Working With Millennials: How to Attract and Retain the Top 1%

Millennials now make up the largest portion of the workforce of any generation. With approximately 73 million members, the Millennial generation – defined roughly as those born between 1980 and 1996 – has surpassed the Baby Boomers as the largest age-determined demographic in America.

What’s more, according to an extensive 2016 Gallup study with Boomers retiring en masse in recent years, Millennials now account for one-third of all American workers. Still, Millennials also have the highest rates of unemployment.

Further, even those who have found steady work are not likely to remain with their employers for any extended period of time, a tendency which appears to lend credence to characterisations of Millennials as “job-hoppers.”

Increase in Google searches for “quit job” since 2009. 😯

As they rapidly approach their prime spending years, the influence Millennials wield over the economy will only grow, meaning businesses and employers would be wise to consider how Millennials think and what Millennials want. Unfortunately, for employers, this “job-hopping” trend is extremely costly.

In this guide for working with millennials, we’ll discuss why Millennials job-hop, what they really want out of a workplace, and how we can attract and retain Millennial employees for the long haul.

True Cost of Losing a Millennial Employee

In its survey, Gallup found that 60% of employed Millennials claim to be “open to” a different job opportunity, a figure that plummets to around 45% among non-Millennials. In terms of more concrete behavior, 36% of Millennials plan on actively looking for a new job over the course of the next year as long as the general job market continues to improve. This response rate is, once again, 15% higher than among non-Millennials.

According to Beyond.com’s research, it costs a company about $15,000 to $25,000 to replace each millennial employee. Estimates place the aggregate annual cost to the American economy of this Millennial turnover at more than $30 billion.

It costs a company upto $25,000 to replace each millennial employee.

During the twelve months prior to Gallup’s study, 21% of the Millennial workforce had switched jobs, nearly tripling the rate at which non-Millennials found new positions. Notably, very little of this job-hopping occurred intra-company: 93% of Millennials report that they changed employers the last time they entered a new professional role.

Why are Millennials Job-Hopping?

There remains plenty of uncertainty regarding the precise cause(s) of the fitfulness of Millennials’ professional journeys. One oft-cited argument highlights the fact that, on the whole, Millennials have pushed back a number of significant life events which, taken together, historically have indicated “settling down.”

1. Delaying “settling down” and adulthood milestones

According to Goldman Sachs Global Investment Research, in the 1970s, the median age of marriage in the United States was 23; seven years into the present decade it sits at 30. In 2014, Gallup found that only 20% of 18 to 30 year-olds were married, a metric that in 1962 exceeded 60%. Baby Boomers reduced the figure to 40% before Gen X-ers depressed it all the way to 32%, but Millennials have, if anything, accelerated the historical trend. Among Millennials who do choose to marry, a mere 23% live in a residence they own, down from 56% in 1968, 43% in 1981, and 27% in 2007. Because shifting social mores have destigmatized having children out of wedlock, parenthood is one area where Millennials more closely mirror previous generations. Still, the fraction of women having children by the age of 25 has continued to decline from 12.9% in the 1970s to 7.9% in the 2010s.

Delaying marriage, home ownership, and parenthood has surely unburdened many Millennials of certain responsibilities that compelled their parents and grandparents to stick with a steady job, but this isn’t the only consideration. On account of a combination of factors too numerous to recount here in any detail – the astronomical inflation of higher education costs, the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, an ongoing set of wars of record-setting length, et al. – only half of Millennials profess to feeling comfortable with the amount of money they net. Gallup found that fewer than 40% of Millennials are “thriving” in any one aspect of “well-being,” and as a generation, Millennials overall well-being merely matches that of Gen X-ers and Baby Boomers.

It’s heartening that the challenges alluded to above haven’t resulted in generational regression, but improvement in overall well-being from generation to generation is something that all parents hope for and most economists suggest indicates broad economic growth. Though stagnant well-being need not automatically result in an increase in employment conservatism among Millennials – it’s reasonable to argue that such stagnation is caused by pervasive job-hopping – these metrics may countervail those underlying the dominant narrative outlined above.

2. Lack of engagement in the workplace

Despite being marginally more difficult to measure, one would be remiss if they failed to consider a “cultural” explanation of Millennial job-hopping. Among employed Millennials, only 29% are engaged at work, that is, only about three in ten are emotionally invested in and connected to their job. More than 16% are actively disengaged, meaning they represent an imminent threat to smooth workplace functioning. In sum, over half of Millennials find themselves unengaged to greater or lesser degrees at work. This is clearly far from an ideal state of affairs from employers’ points-of-view, but it exposes a significant insight into the job-hopping trend: Millennials, rightly or wrongly, are frequently dissatisfied with what their jobs have to offer.

