When the word “Millennial” is spoken in organizations, frequently the word that follows is “retention.”
Rightfully, leaders are concerned about Millennial churn as statistics indicate that Millennials change jobs, on average, four times in their first decade out of college—twice as often as the previous generation did. Overall, 60% of millennials leave their companies in less than 3 years, causing exorbitant replacement costs.
Depending on level, these costs run between 200-400% of annual salary for replacing each lost Millennial employee.
And it doesn’t look as though this picture will change soon:
– A Deloitte survey states that 44% of Millennials, if given a choice, expect to leave their employer in the next two years.
– Forbes rounds out this gloomy picture by adding that 21% of employed Millennials are actively seeking another job.
However, leaders can improve Millennial retention by focusing on management practices and corporate culture that most often drive away Millennials.
To offer specifics on how leaders can bolster their Millennial retention, I interviewed several highly qualified Millennials who had left well-paying jobs in companies varying in size from small businesses to Fortune 500, across industries. I also talked with two experienced recruiters for their perspectives.
The result? Three very basic, human-focused recommendations that I believe can improve Millennial retention:
1. Create inclusive, respectful cultures that emphasize “You are part of the team.”
Andy Corbett, a Millennial and business development manager for Main Line Group Wealth Management, spent the early part of his career in recruiting. He speaks knowingly of why Millennials leave their companies–for many, they lack a feeling of inclusion and “being part of the team.” This feeling prevails whether they are entry level or have been there several years.
He says newly-hired Millennials expect to be treated with respect; but when they aren’t or are viewed negatively based on stereotypes, they get anxious and start looking for change. They also say that even if they put in extra hours trying to disprove stereotypes about their work ethic, it’s disheartening when older employees automatically get respect. Rather than continue trying to change ingrained managerial attitudes, it’s easier to look for new opportunities elsewhere. From his own experience, he related how another Millennial colleague and he had taken a short break at the end of a day to review a project. Their manger walked by and assumed they weren’t working, saying “Now is planning time, not story time. Please do your work.” That managerial assumption was hardly respectful, motivational or team-focused.
2. Be flexible, know Millennial motivators and jettison the stereotypes.
The two real-life examples that follow perfectly reinforce Association for Talent Development/Gallup research that reports that Millennial employees want to work for purpose and not just show up to a job. They also want a coach, not a boss, to help with professional development
In the first instance, organizational rigidity drove a very talented Millennial from a large chemical company in less than a year. She believed in her own capacity for excellence and tried to inject diversity of thought and ideas. But the organization preferred sticking with their ingrained procedures and outlooks. “Good enough” was not good enough for her. As with most Millennials, she wanted her work to be impactful. Whenever she pushed for excellence, she received rebuttals such as, “who do you think you are,” “you don’t have the experience” and in the most outlandish case, “do you even have your driver’s license yet?”
The inflexibility continued when she requested to move to a position that would stretch her but was slightly outside the normal rotation. The position was denied because “it wasn’t part of the program.”
When an older employee advised her not to let the organization tell her where to go, she decided to be the captain of her own career, grabbed another opportunity and left.
In a second example, a young woman in banking rose to an assistant vice president, making a six-figure income plus bonus. But the money was not a motivator—she also wanted to make more impact. She would have stayed with the firm if she had been able to explore other roles and receive coaching. She offered to take a pay cut to move into a different arena. But the leadership was short-sighted, pigeon-holed her and lacked understanding of her motivations.
Gender also played a role in her inability to gain the long-term career coaching she craved. She was the only woman working with men 10-20 years older. Even though they knew she would eventually inherit their portfolios, they did not treat her as a colleague. She fit the daughter/sister role in their minds, and they couldn’t move to treating her as a full-fledged colleague.
The bottom line message from these examples? Retaining good Millennial employees requires leadership flexibility to look outside “usual” assumptions about career trajectories and to understand Millennial motivators connected with personal career choices.
3. Match job expectations and skills to the candidate.
Retention can suffer when there is a mismatch between company and employee expectations about job responsibilities. A Millennial engineer stuck it out for a year, for resume purposes, despite being mismatched to responsibilities, bored and unchallenged. The Millennial wanted to use the training and technical abilities he had, but the firm expected him to do more administrative work and “wait” to do more challenging work. If a better job had been done in recruiting, the Millennial would not have accepted the position. Millennials don’t have the patience or adapt well to the old concept of “waiting your turn.” What on the surface looked like just another Millennial quitting, was a mismatch that could have been prevented.
Robb Hoyle, Founder & CEO of GTS, speaks from years of technical and scientific recruiting experience when he says that if Millennials are trained, mentored and coached effectively, they can be extremely productive due to their ability to quickly obtain and process information at a high level.
But he cautions that effective management is necessary for these skills to be applied and for Millennials to see a future and stay with their companies. He concludes that poor management has been a systemic issue for years and continues to be in the modern era of business.
Hoyle thinks it’s easy to “label” Millennials as the issue and not look in the mirror and say: well maybe it’s my management style that is the issue or maybe it’s my hiring process that’s the issue rather than stereotyping an entire generation.
If you have other suggestions for improving Millennial retention, please pass them along to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will share them with readers.