Forget beanbags, these 3 things will help you hire and retain young people

Ariel Lerner
Nov 13, 2018 · 6 min read

Hiring and retaining talent is getting harder every year. What do today’s bright young people look for from a company and a career?

A year at a consultancy, two years at a fintech in Slovenia, a year at a think-tank in New York? The most talented young people flit between jobs, cities and industries.

Big ideas need bright people, and competition for people is harder than ever before.

A landscape that was once intelligible has become baffling. Employees don’t only respond to money or status, but to purpose and lifestyle. They don’t want a job for life. They might not even think this is a job for a year.

Even successful companies now risk losing staff not just to higher-paying competitors but to tech giants like Facebook or Google and to start-ups. A gang of friends in a beaten-up office in Shoreditch or Berlin is now more attractive than a job for life.

How can traditional companies compete in this new world? Rory Keddie and I interviewed professionals early in their career journey. We heard how they found themselves in their current roles, what they value, why they’ve stayed, and what would make them leave.

Here’s what we learned.

1. The Tinder generation wants to explore their options at work as well as play.

As part of the generation that’s hyper-aware of advertising, William* was sceptical of how companies advertise themselves to new recruits: ‘My company has very good branding. The website is slick, the perception they give of themselves is different to what it’s actually like working there. I realised I wouldn’t know what any of these jobs would be like until I actually do them.’

Arianna* put this thinking into practice: ‘I decided not to decide. I worked in a bakery, I worked in journalism, I worked in investment management. And then I kind of decided, actually, I’m going to try banking.’

Instead of accepting short-term roles, Darius* preferred a ‘try-before-you-buy’ approach; he joined a start-up after having drinks with the whole team, something that they include in its interview process: ‘There’s real transparency before you join,’ he said.


  • Host Meetups or other public-facing events that allow curious jobseekers to see your office and meet employees in a casual, low-pressure environment.
  • If possible, create rotational graduate schemes that allow young people to find what they love within the company, instead of leaving to find it elsewhere.
  • Be honest in how you present the company and the work that a new employee can expect to do. They won’t stick around if it doesn’t align with expectations.

2. The Instagram generation won’t tolerate boredom when it looks like everyone else is having fun.

In a fluid, chaotic job market, people don’t know what skills their next job will need, so they want to cast the net wide.

Ralph* has based his career around tackling his weaknesses: ‘I had a creative background, but not much commercial experience and I wasn’t great with numbers. I wanted to join a company where I could develop some of those skills.’ This is very different to the typical approach of playing to your strengths, but it has meant that Ralph never gets bored.

Emma* left her job because she felt she wasn’t doing anything of value, and therefore wasn’t learning anything new: ‘I want to be doing something that has an impact as a result, rather than just pushing papers. My old company hire young, ambitious graduates then they tell them to be quiet and not be too ambitious.’

She left to pursue her own business, and her desire for variety has been met: ‘I love that I get to learn everything. One day I’m a content creator, the next I’m on a plane to California pitching my business idea. I get to do ten different things in a day.’

But it’s also possible to feel like you’re making an impact in a large corporation. Ralph lights up when he talks about his job in a multinational drinks company: ‘One of the first things my manager said to me when I joined was, ‘You should do whatever you think will bring value to your role and to the business.’ I had an immediate sense of freedom and the opportunity to develop, and do the role how I wanted to do it.’


  • Instead of exit interviews, conduct entry interviews. Sit down with new employees and find out what they’re passionate about, what excites them. Then do your best to integrate that kind of work into their role.
  • Give younger staff projects to own within the company. Find tricky issues, publicise them, and let junior employees get their hands dirty.

3. The Myspace kids personalised their profiles in 2008. They want their jobs to feel personalised in 2018.

Michael*, a business analyst at a utilities company, envies his friend who works as a carpenter: ‘If he wants more income, he gets more work in and works harder. If he wants more spare time, he can let go of some work.’ Michael’s friend is fully in control of his job and is able to customise his hours to fit his needs. He can do this because he works for himself, but some level of “customisation” is possible in the corporate world.

For John*, a policy analyst at a political think tank, it’s important that his company gives him the flexibility to work from home. For Ralph and Arianna, work is as an opportunity to get as far from home as possible; Arianna chose her current role at HSBC in part because it enabled her to move to Hong Kong, and Ralph believes he will stay with his company for years if he can transfer internally to offices abroad.

For William, work is a balancing act between money and time: ‘I wanted a wage that would allow me to live easily in London. I would rather work somewhere with less hours for less pay, but obviously pay had to be above a certain amount where you could live comfortably.’

In these examples, the role and the company are of secondary importance. It’s more important that they are able to enjoy their lives and have a job that enables that. And equally, they’re not willing to give up important aspects of their life for work.

Darius summarises this feeling: ‘I know people say you should always strive for success, but at what cost? Millennials want to work hard, but they also want to have time to themselves and be able to make themselves a more whole person outside of work.’


  • Encourage impact, not hours. At companies like Netflix, even holidays are unmetered.
  • Granting employees sabbaticals after a certain period of service and actively promoting this to future talent. This way, their appetite to take career breaks is satisfied without losing the talent you have spent time training for leadership positions.
  • If possible, allow for a level of flexibility when it comes to working location and working hours.

Who we spoke to:

Arianna*: Studied Economics and Chinese at the University of Edinburgh, currently works as an analyst at HSBC

Darius*: Studied History at the New College of Humanities, currently works as a recruitment manager at an education start-up

William*: Studied Materials Science at the University of Cambridge, currently works as a consultant at an international financial consultancy

Ralph*: Studied Product Design Engineering at Brunel University, currently works as a senior category manager at multinational drinks company

Michael*: Climbed company ranks to become a business analyst at a UK utility company

Emma*: Left a graduate scheme at international beverage company to found her own business

John*: Studied Economics and Geography at University College London, currently works as a policy analyst at a think tank

*All names have been changed for privacy reasons.

Fluxx is an innovation consultancy that uses experiments to understand customers, helping clients to build better products. We do product and service design at such a pace that we transform the way organisations work.

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Ariel Lerner

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Innovation consultant at Fluxx