Question: I’m having challenges with attracting and retaining younger employees. Do you have any thoughts about keeping millennials interested and challenged so they don’t jump ship after 18 months on the job?
Answer: millennials—those born between about 1980 and 2000—are the largest U.S. generation since the baby boomers. Simply by virtue of their numbers, they are poised to make up 75 percent of the U.S. workforce by 2025. So learning how to work with them and keep them on staff should be an important goal for every employer.
Certainly, if your company is not paying competitive salaries or hourly wages, it should come as no surprise that employees in all age ranges are jumping ship for better money. Ask those who are quitting if they would stick around if you gave them raises. If money proves to be a major issue, take a look at what you’re paying across the board and you’ll improve your retention rates immediately.
With surveys showing millennials want to work for smaller companies that offer greater flexibility, entrepreneurs should already have an edge with this age group. However, millennials expect to change jobs far more frequently than their older colleagues do.
“Millennials, as a group, are typically going to have a shorter stint at most jobs, regardless of how engaging or interesting the work is,” says Paul White, co-author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace. “In many settings that are known for short-term employees, 18 months would be a win. In professional settings, where there is more training involved, it seems three years of solid employment is a realistic goal.”
Giving them challenging work assignments, if you can, should help you retain millennials for as long as possible. And flexibility—allowing them to connect through mobile devices and come to the office outside of the traditional 9-to-5—is key for this generation, if you can make that work at your business.
Being an employer who is making a positive impact on your community can also help. Millennials—on paper, at least—say they are more interested in working for companies that are making a difference in the world than for companies that are reaping big financial gains. Getting your younger employees involved in planning and executing a companywide volunteer project might be a way to keep them engaged. And it would give them something to tout on social media that could raise your company’s profile and enhance its reputation.
When it comes to positive feedback, we are all more likely to stay at jobs where we feel valued. “One of the primary reasons employees quit their jobs is because they don’t feel appreciated for what they do,” White says.
Go beyond the traditional ways employers recognize staff, which may feel particularly impersonal and disingenuous to millennials. “What we have found is that people differ in how they want to be shown appreciation and encouragement. Verbal compliments are meaningful to some. To others, words are cheap and spending time with them is important,” White says. Helping employees dig out when they are behind on a project, or handing out restaurant gift cards or sports tickets after a particularly tough week, can be effective ways to convey support, he says.
There are also generational differences when it comes to employee recognition. “For older workers, a handwritten personal note is often seen as very meaningful. But for millennial males, receiving something handwritten offers little added value. The key for them is the speed in which the feedback is given, preferably within 24 hours, as opposed to a few days,” White says.