Millennials in the Workforce: 5 Key Retention Strategies
Figuring out how to attract, recruit, and retain millennial workers is one of the greatest challenges facing today’s HR professionals. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, there are more than 71 million millennials currently living in the U.S. , and that number is expected to reach 73 million by 2019.
The influx of millennials, who have drastically different attitudes toward work compared to previous generations, means that you must adapt your recruitment and retention strategies if you want to successfully capitalize on this large pool of talent.
Before we can explore how millennials affect HR strategy; however, we need a clear definition of this demographic. As popular as the term “millennial” is, research institutions disagree on the precise age range it describes. For the purposes of this article, we will use the definition given in the U.S. Census Bureau report cited above, which defines millennials as Americans “ages 20 to 35 in 2016”. Put another way, that means millennials are people born between approximately 1981 and 1996. This isn’t a perfect definition, but it’s sufficient for the focus of this article.
However, just knowing that millennials are people born between 1981 and 1996 isn’t helpful on its own. To understand how to adapt HR strategy, you need to understand the defining characteristics of millennials, particularly with regards to the way they view work.
In a paper titled “Millennials in the Workplace: Positioning Companies for Future Success”,
researchers from Florida State University identified the following characteristics that set the millennial generation apart from Baby Boomers or Gen Xers in the way they view work:
Millennials are team-oriented.
Millennials thrive on challenging, entrepreneurial work
Millennials expect immediate feedback and high levels of organizational support.
Millennials adapt well to change in environment and circumstances.
Millennials lives have been shaped by digital technology.
Of course, these are generalizations. Not all millennials will have these traits or desires, and researchers disagree about what traits millennials share. Furthermore, many millennials themselves feel that the label “millennial” is inaccurate or contrived.
Therefore, while keeping these generalizations in mind is helpful for determining how best to relate to millennials and keep them happy and engaged at work, you should also make sure that you rely first and foremost on the feedback your particular employees give you when deciding your hiring and retention strategies.
5 Strategies for Attracting and Retaining Millennials
Based on the general traits of millennials we laid out in the last section, here are five strategies you can use to attract and retain millennial employees:
1. Provide On The Job Training
Despite nearly half of all millennials being college educated, the need (and demand) for on-the-job training has drastically increased. Because while college teaches valuable general skills such as critical thinking or collaboration, it often fails to teach the technical skills that millennials need to succeed in the modern workforce.
Training could include something as specific as how to use proprietary or custom company software, or something more general like how to manipulate data in a spreadsheet. Whatever the case, you need to provide on the job training to ensure your millennial workers can develop these essential skills. What’s more, the research reveals that millennials desire and embrace on-the-job training, with 60% of millennials saying that “the opportunity to learn and grow on the job is extremely important” (contrast that with only 40% of Baby Boomers).
2. Implement Mentorship Programs
While training specific skills is important, millennials also place a high value on mentorship. A report from Harvard Business Review states that millennials want a boss who will “mentor and coach me”, and will “help me navigate my career path”. If you’re not used to providing this level of hands-on guidance, it can feel like millennial employees are being demanding, entitled, and asking you to hold their hands in/during every step of their job.
However, we encourage you to see millennials’ desire for mentorship as an opportunity. Millennials want feedback because they want to achieve at high levels; they want to do the best job possible. You can help them fulfill this desire by pairing millennials with more experienced employees who can give guidance on both career development and more specific skills.
You can also try another strategy the same Harvard Business Review report suggests: reverse mentorship. In this approach, mentorship moves from being just a one-way process in which senior employees guide junior ones to a collaborative, reciprocal process. For instance, while a more senior employee can give a millennial advice on what their next career move should be, the millennial can give the senior employee advice on how to use social media or how to craft a marketing strategy that appeals to younger consumers.
3. Embrace Flexible Work Schedules
The stereotypical image of millennials working in coffee shops or at home while wearing pajamas doesn’t reflect how all millennials want to work, but it does reflect how millennial workers have different expectations when it comes to work schedules. Having grown up with the convenience of the internet at their fingertips, millennials are used to greater everyday flexibility than their generational predecessors, and they desire that flexibility at work, too. According to a study from Bentley University, “77% of millennials say flexible work hours would make them more productive at work.”
In light of these findings, it’s worth trying out flexible schedules in your workplace. How flexible you want to be is, of course, up to you, and different types of businesses will allow different levels of flexibility. To test the flexible scheduling waters, you could allow employees to work from home one day per week or outside the office for part of the day.
4. Create the Right Work Space
In addition to different expectations about when they work, millennials also have different wants when it comes to their physical workspaces. A report from Building Design + Construction explains that, due to their desire for collaboration, millennials want workspaces that are open and without walls or cubicles. Because of their comfort with digital technology and the freedom it provides to work anywhere with internet access, they also favor offices that look more like coffee shops or lounges than traditional office setups.
Depending on your budget, you may or may not be able to renovate your office to meet these demands. But you can still work to adapt existing spaces to be more collaborative, even if it’s just via allowing employees to work (and collaborate) in your common areas or conference rooms. You can also consider providing employees with a stipend to work at coworking spaces for one or two days a week, as these establishments tend to be designed with millennials in mind.
5. Offer the Right Benefits
It’s tempting to focus narrowly on salary as the way to attract top talent, but millennials care about salary much less than you might think. According to a 2014 survey from GlassDoor, 89% of employees aged 18-34 would prefer an increase in perks or benefits to a pay raise.
What sorts of benefits do millennials want? Improved healthcare coverage (including mental health services) and increased vacation time rank high on the list, as well as assistance repaying student loans. These are benefits you should seriously consider, as they all work to boost employee well being and reduce lost productivity from sick days (which costs U.S. employers $225.8 billion annually, according to the CDC)--not to mention the benefits of increased retention and employee engagement.
Millennials: A Cheatsheet
The needs of millennial workers differ from those of previous generations. With a growing millennial workforce, you must adapt your HR practices to ensure your company’s future. To help keep millennials happy and engaged, focus on the following strategies:
On the job training
Increased and improved employee benefits
With these strategies in your arsenal, you’ll be on your way to increasing overall retention and engagement at your organization.