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How to Attract, Manage and Retain Millennials
Published Thursday, January 5, 2017

Many managers are older, and let’s admit, somewhat set in their ways. So when new employees come fresh out of college, they take time to find their way and senior managers grouse about their impatience, lack of loyalty and perceived laziness. Meanwhile, millennials flounder, unsure of their larger goals and how their work connects with the overall mission of the company. This tension among generations is often complained about but rarely understood or really worked on.

As consultants working with business leaders, and as career coaches working primarily with college students and recent graduates, we have insight into the perspectives of both young job applicants and employees, and the executives and managers who sometimes get frustrated with them. We are weary of the stereotypes of millennials (lazy and entitled), GenXers (pessimistic and cynical) and boomers (out-of-touch and boring) and know that teams and organizations comprised of people of all ages are among the strongest and most innovative.

Putting aside the fact that you have to hire millennials—they now make up the largest share of the workforce—here are a few reasons why you should:

• They are independent learners. Go ahead. Send them off to learn a new system or solve a problem. They want and need direction but can then take a project, figure it out on their own and run with it.

• They are technologically savvy. They grew up connected and quickly grasp new technology. They will engage with technology in ways that will serve your customers and make your organization more efficient. Given an opportunity, they can also help boomers get up to speed.

• They are value-driven. They will push your organization to promote strong, authentic ethical values and are willing to be held to those same values.

• They will work hard and deliver strong results. This is an incredibly capable generation that cherishes engagement.

Understanding Millennials
While there are many traits that make them strong employees, you have to fully understand millennials to develop successful working relationships. Here are a few things to know:

• They can be impatient. They are willing to work their way up in an organization, but they want it to happen at a faster pace than previous generations were accustomed to.

• They don’t want to trade their life for career growth. Their personal life is important to them, and they crave work/life balance. You will find that in a crisis or a crunch they are willing to put in long hours, but as a generation they are not interested in a steady diet of 50-plus hour work weeks.

• They aren’t hierarchical. While respectful of those with more experience, they also prefer to be treated as peers. They tend to be more informal than previous generations. This can show up in communication, wardrobe and understanding cultural norms.

• Commitment means something different to this generation. Millennials are committed to working hard and delivering great results to their employers. But they have witnessed their parents’ generation navigate years of corporate downsizing and a devastating recession, they don’t expect or want to stay with a company for long periods. This does not mean that they can’t make a sustained impact on your organization and aren’t worth investing in. But it does mean they will stay with you only as long as they can keep growing.  

• They probably have a lot of college debt. We should not underestimate how much this weighs on them as they make their career decisions. It often underlies their sense that they need to move up faster.

Retaining Millennials
It is estimated that millennials will change not just jobs, but entire careers, several times. Millennials with one or two years’ experience are highly desirable recruits. So recognizing that your younger employees are not likely to be with you forever, here are suggestions for building a strong recruitment and retention program for hiring talented millennials and keeping them as long as possible.

• Millennials stay in companies where they are growing. If you want to keep them, your best tool is to continue to develop them. That could be opportunities for a promotion, cross-training or special projects. Be clear where the next opportunity will come from within your organization. When you can’t offer a promotion, be creative around developmental assignments and be willing to provide small bonuses for jobs well executed.

• Millennials like to travel in packs. They communicate really well with each other and are great team players especially with their peers. They are more likely to join you if there are other millennials on board. We recommend that you have millennials from your company as part of the interviewing process. Also, when recruiting new graduates, consider your hiring cycle and try to bring them in as a group.

• Millennials need to understand why their work matters. They need work they can sink their teeth into. They are willing to do menial work, but they will do it with gusto if they understand the big picture around it.

• Millennials need A LOT of feedback. While they are good independent learners, you need to check in with them often about their work. We recommend regular one-on-one meetings (these don’t have to be long), and, for the first year, quarterly or semi-annual formal performance reviews attached to clear goals. Remember that this is a well-coached generation, and they want and respond well to mentoring. They are willing to go out on a limb for you and your company, but they need feedback. Don’t ever assume they can read your mind.

• Millennials may not pick up the office norms as fast as you did. Millennials communicate using text messages, and, as noted above, they are less hierarchical and more informal than previous generations. As part of the feedback you give, be clear about your expectations for your relationship, their communication style and how they should conduct themselves at meetings. A small-scale orientation that covers corporate culture and soft-skills expectation and norms can go a long way.  

• Make sure you are honest with your millennial employees and follow through on promises. Millennials can smell inauthenticity a mile away and when they do, they run. They would rather hear hard truths than have something hidden from them.

Millennials, like other generations, won’t turn down a ping-pong table or free candy, but that’s not what will attract or retain them. Despite the millennial bashing in the media, this generation can be incredibly fun, creative and capable. They want real work, frequent and honest constructive feedback, opportunities for promotion and peers their own age. Managing them effectively to maximize their contribution is work that takes some thoughtfulness and care, but is well worth it in the long run.

Susan Hay and Emily Porschitz head Launching U, a consulting firm that provides career coaching for college students and new graduates. For more information, visit www.launchingu.com.

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