How To Recruit And Retain Millennials

Jennifer Schulze


Sheltered and entitled, or flexible and goal-oriented?

Millennials have a poor reputation as members of a high-maintenance, self-focused generation. But senior business leaders, like Jason Wingard at Goldman Sachs, insist that millennials work very hard — they just work differently than previous generations. This shift is driven in part by the technological revolution and evolving parenting styles that have granted millennials more opportunities and access to information than ever before.

By 2030, millennials will make up half of the U.S. workforce, so managers in all industries must learn about the expectations and strengths of these employees in order to harness their potential. Sound daunting? It’s really not. It is just about understanding what drives millennials to succeed and adjusting expectations about employment tenure and advancement.

Who are millennials?

There is no clear definition of what millennials are, but some researchers define them as anyone born between 1982 and 2004. In 2015, Wingard said they are workers between the ages of 18 and 26. If the lack of definition is confusing, just imagine millennials as young people who have always had access to the Internet.

Millennials came of age in the midst of technology. The stats demonstrate their ease with computers, hand-held devices and social media. Because of this, millennials tend to communicate in ways very different from previous generations:

  • 41 percent do not own a landline
  • They average 20 texts per day
  • 14 percent use Twitter
  • 80 percent sleep near their phones
  • 56 percent think technology increases time efficiency

Wingard adds that many millennials were raised by “helicopter” parents, receiving experience and support earlier generations did not get. Cynics might call millennials sheltered and entitled, but the opportunities they received have equipped them with backgrounds and relationships that enhance their value as employees.

What do millennials want?

For millennials, a paycheck is not enough. Simply showing up to a job to do busy work is not sufficient incentive to keep them interested and engaged. Accustomed to access, in terms of information and opportunity, millennials want to know how their job fits in with the company as a whole. They also insist on transparency from senior levels, so they have a good understanding of corporate strategy. In some settings, they may want direct access to clients.

Millennials are also anxious to advance in the organization. At the same time, you likely won’t find a millennial making a lifetime commitment to your business. They value seniority less than other generations and want to rebuff the corporate hierarchy. Educational opportunities to gain transferable skills are important benefits so they can contribute results to an organization and build their own resumes.

To a millennial, a screen might be as good as a face-to-face meeting. This is part of an overall commitment to technology to change how a company does business. Remote work environments and flexible schedules are expected. While training is important, millennials value e-learning opportunities that can be accomplished off site or during a commute over an in-office seminar.

Surprisingly, despite the potential of remote workplaces to limit in-person interaction, millennials are committed to collaboration, teamwork, and workplace equality. Networking is more important than corporate structure. Work that has a purpose, such as helping the community as a whole, is more valuable than a high salary.

Strategies to manage millennials

When it comes to attracting and retaining millennial workers, small- and medium-sized businesses have an inherent advantage over large corporations. These organizations are small enough to provide a community feel that millennials crave. Although a hierarchy probably exists, millennials might feel better equipped to go up through the ranks quickly and to engage with managers who can provide learning opportunities and feedback.

  • Increase advancement opportunity. Millennials prefer not to wait years to move up the ladder. You don’t have to advance everyone into senior roles right away. But you can create more levels in your employee hierarchy or grades that give employees the sense of upward mobility without turning your development track upside down.
  • Provide regular feedback. When millennials become managers, they will dispose of the annual performance review. Millennials want honest, frequent assessment of their performance. Provide an overview of the good and the bad, including areas for improvement, on a regular basis. A bi-weekly or monthly “check-in” with a manager is one option.
  • Diversify their work experience. Rotate employee roles or duties so they gain more skills and learn other aspects of the company’s operations. This keeps them engaged in the company’s mission while providing a broader base of experience to build from as they advance in the business.
  • Offer flexibility and clear expectations. Millennials want specific duties and outcomes but access to an environment tailored to their needs. Provide a list of expectations, such as deliverables and deadlines, but allow for remote work options and flexible scheduling.
  • Focus on learning, training and mentoring. If your in-house training is reserved for senior employees, expand this program to include younger workers. Millennials thrive in environments where they can learn through programs and by having access to mentors within the organization.

Despite your best efforts, millennials are more likely to leave a job than generations past. They want work that has meaning and may be easily swayed by the shiny new object (aka job) that comes their way. Keeping them requires encouragement and regular feedback. They want to improve and expect you to inspire and enable them. If you provide employee support, growth, and training, you’ll increase satisfaction levels and better equip them to contribute in building your business. Then it’s a win-win: for you and for them.

For more insight on hiring employees of all ages, see Workplace Diversity Means Employees Of All Ages.

About Jennifer Schulze

Jennifer Schulze is Vice President of marketing for SAP. In her role, she manages customer marketing as part of the office of the COO. She has over 15 years of technology marketing and management experience and is a small business owner in the San Francisco Bay area.