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Can you retain Millennials in your organisation?

Millennials, who are currently aged between 20 and 36, make up an increasingly large proportion of today’s workforce. There are many negative stereotypes of this generation – perceived as the “me, me, me” generation they are sometimes characterised as job-hoppers who are entitled, lazy and focused on instant gratification. But, do Millennials have positive attributes that enable them to add value in the workplace? Do they have particular needs that require a careful and different approach when it comes to managing their careers and retaining them in your organisation? This article will provide you with answers to these questions and convince you that understanding and embracing Millennials as well their unique requirements is well worth the effort as we move towards an increasingly Millennial-dominated world.

Why Embrace Millennials?
The majority of any business’s current and future customers and clients are or will be Millennials – so understanding the unique strengths they bring to the world of work as well as how to manage their talents and aspirations is a must.
Consider a few of the many positive traits of Millennials as follows:

  • They are tech-savvy having grown up as digital natives
  • They are optimistic and have a strong sense of community
  • They have already embraced diversity and are generally tolerant of others
  • They are confident global citizens with an entrepreneurial mind-set
  • They are the most educated generation in history
  • Millennials are progressive, challenging the way things have always been done
  • Millennials are team-oriented, practical and results-oriented
  • They are multi-taskers who are nomadic and adventurous

What do Millennials want from work?
The South African Graduate Employer’s Association (SAGEA) conducts an annual Candidate Insights project which aims to understand the aspirations and job-seeking patterns and behaviours of young graduates.

The 2016 SAGEA survey included 2052 new or future employees from 108 South African organisations. This research reveals that when young graduates are looking for work and deciding on a company to join, (usually for their first job), they prioritise their decision-making factors based on what is most important to them.  The top 4 considerations they will evaluate are:

  1. Access to good Training and Development opportunities
  2. The overall reputation of an Employer
  3. Long-term career prospects and
  4. Security of Employment

Universum’s 2014 research among 46 000 graduates revealed that their top 3 Career Goals are:

  1. To have work/life balance
  2. To be secure and stable in a job and
  3. To be dedicated to a cause or to feel that I am serving a greater good

This gives us a sense of what Millennials are looking for when it comes to the world of work:
Opportunities to learn, grow and be stretched are high on their priority list as is the need to feel a strong sense of security in an increasingly uncertain world.

  • Their community spirit and social conscience translates into a need to feel that they are able to make a meaningful contribution to society through their work and that the company they work for should have strong ethical and environmental values.
  • Work-Life balance is important –Millennials want to be able to leverage technology to work smarter rather than longer. Their need for social interaction, family time and adventure means they want time to do so much more than just work.

How do Millennials want to be engaged in the Workplace?
The key to successfully engaging Millennials is to understand what they value and to be able to connect with them more deeply than we have before. There are many ways in which this can be done, as follows:

  • Millennials enjoy having a sense of purpose and they want this to be played out in the work that they do. To achieve a real sense of purpose, start off by focusing on individual strengths – then align these strengths with what is important to the individual and close the loop by acknowledging the impact that the individual has through what they do.
  • Collaboration is a big word when it comes to Millennials – collaboration means thinking together, working together, creating winning solutions together and then celebrating together. Millennials want to work in teams on projects that are innovative. Increased face time (with leaders, managers and with one another) will engender collaboration. Companies need to be authentic and transparent in their interactions with employees.  Find ways of engaging with employees outside of work (e.g. find out about employees hobbies and interests and find ways to connect these interests to work or build reward and recognition structures that complement individual interests.)
  • Rethink how people learn – the 70-20-10 principle is key to success. Millennials will learn 70% of what they need to through on-the-job experience, 20% is learned through coaching and mentoring and 10% through classroom-style learning and education. Millennials want learning to be creative and engaging, but they also want to be measured. Many companies are developing learning systems that embrace individual learning plans which can be completed at differing paces. Leader boards can be used to track an individual’s progress against their learning plan with competency badges or statuses (e.g. advancing from learner to implementer) earned at various stages of learning. Gamification principles are being used to great effect to make workplace learning practical, fun, effective and measurable.
  • Millennials want and need to be life-long learners. With technology changing in unpredictable ways and jobs continually hybridising, Millennials will want to be able to pick up new skills throughout their working lives. Companies need to invest in ongoing learning and vocational training.
  • Millennials want to have more flexibility – not only around when they work but around how they work. A less formal dress code is a good starting point. Set clear tasks and deadlines with agreed accountability – does it really matter whether work gets done in the office, at home or even at a coffee shop? Allow people the option to work from home one or more days a week or agree on a set of core-hours which must be spent in the office each week.
  • Embracing technology in all its shapes and sizes comes naturally to Millennials. There are many examples of ways in which disruptive technologies are changing the face of work – and who better than Millennials to lead this kind of change? Opportunities to innovate and try out different solutions require an agile corporate culture as well as an acceptance that we often learn the most when we fail.  Making mistakes is part of learning and an ideal culture will support this.
  • Much more value is being placed on the need for affirmation, recognition and appreciation in the workplace. Appraisal forms don’t provide feedback quickly enough and are an impersonal way of acknowledging excellence. Face to face feedback is what Millennials want – timeously and often.

Retaining Millennials in the workplace
A common perception of Millennials is that they are unlikely to last more than 2-3 years with one employer. This is not necessarily the case – the SAGEA Candidate Insights research (referred to earlier) tells us that more than two fifths of candidates expect to remain with their initial employer for up to five years, one in six candidates said that they expect to remain with their first employer for four to five years, while similar numbers were planning to be there for three to four years.

The SAGEA survey further explored which factors would lead a candidate to remain with an employer for a longer period of time. Over two-thirds said that the remuneration offered and opportunities for promotion or career advancement would be critical factors that would influence retention.  Three-fifths said that international opportunities, training and development, and having a very good organisational culture would ensure they stayed longer with an employer.

It is, indeed, true that Millennials are unlikely to have a job for life and that a certain amount of turnover is going to occur.  In addition to the forms of engagement outlined above there are other creative solutions to the retention issue, as follows:

  • Millennials do want to move quickly but they also want a variety of experiences – look at ways in which you can build rotational options into individual career paths with exposure to different parts of the business and/or rotation between businesses within a larger group.
  • Are there opportunities for you to offer global career paths or to re-engineer non-traditional career paths which will accommodate varied exposure and learning?
  • An interesting but valuable concept is the idea of a contingent workforce which has been successfully piloted in the UK. A contingent workforce allows you to bring skills and/or manpower into the business when needed over peak times or for specific projects – but to allow individuals to pursue other opportunities such as studying, travelling or running a small (non-competing) business outside of those times/projects.
  • A similar and potentially equally successful strategy is to give employees the flexibility to select how may days they want to take off during the year – and to then adjust work requirements and remuneration accordingly.
  • Introduce the idea of stay interviews and use these as an opportunity to have proactive discussions around what would make someone stay in the business.
  • And last, but not least, always, always, always make sure that your business maintains and runs a successful alumni network – employees will often return after gaining either international exposure or experience in a different business or industry – or they may become future suppliers or customers to your business.

In conclusion – Millennials are a generation that must be embraced in the workplace as they have so much value to add.  An employer’s challenge is to build a progressive and transparent organisational culture that will keep this generation engaged using some or all of the strategies mentioned in this article in order to retain them for an extended period of time.

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