Freedom, promotion and pandering: The best ways to retain your millennial workforce

My five tips on how to get the most out of the mercurial millennial generation — including pandering to their cosseted upbringing.

This article was originally published in Real Business magazine, and can be found online here.

Millennials, or “Generation Y”, are loosely defined as those born between 1980 and the early 2000s. Unlike generations preceding them, many employers are facing challenges in recruiting and retaining strong millennial talent.

Millennials’ sense of social justice and self-worth can make for star employees if the environment is right. But many employers are failing to recognise and cultivate a “millennial culture” within their organisation, leading to high staff turnover and pinball career paths for today’s young professionals.

  1. Massage their egos

Millennials have typically been cosseted by their parents. From an early age they’ve been told they can do anything they want and that they are destined for greatness. In the workplace, lack of adulation and recognition that they are “special” may lead to disillusionment from millennials who are accustomed to a more affirming environment.

Unlike the tough love approach of corporate years past, today’s managers should use praise abundantly when a millennial does a good job (even if it doesn’t come naturally), and be at pains to provide constructive feedback if things go wrong.

2. Give them freedom

Millennials don’t like rigid structures. Give them the freedom to explore side-projects and creative ways of working. Google used to operate a system where 20% of their employees’ time would be spent pursuing personal projects of their choosing and this led to the creation of successful products such as AdSense and Gmail. This type of empowerment will lead to greater job satisfaction amongst millennial recruits.

3. Money matters, but it’s not everything

Money. It’s an important factor for millennials, of course, but this generation are less willing to put aside ideals in the quest for a big fat pay cheque. Consider offering opportunities such as secondments and extensive training programmes. This will help satisfy the millennial need for continual personal growth.

Social commentators have also noted a stronger sense of community within the millennial generation, perhaps fostered by the rise in university attendance. Harness this by cultivating a strong social culture at your company. Simple things like finishing an hour early on Fridays and heading down the pub can make a real difference in securing emotional investment in your company from millennial employees.

4. Promote them

Operate a meritocracy. If a millennial is doing a good job, promote them. Even if they’ve only been in the role for a short period of time. This generation values results over tenure and this can lead to frustration if others are being promoted above them. The feeling of stagnation is kryptonite to millennials. For high-performing millennials, offer them incentives that offer a clear pathway towards success and don’t be afraid of fast-tracking young talent.

5. Be prepared to lose them

Millennials are restless. Even if you create the perfect environment, employers would be lucky to get more than half a decade’s worth of service from a millennial.

Create a contingency plan for when your millennial talent move on. Ensure your millennial employees do not become information silos and encourage them to share information, skills and knowledge freely, as well as maintaining positive relationships with your alumni. This will help with your long-term business planning in the new age of employee turnover.