It’s hardly absurd to postulate that many Millennials aren’t attracted to job-hopping as such, but simply feel their employers consistently fail to provide them with any compelling reason to stay put. Consequently, when an ostensibly better opportunity presents itself, the disaffected Millennial has no reason not to give it try.

What Millennials Care About

Rather unhelpfully, discussions among non-Millennials about Millennials’ workplace preferences often involve more snide remarks about ping pong tables, bean bag chairs, expensive espresso machines, and relaxed dress codes than attempts at penetrating insight.

working with millennials

1. Purpose & Meaning (really!)

Generally speaking, Millennials’ primary requirement of a job is not a healthy paycheck or a “fun” work environment – though employees of every generation justifiably expect and appreciate fair pay and a supportive workplace – but a defined sense of purpose.

Perhaps because they put off starting families and, in many areas, either have abandoned or lack access to close-knit residential communities – sources of meaning that their parents and grandparents cherished – Millennials strive to find meaning in their job. As such, companies hoping to attract Millennial workers must not only be able to articulate a clear, ambitious vision, they must also be prepared to elucidate precisely how they hope each particular applicant will contribute to the organization’s overarching mission.

2. Work/Life Balance

As the integration of meaning and purpose into the professional sphere suggests, Millennials have a much higher tolerance for the intertwining of work and life than previous generations. While most Millennials still advocate for striking the proper work/life balance, they understand “balance” less as a hard separation and more as a well-considered synthesis. This attitude appears to play out in their employee-supervisor relationships as well, as, according to Gallup, 62% of Millennials who feel they can talk to their manager about non-work-related issues plan to remain at their current company for at least a year.

3. Coaching and Recognition

Millennials don’t want bosses – they want coaches.

In practice, this means that, in the words of Gallup Chairman and CEO Jim Clifton, “Millennials don’t want bosses – they want coaches.” Clifton continues, “The role of an old-style boss is command and control. Millennials care about having managers who can coach them, who value them as both people and employees, and who help them understand and build their strengths.”

How to Engage Millennials in the Workplace

Ideally, there are three ways:

1. Open Up for Better Communication

One way to move towards a more coach-like style of management is to open up and relax the communication and evaluation loops. Millennials are the first “digital natives,” meaning they came of age just as technologies such as text messaging, social media, and video chatting were achieving critical mass. This coincidence was the primary factor in determining the contours of their communication, and as a result, Millennials are accustomed to real-time, continuous streams-of-thought, not finite, self-contained conversations. Needless to say, Millennials tend to find standard annual performance reviews lamentably insufficient. Indeed, a 2013 PwC report showed that 41% of Millennials prefer to have their successes recognized at least once every month, whereas only 30% of non-Millennials found such frequency of recognition to be preferable.

2. Keep Doors Open

As an employer, providing additional feedback and making oneself more available and approachable is painless enough thanks to services like Slack and Google Hangouts, but demonstrating substantial professional investment in a Millennial employee can be a more complex challenge. How can a supervisor “help [employees] understand and build their strengths?”

3. Invest in the Right Tools

Implementing a learning management system (such as Continu) in your workplace can go a long way into offering Millennial workers the resources and opportunities needed to consistently engage in on-the-job learning. You will not only build a more skilled and competent workforce, but also demonstrate that you are interested and invested in your employees’ success and professional development. Even if a Millennial’s role remains fundamentally unchanged, if, through exposure to continuing education materials, they are able to execute their duties in increasingly efficient and adept ways, the likelihood they will experience discontent associated with professional plateauing greatly decreases. And the best thing – learning management systems don’t cost much.

If Millennials are afforded the chance to become demonstrably better at their job – and if they receive recognition for doing so thanks to improved employee-supervisor communication – chances are they will feel that they are becoming an important part of something bigger than themselves. Purpose: found.

Final Thoughts

It would be naïve to pretend that the insights outlined above amount to a skeleton key for the Millennial generation. After all, Millennials are the most diverse – in any number of ways – generation America has ever produced. That being said, the record-breaking size of their cohort means that Millennials will be the country’s dominant economic force for years to come. We need only observe the meteoric rise and far-reaching dispersion of the sharing economy to understand the paradigm-altering shifts that Millennials are capable of triggering when they act in something approaching unison.

As such, acknowledging that no group is completely alike, companies should dedicate time to make changes that will have a broad appeal in the Millennial age. The companies that can break the job-hopping cycle and attract and retain the best Millennial talent will establish a near-unassailable advantage over their competitors and be optimally-positioned to rule the marketplace for the foreseeable future.

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