a pay raise from their bosses.

Photo: Vulcan Post

Said David Jones, senior managing director of Robert Half Asia Pacific, "The expectations of millennials are high because they are living in an age of low unemployment in Singapore. They expect a pay rise or a promotion as they are confident they can find employment elsewhere if their expectations are not met."

Sounds ironic, but the 'strawberry generation', while seen as flippant by employers, actually do have a rather sober view of working life.

A Millennial Careers: 2020 Vision survey conducted by ManpowerGroup Singapore found that 39 per cent of the millennials they surveyed expect to work past age 65, 22 per cent expect to work past age 70, and 14 per cent felt that they are likely to work until they die.

And as for job hopping - a trait commonly associated with the group, 50 per cent of those surveyed revealed that they would stay with their current employers for the next few years or longer. To be noted, though, is that millennials are still more likely to leave when they feel unsatisfied with their jobs.

Survey results also revealed that rather than being spoiled, they are actually working long, or even longer than those in other generations, with Singapore millennials clocking in an average of 48 work hours per week.

But while surveys can give us all the data in the world, what are millennials actually saying about what they deem as a deal breakers in a job? We spoke to a few and found out.

Read also: Higher salaries for university graduates from NUS, NTU and SMU in 2016

How millennials are different from their parents

  • Once upon a time, small businesses made money by setting up shop somewhere in town, prettying up their storefront and then waiting for people to come in. But that's not how you make money out of millennials, who have consumption habits that are different from the previous generation.
  • They do a lot of their shopping online

    One reason for the downfall of Orchard Road malls is that many millennials' idea of a shopping spree isn't rampaging through an air conditioned mall, but checking out a virtual cartful of stuff on websites like Asos, Modcloth and Amazon.

  • They do a lot of their shopping online

    It's quick, convenient, you get to browse through a lot more stuff within an hour than you would fighting through crowds in malls.

  • They do a lot of their shopping online

    Millennials in Singapore spend almost 3.4 hours a day on their mobile phones. Retail businesses need to realise that without online shopping options, they're going to miss out on a lot of business from millennial customers.

  • They are eager to participate in the sharing economy

    While their parents might have turned up their noses at the thought of buying people's old stuff online, the sharing economy is alive and well amongst millennials in Singapore.

  • They are eager to participate in the sharing economy

    Millennials are used to interacting with others online and savvy enough to ensure they don't get cheated, well most of the time anyway.

  • They are eager to participate in the sharing economy

    Not only are they selling their old stuff and buying other people's at an unprecedented rate, they're also totally open to the idea of staying in the home of someone they've only ever interacted with on Airbnb, or being chauffeured by an Uber driver their own age.

  • They are suspicious of advertising

    Millennials are so used to being bombarded with ads on the internet, they tend to be a lot more suspicious.

  • They are suspicious of advertising

    Just look at the number of scandals there've been regarding "influencers" who are paid by companies to endorse their products, the most recent involving PeelFresh juice. Businesses now need to demonstrate authenticity, build trust and spread the word in a more organic manner.

  • They are willing to pay for experiences, not just stuff

    These days, more and more young Singaporeans are willing to spend not just on material goods, but also on experiences. A recent report shed light on the fact that Singaporean millennials love to travel and prioritise travel spending.

  • They are willing to pay for experiences, not just stuff

    It's clear that the Singaporean millennial wants to spend their money on numerous overseas holidays, at nice restaurants and bars and fun activities, whether they be paintball sessions or art jam sessions.

  • They are willing to pay for experiences, not just stuff

    Retail businesses who manage to turn their stores into the site of experiences, such as by organising events as yoga apparel store Lululemon Athletica has done, could be on to something.

Singapore millennials speak out

(names have been changed for privacy purposes)

Maria, 26, Marketing Executive

"I will leave if I need and want to gain a new skill set at another company, in another position. I think that stagnation and feeling like I'm not learning anything is one of the main reasons why I'll be put off continuing with the company."

"Company culture is also important - if it's too rigid, uncaring, or it doesn't empower me to make me feel like I'm making a positive impact…that's a definite no-no."

Dylan, 29, Team Lead

"Call me weak, but I'll leave when the people and place are toxic. Work is busy as it is, but if you can't even rely on your team to help you fill in the gaps without feeling like you're being judged - that's when work becomes dreadful."

"Also when there are obvious freeloaders or colleagues who just do the jobs for the 'glory' around. It's very unfair to the colleagues I know who do the not so glamourous, but tedious work. So when I realise that the bosses are giving unfair promotions, that's when I'll consider if working in a place is worth it or not."

"But mostly, I quit when I start feeling like I spent my entire work day doing nothing I feel proud about."

Jane, 26, Analyst

"I'll quit because of the lack of support and guidance. I understand that I'm here to work, and self-improvement is something you work on, on your own, but with lack of support, there's no way I would stay."

"I can learn things on my own, but no one can get somewhere without people telling you where you went wrong. I know we have to find our own ways to learn, but when we already do, and are already implementing what we learn in our jobs, we want honest feedback not some cursory "Oh it's good."."

"I don't want self-validation. I want constructive feedback. I'd rather hear it from my boss, not my client. We have to work TOGETHER to find ways to get there, not throw the "millennial" new jobs to do and ask them to figure out on their own because "opportunity"."

Emma, 25, PR Executive

"Boss, pay, and no time for myself. It's so important to have bosses you can get behind, whether it be in terms of ability or character. The two characteristics rarely come together, so you have to decide what you value more and make your decision based on that."

