by Laura Fries

This isn’t the first article that I’ve written about millennials this year and it probably won’t be the last. If there is one topic that my clients engage me on more than any other, it’s how to manage and retain millennials.

I often hear that millennials are job hoppers and nothing can be done to retain them. However, a look at recent data shows that the median tenure for millennials ages 18 to 34 is 1.7 years. That is actually slightly higher than tenure was for the same age group in 2004 (GenXers), 1.66 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Considering millennials have surpassed baby boomers as the largest generation in the American workforce, retention remains a hot topic. The cost of replacing a millennial employee ranges from $15,000 to $20,000. Plus, when employees leave, other employees begin to take notice and the trend can affect morale.

If a turnover problem becomes publicly known, it can become difficult for a company to recruit high-caliber talent.

In light of these concerns, what can a company do to encourage millennials to stick around? Start by learning what drives millennials and what they expect from work. This can help a company make changes that can impact retention. Don’t worry — this doesn’t mean your company needs to start offering free lunches, child care or add a gym to your facilities. A lot of the fixes are easy and practical.

Give them meaningful work that ties to a larger goal

The majority of millennials like to work on teams and engage with meaningful work. Start by taking a hard look at the job descriptions for roles where you are hiring millennials. If the work is transactional and process oriented, it most likely won’t hold a millennial’s attention for long.

Group millennials into teams focused on the same goals; this will allow them to have an ongoing understanding of the big picture and end result.

Continually highlight meaning and purpose when talking to millennials about their roles and responsibilities. You can talk about the granular, but make sure to tie it to how their job fits into the big picture and helps the company achieve its goals.

Create opportunities for career development

Millennials have big career expectations and stressing long-term career development can go far to capture millennials’ interest. “I’m going to be the CEO in one year” is not an uncommon thought for this generation.

Educating while still motivating millennials requires clear and disciplined communication about the realistic steps required to move an employee from where they are to where they want to be. Zappos advertises that it provides the training and mentorship required so that any employee can become a senior leader within five to seven years. Their “skill set” system allows employees to get certified and receive a pay bump with each new skill acquired.

Make time for socialization and mentoring

Promoting socialization and mentoring as a means for millennials to grow their leadership skills is another way to ensure retention. Companies like Coca-Cola — which created its Coke Young Professionals or CYP (pronounced “sip”, get it?) to promote young professionals’ professional development, networking and social events — want to create opportunities for millennials to lead and contribute.

For millennials, leading does not necessarily mean managing. It may mean leading a project or leading an activity. What’s most important to them is to hone and showcase their leadership skills.

There is a pay-off to the employer, too. These activities help managers assess their young employees’ readiness for promotion or more responsibility. Mentoring can work both ways too. Reverse mentoring allows high-potential millennial leaders to share their technology knowledge and other ideas with seasoned leaders and gives everyone a safe platform to gain a new perspective.

Innovation

Approximately 54 percent of millennials would like to start their own company or already have, and 78 percent of millennials cite a company’s innovation as a crucial factor for deciding if they want to work there.

Intrapreneurship can satisfy this desire for many millennials. Similar to entre preneurs, intra preneurs are highly self-motivated and action-orientated employees who focus on innovation and problem solving within a company. Assigning these high-potential employees to research new business opportunities or to run an incubator company will provide the challenge and stimulation they seek.

But less risky options also abound. Competitions that allow employee teams to pitch new ideas for innovation or to work on problems that are obstacles to the company’s growth allow millennials to create and contribute.

Family

Millennials tend to be very tied to their parents and often consult them before making decisions. Including family in corporate activities, such as parties, can serve a company well.

LinkedIn and Google host “Take Your Parents to Work Day” events. These events offer an opportunity for the company to ingratiate itself to parents of millennials, which helps when a millennial consults them later when considering career options. If mom and dad are fans of the company, they can wield great influence on the employee’s decision to stay.

Work flexibility

Changing your company’s norms and your managers’ expectations about what work looks like and where it happens can go far to advance a culture that promotes work/life balance. Millennials will respond positively to flexibility, because many of them value work-life balance over pay.

To accomplish this and build loyalty, everyone must be on the same page. All managers must buy in and trust millennials to do their work. Thanks to technology, the traditional 9-to-5 work day is eroding, and no one knows this better than millennials. Flexible schedules encourage creativity and innovation.

Final thoughts

You may still have some millennials that choose to leave. Be diligent about performing exit interviews, and give these employees a chance to communicate about how things could be better. Take their advice to heart. Work to pinpoint the exact reason for the separation so that you can adjust your retention efforts.

A new trend is also occurring where those that leave a company may choose to come back after they realize that the grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence. These returning millennials, called boomerangs, could be your best ambassadors, because they know exactly how much your company has to offer.

Companies need to look beyond millennials’ reputation as job hoppers and focus on their potential. By offering meaningful work, career development and being in tune with your millennial workforce’s need for work-life balance, companies can go a long way to ensure their future health and growth.

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