Millennials have become a force to be reckoned with in the current talent market. Nearly 35% of the US labour force is part of this generation, making them the largest cohort in the workplace. And now that many are approaching their mid-30s, they are taking up increasingly advanced roles in management and climbing the corporate ladder. But the way they are choosing the scale those rungs is different from those who have come before them. Long gone are the days where anyone, regardless of generation, banked on employer loyalty and the notion that a career could be successfully grown in a single working location. In its place, a new work sentiment has emerged: the drive to focus on your own career and do whatever you need to do to achieve your goals. With Millennials, this is taking the shape of increased entrepreneurship, the ubiquity of side hustles, the emergence of the gig economy, and, of course, job hopping every few months to years. With this generation being tagged as creative but difficult to retain, the question then becomes, what can you do to keep your Millennial employees in their seats longer?
How Millennials are changing the workplace
According to the 2019 Deloitte Global’s annual Millennial Survey, this powerful generation is having a positive impact on the business world, and they have some very unique demands from employers. The report advises, “Millennials will patronize and support companies that align with their values. “ They are especially focused on leaving the world a better place by working for socially responsible companies and buying products that align with those values.
However, they are not keen to become workaholics like their predecessors. More than half (57 percent) of the Millennials polled said travel was at the top of their list of priorities, followed by owning a home (49 percent), and having children (39 percent). Millennials are bright and ambitious workers (not to mention they're the first wired-in generation of our times), but having grown up with economic uncertainty, they’ve learned to be cautious about being loyal to any one company.
As far as management styles, they do not take well to multiple levels of leadership and instead prefer more level organizations that foster open communication, frequent feedback, and transparency. They prefer to seek out the information they need rather than be ordered to do certain things. Millennials like having multiple voices at the table, and indeed have been champions of increased diversity and inclusion at work, but they also like to "own" their own work and make their own choices. This mindset doesn't always work well when faced with managers and directors who are used to silent workers falling in line.
All of these realities are coming together to shape a different workplace because employers are realizing if they won't bend for this generation, they'll lose them. Millennials as a group have been historically hard to mold and resistant to doing things just because "they've always been done that way." With a candidate-driven market, they see little incentive to follow in their parent's footsteps when they have the opportunity to chisel out their own path.
At work, Millennials will not hesitate to leave a company that does not align with their values and 49 percent indicated they are likely to jump ship for another job within the next two years. A Gallup Poll mentions that, ”21% of millennials say they've changed jobs within the past year, which is more than three times the number of non-millennials who report the same.” This amounts to 6 out of 10 who are planning on changing jobs and many who are already looking for new opportunities. Unfortunately, this is costly for businesses -- estimated at $30 billion annually to deal with high turnover.
While there are many positives to hiring Millennials, to gain the most productivity and value from hiring them, each organization needs a plan of action for keeping them engaged at work. This is especially true if the company hopes to have a strategic plan for developing Millennials into future leaders. But what will keep this volatile generation in their seats when your competitors might be scoping out their LinkedIn at any time?
Keeping Millennials in their seats
Understanding Millennials’ wants and desires is the first step to making sure they stay with the company long term. And no, this isn't about giving them ping pong tables and bean bag chairs. It's about creating a work culture that gives Millennials a sense of importance and belonging. So when it comes to keeping Millennials around longer, think about these factors:
1) Provide a customized career pathway: While they may not know exactly what they want their career to be long-term, Millennials do need structure and a plan to get there. Be sure that you recruit those who are ready to grow their career. Develop a custom career pathway so that they feel supported and know what to expect. Revisit this often and adapt to their needs to keep Millennials interested in the work they are doing. And if promotions are not a frequent part of that path, make sure an annual pay step-progression is clearly laid out so that they know what their earning potential is 5 or even 10 years from now.
2) Establish a culture of respect and recognition: One thing that Millennials desire is to be respected by their peers for their hard work and contributions to the team. Doing the work in order to make their boss look good is no longer going to cut it. Have a recognition program in place to make sure that your Millennials are getting the feedback and praise they crave. Remember that they may feel intimidated by more seasoned employees, so a core value of mutual respect is something your culture should actively promote.
3) Become a community-responsible organization: Companies that are socially-conscience and give back to the community are more apt to attract and retain Millennials. A MacKenzie Corporation study showed that, “Employers who empower Millennial workers to support or contribute to purpose-driven initiatives while at work see significantly higher levels of loyalty (stay 5+ years), social optimism and business impact.” This can be as easy as providing a couple paid volunteer days a year or by partnering with a local charity or non-profit.
4) Make sure employees understand their part of the big picture: When Millennials can see where the work they do fits into the grand scheme of things, they feel valued. It’s important to emphasize to every employee that they were hired because they are appreciated for their individual contributions. This can help Millennials stay engaged and onboard.
5) Switch things up: Millennials like to learn and they can get bored quickly. For this generation, boredom is an acceptable reason to bounce to the next job so to combat that inclination, keep work as engaging as possible. Now not every job is utterly fascinating but providing the opportunity to learn new skills or work on new projects with new people is a good way to go. The name of the game is variety and when managers can provide it, Millennials respond positively.
6) Flexible work isn't optional: This one has been a curious and often debated hurdle but younger generations are looking for flexibility and one of the ways that's provided is with remote or work-from-home policies. Changing their hours, working longer but fewer days, alternative work schedules, etc., are all being increasingly used to give workers the flexibility they need to have a life, be hands-on parents, tackle elder-care, go to school part-time, or any other factor that may be pulling the Millennial in multiple directions at once.
Where there's a will, there's a way
Overall, Millennials bring a great deal of value and fresh insight to any company. It's easy to paint this generation, or any generation really, with glaring stereotypes but when you put effort into retaining this cohort, the creativity and drive they bring with them can power many projects and achievements. And these changes don't just benefit the Millennials. Baby boomers and Gen Xers alike also gain from improved employee engagement, a positive work environment, and having a work-life balance. The way we work is shifting, in part because of what Millennials have brought to the table, and smart businesses know they need to shift with the times if they want to retain the generation that is likely making up a large piece of their workforce. Change doesn't have to be scary and as Millennials have proven, sometimes it's worth it to take a leap of faith.
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