Read also: How millennials are changing the world of work

Ferdinand, 28, Arts Manager

"I think that a sense of ownership in what I do and the ability to make decisions is quite important to me. I would also quit to take a break. I'm very aware that work-life balance will always be a struggle so quitting is an extreme, but at my previous company, I felt I really needed to focus on my own well-being again, to like tip the work life struggle more to the life side, for a while."

"Oh, I would also quit if the people working with me are unfriendly, unsupportive and mean."

Andrew, 27, Marketing Executive

"Generally, I leave my job because I'm looking for growth and for experience. I'll leave if both are lacking. But if both are fulfilled, then I'll be looking at monetary benefits and increments."

Ziyi, 25, In Between Jobs

"It's quite hard to say in general why I'd leave a job, because I feel I'd take into account many different factors before resigning. But some reasons I've seen ex-colleagues leave is finding another position that is more in line with their interests, career goals and also personal reasons."

Nelson, 28, Supervisor

"The lack of progression, management issues, overly long work hours - these are some of the reasons why I'll quit my job. Also, if the pay isn't decent enough. While it might sound a bit flippant, I have also considered quitting my job to pursue my interests!"

Anthony, 27, Assistant Director

"When a manager lacks knowledge, and can't guide me. Also when there seems to be no direction in the company, and if it doesn't operate in line with my belief system. Or, on a more positive side, I'll quit when I want to discover or pursue what I "truly" want to do."

Quendra, 26, Marketing and Comms Executive

I'd leave because I don't seem to be held to the same standards as my colleagues who have children or romantic commitments. If I'm requested to stay back after work, there's not really a good reason I have, and it seems like leaving exactly on time is taboo.

It seems like if I don't have a child, or if I don't look a certain age that makes it look like family is my priority, then I can't leave on time without getting a smear on my reputation. If I have something on with my friends, that appears to rank lower than family, when, truthfully, I don't need to give a reason at all - "I have something on" should be good enough.

Oh, and people are so fearful of authority. I think it's inefficient, and very often, someone higher up makes a passing comment about something, and the next thing you know, "Let's not have an opening speech", and "Let's have no speeches".

People fly to make decisions just to please someone instead of consulting with all the parties that have a stake in something, or, even questioning the rationale of the passing comment. The thing is, higher management are still human beings, and most of them I've interacted with will listen to you, and they aren't unreasonable.

It's just this.. is the word silos? That. It's very inefficient and slows everything down because I need to re-explain why we're currently doing things the way we are doing it, and we don't have a better option at the moment.

I like people to talk and behave like human beings, and interact with each other like human beings, not like gods that walk the earth.

Millennials at work

  • When you work at online cashback rewards site ShopBack, you do not have to worry about wearing proper office attire or checking your social media channels during working hours.
  • ShopBack, which gives shoppers a portion of their online spending back when they shop through the portal on sites such as fashion e-tailer Zalora and online grocer RedMart, was started by six founders under 30 years old in September 2014.
  • For the youngest of them, Ms Samantha Soh, 23, enforcing the punctuality rule has been an important way to build team spirit.
  • Its millennial employees enjoy working in the office so much that the company has "shopcations" - particularly busy periods when staff opt to stay overnight at the office rather than go home.
  • Working for Deliveroo, Mr Tristan Torres Velat has on many occasions driven a motorbike to deliver food.
  • It may be hard to imagine, but he is the general manager of the Singapore branch of the British- based food delivery firm Deliveroo.
  • He does not have a separate office and, instead, constantly rotates where he sits among his team at their shophouse space in Tanjong Pagar so that he can talk to them informally.
  • Don't be surprised if you walk into fast-fashion business, Love, Bonito's spanking new 13,000 sq ft office in Tai Seng and find half the staff surfing social media sites such as Instagram and Facebook.
  • After all, every member of the 47-person team is encouraged to be on social media to better understand the Love, Bonito customer.
  • This plugged-in and lively work culture has been 10 years in the making for the founders Viola Tan, 32, and Rachel Lim, 29. The third co-founder Velda Tan is no longer involved in the daily operations of the business.
  • Five-year-old home-grown events management firm Savour Events is opening its first international office in Shanghai.
  • The person who will be setting up the branch? Project director Andrea Yeo, 26, who has been working with the company for four years. As a project director in Shanghai, she will be handling a budget of $3.5 million.
  • Her boss, Mr Darren Chen, 37, executive director of Savour Events, has no qualms about letting her take charge of the portfolio. This sort of age-blind management is, in fact, what he was gunning for when he started Savour Events in 2012, after leaving a corporate sales position at Formula One.
  • The company, which runs Savour gourmet food festival in Singapore, comprises a millennial team of 11 who handle more than 15 large- scale gourmet events, held in Singapore as well as in places such as India, Hong Kong and China.

What are some of the common gripes?

No growth, no guidance and bad company culture - these reasons constantly came up in the conversations I had, and I couldn't help but agree as well.

The problem isn't that millennials are spoiled and entitled - they simply have different priorities. For millennials, hard work is not an issue, but whether or not their efforts are contributing to something greater - be it their career, or some 'larger' purpose that they believe in - is what makes them stay or leave.

It's not a purely 'millennial' problem, it's just an inevitable part of a generation gap.

Soon enough, millennials will move on to be bosses themselves, and it won't be surprising if the new batch of employees will also have other negative traits thrown at them.

Time will tell.

Read also: Millennials at work

Vulcan Post is all about living life with a digital edge, up and coming startups, and people who inspire conversations.
Visit Vulcan Post for more stories.