Case Study: What’s a Year Between Generations?

Kate was 27 years old, and she’d been a rising star within her company for the last five years. From the moment she was hired, she’d been exceptional, smart, and intuitive.

She had received a few promotions and raises, and everyone agreed that she was leadership material.

Which is why it was astonishing to Denise, Kate’s manager, when Kate asked if she could take a year off to travel the world.

Kate had remained true to form when she made the request. She put together a formal proposal for her one-year hiatus. She explained what she’d be doing with her time and how she thought the experience would improve her as a person and as an employee.

Denise wasn’t against Kate traveling. She wasn’t even – exactly – against the idea of a hiatus.

She just didn’t understand why anyone would want to do such a thing.

Everything was going so well for Kate. Why would she want to leave for a whole year?

How Much Can a Year Matter?

Kate, on the other hand, knew exactly why she wanted to leave for a year – but she was having a hard time articulating it for another generation.

When she explained it to me, I knew exactly what she was talking about.

She wanted to do something that was a little frivolous. She wanted to do something not because it was part of the long progression of items we check off our to-do lists, but just because.

Because she wanted to. Because it was there. Because she was young and who knew whether she’d still be single, unattached, and without necessary responsibilities next year?

She wanted to go because why not? Why not go?

Different But the Same

Denise’s generation, and Denise herself, were heavily focused on making sure you didn’t miss an opportunity in your career. Seize the day! Get that promotion, give an amazing presentation, get the praise and the glory, secure your future.

Because what if the chance never comes again?

Kate, meanwhile, was focused on making sure she didn’t miss an opportunity to cut loose a little. Seize the day! Race the sunset, travel the world, meet people from everywhere, have experiences you can’t have at home.

Because what if the chance never comes again?

Neither of these positions is wrong. It’s down to what matters most to you.

Agreement Isn’t Important. Acceptance Is.

Kate successfully negotiated her year-long hiatus, and the company agreed to re-hire her for a certain position when she returned. Kate came back at the end of her year looking ecstatic.

She had an amazing time. And now she could settle down to her career with no regrets.

Denise still doesn’t really understand why Kate took that year off.

But it doesn’t matter that Denise didn’t understand. It mattered that she knew Kate thought it was important.

And instead of arguing about whether or not it was important, she took Kate at her word.

Imagine what might have happened if Denise had insisted a year off was not important. Kate might have given up the idea of taking a year off, because she did, after all, love her job.

Do you think she would have felt loyal to the company that made her give up what was so important to her?

What’s Really Important?

To Kate’s company, what was important was keeping the talented employees they needed. They wanted employees who would stay for 15 and 20 years – and Kate was amazing at her job.

Giving her up for one year in exchange for the lifetime of loyalty she’d feel to the company?

That was a no-brainer for them.

It wouldn’t be true for every company, or every employee. Kate was, after all, exceptional. But here’s what I’d like you to take away from this case study:

When your employees, from Boomers to Millennials, ask you for something: are you thinking about whether or not what they want is important?

Or are you thinking about how loyal people tend to feel to employers that prioritize what’s most important to them?

Paige Cornetet