How to Retain Millennial Workers for the Long Haul

Work Life

By Snober Bains

Millennials are generally defined as “a person reaching young adulthood around the year 2000”. As an elder of said generation, I feel it’s important to understand why Gen Y, those born in the 1980s and 1990s, is of particular interest in pop culture, marketing and, most importantly in this context, the workplace.

Millennials make up a large percentage of our current workforce. For a hiring manager, whether you are a Baby Boomer, Gen X, or even a Millennial yourself, how to motivate, engage, and retain the Millennials will be important.  It’s not necessarily a reason to change your business, your hiring practices, or your beliefs, but it is projected that millennials will make up 75% of the workforce by 2030 — 75 PERCENT of the workforce — that’s a staggering number!  It warrants some insight because, let’s face it, the workplace model that was created by Gen X culture is no longer in the majority.

It is often assumed that the average Millennials will stay in a given role for two years due to the availability of constant accessibility, continuous growth, and collaboration. This is significant reduction from the Gen Xs who have an average of 5 years in the same role, and their parents, the Baby Boomers, averaged seven years with an employer.  Why is this?  Millennials are the fastest growing generation of customers, and they are accompanied by fast-paced technology, meaning they live in a world that is drastically different from that of their parents.  They are now the largest demographic in the workplace AND they value different employment benefits than previous generations.  I’m sure Gen Xs were baffled by traditionalist views of Baby Boomers when they first entered the workplace as well, we just didn’t hear about it, because blogs weren’t as cool back then.

Growing up with educated parents, infinite resources, and access to information in this digital age, the Millennials are more efficient problem solvers and require challenges to stay engaged.  A hiring manager that invests in their Millennials’ professional development by assigning more challenging work, supporting career development and, here’s the kicker, providing frequent and continuous feedback are more likely to retain their A-Players.  I feel the need to insert a “Thanks Captain Obvious” here.  This all sounds reasonable and commonplace in today’s workplace, but maybe it’s not!  I get the heebie-jeebies thinking of my painful Annual Performance Reviews when it was clear that my manager simply did a Replace All of a colleague’s name for mine — “Jennifer continues to meet expectations”.  Millennial workers want honest, real feedback to help them grow and provide something new to challenge them with. 

As a hiring manager, to create a workplace to foster all of the above, the rapport between staff and superiors must extend past the formality of a work relationship. Find ways to connect with your Millennials and get a little personal.  Having a superior actually get to know you and care more about if you’ve finished the daily set of tasks can do wonders for a Millennial’s level of contentment at work — and a few accolades here and there never hurt either! 

Millennials often require a greater need for accessibility as compared to their predecessors.  In keeping with the success of iPhones, AirBnB and Spotify, Millennials’ lives revolve around constant accessibility and convenience.  As we speak, I am depositing a cheque, stalking Drake via twitter, and ordering groceries for a prompt 5pm pick-up!  With this accessibility in all other facets of life, Millennials appreciate (but do not expect) an employer that attempts to bring this accessibility into their workflow.  Hiring Managers should consider if smartphones, remote access, collaborative workspaces, and non-traditional ways to connect with clients and colleagues work for their business. 

I know I don’t speak for all Millennials, but I believe there is a key perception disconnect between hiring managers and their “mover and shaker” Gen Ys. Money is important, but money does not always equate to success or feeling fulfilled in a position.  Money is an incentive or driver for success, but most Gen Ys’ true motivations lie in meaningful work.  Millennials want to feel like their efforts make a difference in one way or another — they want to see a clear or tangible line between their efforts and impact, whether that impact is client focused, fiscally focused, or translates into a good or service.  Hiring managers can help clarify this link by being collaborative with their staff, including them in the big picture, and ensuring their Millennials understand that even if they appear to be a small cog in the machine, the machine only works if that cog is effective.

It’s important to acknowledge the differences between you and your Millennials. Organizations that realize this paradigm shift or tailor their workplace to the changing demographic will be better prepared to attract and retain the next wave of employees.  Collaborate and learn from each other, don’t blindly believe the stereotypes but seek to understand one another. Finally, push your employees to reach their full potential, they will happily rise to the challenge.