Keeping Millennials Happy Is Now Its Own Genre of Management Training

Young professionals are restless, especially in banking jobs. Now managers are making it their business to learn what makes them tick.

In the financial-services industry, only about 10 percent of millennials—the generation born between 1980 and 2000—say they plan to stay in their current job for the long term. Across all sectors, by contrast, 18 percent expect to stay put, according to a 2012 survey (PDF) by PricewaterhouseCoopers. In response, banks and insurance companies have begun teaching managers how to cross the generational divide, says Bhushan Sethi, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers U.S.

“We used to just have a lot of training about how to manage across cultures, or other elements of diversity,” says Sethi. “Generational training is an important part of learning about people.”

Why does managing this group require special training? Research finds that they’re more self-aware and less loyal; require more feedback, but are likely to tune out the negative stuff; and want to zoom through the ranks but not be confined to one company or continent. Here’s what companies are doing to motivate this enigmatic bunch:

Give them a purpose—and ample time off
Companies such as Zappos, Google, and Microsoft have become destinations for young workers not just because of their attractive salaries and benefits, but because they created collaborative offices and pushed their companies’ social ethos, says J. Gerald Suarez, a professor of systems thinking and design at University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business.

Managers should take note, and motivate workers by stressing the social value of millennials’ work, he says. “As baby boomers, we learned the culture of the organization and played by the rules. Millennials are coming in and saying, ‘This is what we value. This is what’s important, and my commitment is not to the company but is [to] what they do.’”

But with that sense of purpose comes a need for self-care. Goldman Sachs’s decision last year to discourage junior analysts from working weekends was a sign of the times: Millennials crave more work-life balance, according to a 2012 PricewaterhouseCoopers report (PDF).

Start succession planning earlier
Financial-services companies used to set out promotion ladders just for executives, Sethi says. Now more firms have started outlining clearer career paths for younger employees to keep them focused on moving ahead at the company.

Millennials probably think they’re going to rise quickly, anyway. A survey of 18- to 33-year-olds by the Pew Research Center shows that millennials are more optimistic about the future than other generations are.

Companies should strike a balance, however, because “nothing scares a millennial more than telling them they can spend their whole life” at one company, Suarez says. “The next level is not necessarily about moving up but going deep in purpose, going deep in intent, going deep in influence in something they believe in.”

They demand feedback, but don’t make the criticism too constructive
Some management techniques are timeless, like the concept of giving clear feedback, says Dale Kalika, a senior lecturer of management at Arizona State’s Carey School of Business who studies millennials in business. Managers should focus even more on giving millennials clear expectations for each assignment, even if it takes more time to explain. “Every subordinate needs that, but millennials even more. That’s why managers sometimes go nuts,” she says.

When appraising their work, be direct—millennials tend to put a rosy glow on gently stated complaints. Managers should avoid the “sandwich approach” to feedback, where a criticism is preceded and followed by a positive statement, Kalika says. She explains that if managers hedge their criticism with a string of compliments, millennials will tune out the reprimands and “just hear, ‘Blah, blah, I’m great.’”

Give them global opportunities
Have a London or Sydney office? You might want to see if your younger workers would be game for an assignment there. Millennials are prone to wanderlust, with 72 percent of those in the sector wanting and expecting to do an overseas assignment during their careers, according to a 2012 PricewaterhouseCoopers report (PDF).

Those overseas jobs keep them engaged, Sethi says. “How can I engage and retain people without throwing more money at them? It’s by giving them a real career path,” he says. “Some of the largest banks that have global presence, and that’s a good career path.”

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