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Attracting & Retaining Millennials – Is It Really That Complicated?

28 May 2018

Eileen Moloney

By 2020, millennials will form 50% of the workforce and some major debate is going on about the generational transformation that organisations need to undergo in order to attract and retain these individuals. There is a lot of talk about the stereotypical perks and benefits being offered to attract millennials, particularly with the big tech companies such as on site break out rooms, beanbag chairs, concierge services, yoga classes and subsidised canteens amongst others. This tends to strike panic among the SMEs who just can’t compete with this level of generosity. But is this really what millennials want or are we over-complicating matters?

At a leadership forum in the recent Chartered Accountants Ireland conference, Mark Fenton of MASF Consulting stated that 86% of millennials will only work for an organisation with defined social purpose. At the same forum, it was said that “companies need to adapt and adjust to different styles of leadership in order to attract talent”. All perfectly true and reasonable! But isn’t it also true that every generation has different expectations because of the advances that technology and education have had but that their requirements eg. career development opportunities and competitive salaries, still remain essentially the same?

The tech effect

From the millennial job seekers’ point of view, their methods of job searching is very different from previous generations. However that’s true of every generation. Securing a job was once done through personal referrals and word of mouth. It then progressed to print adverts, moving quickly to radio and then online. Even online recruitment adverts have changed in a relatively short space of time, transforming from just a simple job spec document online to gifs or a video to try and grab their audience’s attention. The majority of millennials say the internet is their main source of information and with everyone having access to a smart phone or a tablet, it’s increasingly easy to source information with just a swipe of your finger. Technological innovation is the natural environment for millennials. So it stands to reason that employers need to adapt their sourcing techniques in order to attract the widest target audience.

Technology has had another interesting impact on work culture for nearly every organisation. Because of the flexibility that technology offers, it has created the expectation that employers can also be flexible on remote working. Certainly millennials don’t see the need to constantly be in the office if they can do a lot of work comfortably and effectively from home. Improved broadband has also helped in rural areas although much has still to be done in this arena.

Need for open minds

It’s not just the initial attraction where the generational differences come to the fore. Tenure is not as hugely important to millennials as it has been for other generations. They want to make a difference or an impact on their organisation and once they feel their purpose has been fulfilled or they could do something more challenging elsewhere, they move on. This is simply because millennials have been imbued with the confidence for most of their lives that there is always something else and/or better available for them. They can be far more flexible about their careers than their predecessors. However, this also means that employers need to be far more open-minded about so-called “job hopping” on CVs. Millennials’ impatience for career progression and thirst for new challenges is considerably greater than their need for job security and tenure.

Sharing goals and aligning values

Positive company culture is a major theme for hiring managers when it comes to recruiting and retaining anyone, let alone millennials. Employers therefore need to incorporate company culture on their website and social media channels. They also need to include other staff members in any workplace tours prior to signing a contract so that the new hire can get a real feel for what the company is like.  Millennials really want visibility on a company’s culture, they want to buy into the organisation’s philosophy and it’s important to them that the company shares their purpose, be it becoming a leader in their field or being known for their CSR activities. Surely transparency in operations, particularly at interview stage is a good thing!

One major difference in retaining millennials is that they are far more impatient to advance up the career ladder than previous generations and employers need to take cognisance of this. They’re also keen to get regular feedback or validation on their performance so they can adapt where necessary. But why should this generation be pilloried for this? And why should employers not adapt as well? It’s not a bad attitude and can hugely benefit the organisation when properly harnessed. Success here can be easily achieved by providing training and development opportunities and by allowing them the opportunity to express their thoughts and contribute to the organisation early in their career thereby setting a positive tone for their growth within that company. Leaders need to share their company’s goals, both long-term and short term so that every employee, not just millennials, can feel part of the company’s growth. If there’s no room for them to feel valued or have their ideas be implemented (or even considered) at the same rate as employees of longer tenure, then there is little chance of millennials sticking around to see if the situation improves.

Keep it simple

In summary, working to attract and retain millennials isn’t that difficult or complicated despite the noise surrounding this particular generation. Employers have to take a step back and take the generational question out of the equation when hiring. Making hiring decisions simply based on the values of the company and whether or not a particular candidate reflects and enhances those values is just common sense. Developing talent within an organisation means exactly that; developing talent regardless of generational differences.