More than one-third of the U.S. workforce is made up of Millennials, those born between about 1980 and 2000, and by 2025 they are expected to make up nearly half of all employees, according to the Pew Research Center, dramatically reshaping the American workforce. That makes it essential for small, growing businesses to understand how and why this generation works, what motivates them and what they are looking to gain from their jobs and careers.
Nurturing this generation of workers is a delicate matter because unlike the Boomers and Gen Xers that came before them, Millennials don’t have much loyalty to an employer; if their situation frustrates them they’ll quickly move on if they can.
In fact the Deloitte Millennial Survey 2016, which surveyed 7,700 Millennials from 29 countries, found that 44 percent said if given the choice they would like to leave their current employers in the next two years. Why? Because of a lack of leadership development opportunities which lead to feelings of being overlooked. Those issues are compounded by larger ones around work/life balance, the desire for flexibility and conflicting values. No wonder they don’t want to stay long.
There are, however, many things you should know—and can do–as a small business owner to more effectively attract, hire and retain talented Millennials. Even Millennial business owners don’t necessarily know how best to attract and engage Millennial employees, so here’s a guide to help:
First, understand them.
Research shows that Millennials, the first generation to have grown up technology literate, are more comfortable than other generations to communicate via technology each other and in the workplace, according to Lauren Stiller Rikleen, founder of the Rikleen Institute for Strategic Leadership and author of You Raised Us – Now Work With Us: Millennials, Career Success and Building Strong Workplace Teams. Research has shown that Millennials also have quite a bit in common with their older counterparts. Surveys done by Facebook, the first Fortune 500 company to be founded and led by a Millennial, show that this generation’s wants and needs are “strikingly similar to those of colleagues from other generations,” according to Lori Goler writing in the Harvard Business Review in December. Goler heads human resources at Facebook. “They’re looking for jobs that give them a sense of fulfillment or meaning, allow them to be authentic and play to their strengths, offer opportunities for learning and growth, and empower them to take initiative,” she wrote.
Create a business culture that speaks to younger workers.
In March the insurance company Nationwide—hardly cutting edge—began allowing its employees to wear jeans to the office. Nationwide’s leadership said the decision to change their policy resulted from listening to feedback from its associates. It’s part of an effort by companies of all sizes to appeal to Millennials, who will want to work at companies where the culture is comfortable for them. Millennials also want opportunities for learning, advancement and for innovation. Facebook, for example, is able to attract and retain Millennials is by working to match its employees’ strengths, skills and interests with opportunities at the company. Millennials are also attracted to companies that pay attention to both their social and environmental responsibilities and impact. Only 5% of those in Deloitte’s survey believed profit-focused values would ensure a company’s long term success.
Competitive compensation doesn’t mean you have to match the big guys.
Sure, Millennial professionals, like any other professional, want to be paid a competitive salary. As a small business, however, it may be hard to offer the same salaries as bigger companies. Fortunately, Millennials aren’t focused only on the dollars. Outside of salary, the survey by Deloitte showed that Millennials felt work-life balance, opportunities for advancement, flexibility (in where and when they work), meaningful work and professional development training programs were the five most important factors they considered when evaluating job opportunities. If you can’t pay what a bigger company in your industry can, you can offer things bigger companies can’t, like remote work options, greater advancement opportunities, close mentoring and reverse mentoring—all things Millennials value.
Build internal leadership development programs.
Millennials want to develop into leaders. If your business is growing, you’ll have a continual need for good managers and executives, so creating programs that help younger workers map out a career plan and understand the paths available to them will serve a dual purpose. Offer opportunities for them to vary their experience and build their value in the company and the greater industry. It’s very important to Millennials is that there is a clear path to advancement.
Give frequent, meaningful feedback.
Don’t give feedback annually—that will never be enough for your Millennial employees and, frankly, it’s probably not enough for your older employees either. A report from SuccessFactors and Oxford Economics, Workforce 2020: A Millennial Misunderstanding found that Millennial workers feel better and do better at work with feedback on a weekly or, in some cases daily, basis. That’s not narcissism, it’s that Millennials are your least experienced workers, so they need more guidance about improvement (and encouragement when they do well).
Make work purposeful.
Perks like foosball tables, nap rooms or espresso bars are not the reasons Millennials are attracted to a job or company. It’s far more important that their work has a clear purpose for themselves, the organization and the world. Deloitte’s surveys have found that almost half of Millennials they surveyed declined to perform assignments that contradicted their values. Even if your business isn’t necessarily doing anything world-changing, just being a company that is transparent, not bureaucratic and that values its employees can give workers a sense of control and purpose. And that will trump the foosball table every time.