In August’s e-zine Michael Mol touched on seven ways in which to entice your Bright Young Things to stay (Seven Bribes for Severance Brothers, August 2004, He referred to the fact that companies find it harder and harder to retain their smartest young workers. Why? Well the smartest ones are those with the sought-after skills and the confidence to pursue their goals in the marketplace. While everyone knows that companies cannot guarantee long-term security anymore, the smart young things up-skill themselves and test themselves against the marketplace while the mediocre ones cling to their current jobs and hope for the best.
In this article we examine an actual resignation e-mail written by a 27-year old project manager in a management consulting firm. The purpose of this is to see what lessons we could learn from this case-study. The e-mail was directed to the Company’s Chief Operating Officer and gives some valuable insight into why he left the firm. Of course this is only an individual case but let’s treat it as a case study from which valuable insights might be gained. Names and certain details have been changed to protect the anonymity of the firm and the employee:

From: Young, Keith
Sent: 03 September 2004 22:36
To: ‘’
Subject: Resigning from Rushmore Services

I have tried to set up a meeting with you but Vicky told me you’ll only be back from Nigeria in three weeks. I would still like to speak to you when you’re back, but in the meantime an email will have to suffice.
With reference to all our discussions concerning my need for flexibility and my current utilization within the company, I have decided to resign. I am starting my own business with a few friends from the beginning of October. We will focus on training care workers for frail care facilities that caters for old and helpless people. This is my passion and I have to follow it. I know starting an own business is risky, but then nothing is certain anyway nowadays.
I have taken this decision with all respect and appreciation for all your efforts to keep me within Rushmore Services. I also appreciate the promotion you have offered me. But, after all our discussions, I still cannot find solace in the “fixed working hours”-culture. I want to start training for Ironman again and for that I would need serious flexibility. The main reason for my resignation, however, is the fact that I’m not REALLY able to operate within my sweet spot at Rushmore. I know you’ve promised that we will work on this in the coming year, but it’s already been almost a year since I’ve started and I don’t foresee our current business focus creating sufficient space for my passion in the near future.
Anyway, I’ve had a great time at Rushmore and I’ve learnt a lot about business and project management. I am especially grateful for the people I met here. Thanks for accommodating me here in the first place, and thanks for all the times you did bend the rules for me (like the study leave etc.). I just realised that all the favours I was asking were starting to put a strain on our relationship and I would rather resign and keep a good relationship than stay on and mess it up. I truly hope we’ll be able to be of value to each other in future, but for now I need to go out and try my own luck in pursuit of my dream.
Please let me know once you’re back in the country so that we can talk this through properly.
Kind regards
Keith Young
Tel: +27 11 555 8700
When one reads this, one cannot help but have sympathy with both the employer (Mike) and the resigning employee (Keith). The honesty and frankness of Keith immediately evokes sympathy, but on the other side it is clear that company actually did go ‚out-of-their-way‛ (in their perspective) to accommodate this youngster. They gave him study leave, they developed him what project management is concerned, they frequently communicated with him regarding his place in the firm and it really seems as if good and healthy working relationships were created. What more could they do? Could they do more at all? Did the do anything wrong? Is there no way then how you can get these young guns to commit to company’s goals and culture?
Keith gives some very concrete reasons for his decisions. Some of them are mentioned specifically and some can be picked up between the lines. Let’s take them one-by-one:

1. Mentorship

It is clear that Mike played some kind of mentorship role for Keith. Although he is right at the top of the management structure, he knew about Keith’s frustrations and aspirations. BYT’s live for mentors. They have totally bought into how important it is for them to keep on growing and developing their skills and having a number of mentors is key to them. In this case, as in many, the person he regards as the most valuable mentor is also the busiest and the most difficult to get hold of. In this specific case (although it is not mentioned in the e-mail) the initial conversation with Mike convinced Keith to join the company in the first place. How often does it happen that top management convince someone to join a firm but then are too busy to build a solid relationship with a person?

2. Flexibility

It is quite obvious that this is one of the main reasons for the resignation. Apparently this has been one of the major discussion topics between Keith and the company. Why can’t you watch a movie on Monday afternoon if you have spent the entire weekend working on a tender? Why do you need to be at your desk at 7:30 if you prefer to work until 19:00? With a laptop and cell-phone in your briefcase, why can’t you work at home and only come into the office for meetings? BYT’s are serious when they ask these questions. They are not just whining. They will swap your company and your pay-check for flexibility � if they are bright enough to negotiate flexible working arrangements somewhere else.

3. Autonomy

Keith wants the autonomy to manage his own time and outputs. He wants to start his own business, which entails serious autonomy and serious risk management. The kind of attributes one would love to see in the future directors of the firm, but which are lost now in Rushmore’s case. In order to keep the BYT’s, give them room to maneuver. Give them space to be creative and slack to make mistakes. Reward their successes even if they didn’t do it the established and well-proven way. Use their failures as opportunities to coach, learn and direct. If one is not free to fail, one will never feel free to try. Your young minds might be your most innovative ones, do not smother them with rules and micro-management.

4. Significance

Keith wants to train care workers for frail care facilities! That is his sweet spot. If this is totally not reconcilable with your business focus, don’t appoint him in the first place. But, if you can create space for him to live out this passion, do so a.s.a.p. or else he will create opportunities outside to do it. He sees his role in society more than just making profits and building unstoppable business. He wants to make a difference. This search for significance is not an uncommon phenomenon for a generation that grew up in a post-modern society. Give them the opportunity to experience significance in their day-to-day activities. Don’t try to motivate them by showing them graphs of the company’s record-breaking performance, motivate them by telling them the stories of how the company adds value to many people’s lives.

5. Balance

Keith also values a balanced life. He wants to train for Ironman and needs time to do that. Of course one could argue whether something as extreme as Ironman is balanced at all, but the fact remains that this guy is ambitious in his personal goals as well. He again mentions flexibility as he sees the inflexible working hours as a barrier to his pursuing goals in other spheres of his life. Something else one can deduct from this, is that flexibility, balance and significance are even higher motivators than money for Keith: Training care workers is not as profitable as management consulting and training for Ironman requires at least four hours per day, which leaves one with less hours to work and make money.

6. Development

He talks about study leave and also mentions his appreciation for everything he has learnt at the company. As mentioned under number 1 (mentorship), development, learning and growth are the primary perceived sources of security for the Bright Young Things. If companies cannot provide security, then you must secure your own future by ensuring your skills are valued in the market place. This means that the moment someone like Keith perceives himself to be at a ceiling what his development in your company is concerned, you can expect the dreaded e-mail anytime soon.

7. Relationships

It is clear from this e-mail that Keith truly values the relationships he has built with Rushmore and its people. He realizes that, even though he doesn’t want to define his relationship with Rushmore in employee/employer terms, he still wants long-term relationships with Rushmore and its people.
This last point regarding relationships perhaps sums up the whole question of retaining the BYT’s. Although long-term employment might be dead, we are entering the era of long-term relationships. As the world gets smaller and more inter-connected, one cannot afford to damage relationships that might be of value in future. Also, where relationships of trust and open communication exist, the need for control, power, micro-management and fixed hours disappear. When entering into an open relationship one doesn’t feel smothered and one might just hang in there a bit longer. What is that clich� again‌.? ‚If you love something, set it free‌‛
Jean Cooper
Jean Cooper is an associate of, a dynamic organisation that is assisting both large and small companies navigate the rich steams of the new economy. Jean is a qualified Industrial Psychologist with a passion for helping companies get the best out of their bright young things.

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