The tendency for that highly-scrutinized generation which now outnumbers Baby Boomers[i] to change jobs at a faster pace than their predecessors generates significant attention in news articles and research studies, but this well-documented inclination among Millennials reveals only the proverbial tip of the iceberg beneath the waterline of this disruptive and expensive trend.[ii]

Defined as individuals born between 1980 and 1998 (the upper number differs depending on the source, but falls within the 1995-2000 range), they are a unique body within the workforce, and their defining characteristics are forcing companies to rethink and revise their approach not only to employee retention but more generally to overall workplace culture, management structure, training methods and corporate communications.

The priorities and formative influences of Millennials which set them apart from those that came before must be understood to address the aim of creating a more satisfied and stable Millennial workforce.

Arriving on the heels of Generation X, Millennials experienced a very different upbringing than the perceived instability of the Gen X “latch-key” kids,[iii] through a flipside style of parenting that managed every aspect of their lives with planned activities and structure. They were encouraged, their self-esteem was defended, and they have never known life without computers and the internet.

This parenting style has produced a generation of workers who favor companies that focus on employee well-being and development, i.e., companies that encourage and show concern for their employees and for society as a whole. On the other hand, while Millennials still crave the structure that marked their early years, they want to work toward a goal independently within an identified structure without being micromanaged.

Other characteristics typical of Millennials revealed in a study jointly conducted by international accounting firm PwC, the University of Southern California and London Business School[iv] include a preference to be lead rather than managed, a desire to understand the context of the work assigned to them, a need for frequent feedback, and an interest in functioning as part of a group or team. Millennials also like to obscure the line between their work lives and personal lives, often mingling the two by socializing with coworkers outside of work and through organized activities at work.

Conversely, they do not want work demands interfering with their personal lives, and unlike previous generations that acquiesced to the ‘rat race’ norm, they are even willing to accept reduced compensation and relinquish opportunities for promotion if it permits them to work fewer hours.

So, what can companies do to address the specific needs of Millennial workers in an effort to retain them longer?

  • Give them respect, attention and encouragement, and feedback that includes both praise and constructive critique.
  • Adopt a leadership style that emphasizes openness to questioning management, clearly defined expectations, and guiding vs. controlling the team.
  • Recognize them as both unique individuals and valuable members of the team. Allow them to work independently on projects, but provide frequent feedback (monthly or even more often).
  • Show concern for their personal lives, and accommodate the work/life balance they seek by organizing social activities at work, agreeing to alternative arrangements regarding when and where they work, and even offering an option to decrease their hours or take a sabbatical through a reduction in pay.
  • Recognize that they tend to measure productivity in terms of work completed rather than number of hours worked and consider adjusting policies accordingly.
  • Provide opportunities for development, and strive to make full use of each worker’s skillset. A Deloitte study this year[v] revealed that only 28% of Millennials believe employers are making full use of their abilities, and they aspire to apply all their talents to their work.
  • Understand how greatly the philosophy of startup culture has shaped what Millennials consider an ideal workplace, and employ as many key elements to your workplace model as possible: transparency, a less-traditional hierarchy, frequent opportunities for advancement based on ability, tolerance for diversity and open access to management.
  • Demonstrate that the company operates ethically, showing a greater concern for employees and society than the bottom line.
  • Offer competitive benefits, which may include both traditional (health insurance, paid time off) and non-traditional (flex time, sabbaticals, gym memberships, training allowances, etc.) benefits.
  • Use mentoring and coaching designed to keep multi-tasking Millennials engaged, teach them new skills, and recognize their achievements.
  • Encourage their own leadership through reverse mentoring that enables Millennials to share their knowledge of technology or their unique approach to finding solutions, and involve them in intergenerational teams which benefit everyone.

Although Millennials have a different approach to their work than other generations, they are equally committed and hardworking if they feel a sense of purpose and a meaningful connection to their team.

Millennials and Workplace Safety

Another large and sometimes overlooked area of concern especially relevant to Millennials is that of workplace safety.

Millennials identify concerns about personal safety as the number one cause of stress in the workplace,[vi] affording it more importance than any generation before them. Given the volatility they experienced growing up – with events such as the Oklahoma City bombing, the World Trade Center attack, mass shootings at Virginia Tech and Columbine, and an increasing number of violent acts in the news – it is not surprising that Generation Y feels this anxiety keenly.

Companies can employ a number of tactics to address this area of concern.

  • Make it clear that workplace safety is a top priority, and tailor the related communications and training to most effectively fit the way Millennials absorb information.
  • Make access to all safety and security information transparent and easily reachable.
  • Give your workers the task of examining and reporting on ways they think workplace safety could be improved, perhaps forming competitive teams and offering rewards.
  • Use Infographics[vii] to help communicate safety information in an easily-understood way.
  • Use temporary assignments involving safety tasks, such as conducting safety audits or completing safety training, to help enhance the company’s commitment to safety.
  • Review and update safety training and materials annually, or whenever a change in the physical or personnel environment requires a more frequent update.

A company’s demonstrated emphasis on workplace safety will attract Millennial workers, and give them a sense of pride when they feel their company properly addresses these legitimate concerns.