The millennial generation, born between 1981 and 1996, are known for being job hoppers, and in 2016, they became the largest segment of the U.S. workforce. That presents a major challenge for American business: how to retain millennials.
It was once the case that the average American could find a job at reliable company and work there for the tenure of your career. Advancing your career meant devoting yourself to the corporate cause and working your way up the ladder. Upon retirement, there was a handsome corporate-sponsored pension to rely on.
Whether intuitive or intentional, millennials are taking a different route. Millennials understand that they can’t sit at one company for decades and collect a pension upon retirement. That’s just not an option anymore (for the most part).
Instead, millennials rebuilt the career ladder to reflect the demands of today’s business world: that employees be able to do many things efficiently and well.
That translates to job hopping, collecting a diverse set of skills and getting healthy pay rate increases along the way. They know that having a number of career stops on their resume is not viewed negatively, as it once was. It’s not the deterrent it may have been for their parents.
Millennials also came of age during the digital explosion. They have communication and internet skills that shaped how they work and live. These skills are, of course, portable.
Today’s job market is all about building your personal brand and differentiating oneself from the crowd, so that you can get a better job and make more money.
That presents a fundamental shift in how employers can and should approach how to retain millennials.
How to retain millennials
There are three main scenarios that cause an employee to no longer job hop:
- They are tired of switching jobs.
- They’ve collected a sufficient and diverse enough set of skills (and promotions).
- They find a company willing to invest in their continued development, which supplants the need to accrue new skills at a different company.
Only then is an employee willing to settle down. Where there was once loyalty to a company, there’s been a shift to loyalty to personal development. If someone can’t get what they need from their employer, they’ll find someplace else to work.
By understanding this shift in mentality, you can begin to change your company from a waypoint on the way to something better and into a destination that no employee wants to leave.
Lay the proper groundwork
Improving retention is a process that considers all factors and results in a sound hire-to-retire plan that emphasizes employee development and engagement.
Great businesses are built on the platform of attract, retain, maintain, develop and reward employees. If you don’t do any one of those well, especially for the millennial generation, employees are less likely to stick around.
The company that has a comprehensive, hire-to-retire strategy that addresses the personal needs and desires of employees (of all generations) will reap the benefits of a stable workforce.
One important first step is to have well written, focused and accurate job descriptions. Smaller companies, particularly startups, may be tempted to write an appealing job description to attract an employee, only to tack on additional responsibilities immediately after the hire. This can lead employees to be disgruntled and distrustful.
Once an employee is hired and working, help them understand how their role fits in to the big picture. By understanding why their daily tasks help make the company successful, you can inspire and motivate them to care. Throughout the year, regularly remind employees of their importance to the overall mission and remind them that their work is valued.
You must also offer employees opportunities to develop and hone their skills. Push them to work on challenging projects that utilize their expertise but also force them to stretch their knowledge.
For example, a sales-centric company that doesn’t offer regular feedback and training sessions for new and upcoming salespeople is likely to have retention issues. Employees might get discouraged by low sales numbers or feel like their growth and learning potential is capped at the company. That can lead them to find an employer that challenges them in different ways or that offers to help improve their skills.
Rethink corporate culture
The approach to corporate culture has also undergone massive change. By and large, the business world is moving away from rigid 9 to 5 schedules and suit-and-tie dress codes.
The name of the game is flexibility. Millennials are willing to work for their keep, but they also want a life outside the office. The companies most likely to maintain millennial employees will cater to this change.
This might mean offering a more laid-back office environment, with perks like free snacks and bringing your dog to the office. The idea is to make people comfortable at work, which might encourage them to stay longer and work harder. If everything you need is in the office, why leave?
This could also mean allowing your employees to work from home a few days each week. Or, if you have a doctor’s appointment in the middle of the day, you work a little longer tomorrow to make up for the time you missed.
There’s no one-size-fits-all strategy. Implement policies that make sense for your business and your employees. Google is able to feed its employees every day and offer shuttle services to and from work. Your company probably can’t afford that, and that’s OK.
Listen to what your employees need and work to find a happy compromise. This demonstrates that you have your employees’ best interests at heart, which can also lead to a more loyal employee base.
In the end, you can’t make every person – millennial or otherwise – a long-term employee, but with the right incentives and support you can convince some to stay the course.
If you’d like to learn more strategies for how to retain millennials (and employees of every generation), download our free magazine: The Insperity guide to employee retention.