How to Engage and Retain the Millennial Employees At Work?

Published by Anoo P on

It’s official. The world is about to be completely taken over. No not by aliens, but by millenials. Millennials or Generation Y form the largest demographic group across the globe today and are poised to overtake the population of boomers by 2019.

Estimates from studies show that millennials may dominate as much as 75% of the workforce by 2025. They make up 38% of the current workforce according to a Gallup report.  

The Gallup report also states that currently:

  • only 29% of the millennials are fully engaged at work
  • the remaining 71% are “not engaged or actively disengaged”
  • six in 10 millennials say they’re open to different job opportunities
  • only 50% of the millennials plan to be with their company one year from now

A  study done in 2015 by the Education Advisory Board echoes the Gallup findings by stating that the millennials will be job hopping up to 20 times in their career, which is twice as many times as their baby boomer counterparts.

Considering the fact that workplaces are about to get inundated with millennials, these numbers appear grim. Disengaged employees can cost an organization a fortune, be it in terms of a decline in productivity, loss of reputation finally leading to a loss in profits. Even more scarier is the prospect of disengaged millennials, the generation following Generation X as their numbers steadily grow in workplaces. A crisis of sorts looms large if organizations across the globe are flooded with dissatisfied millennials.

A study by ‘Cornerstone OnDemand’ stated that millennials do not job hop due to financial incentives but for the promise of purpose and fulfilment, which are the biggest motivators.

Given these factors and statistics, it becomes imperative that organizations adopt ways and means to actively engage and retain the millennials.

The Millennial Mindset

In a boardroom when a baby boomer, a Gen X and a millennial sit together you will see a unique play of attitudes emerge.

Baby boomers born right after the World War II (between 1940 and 1960) during an age when reforms were taking place are competitive, independent, and workaholics.

They are:

  • more pragmatic by nature
  • hardworking and motivated by position, perks, and prestige, and define themselves through career accomplishments
  • critical of the younger generation because they believe the younger generation lacks work ethic and also loyalty and commitment to the workplace.

Generation X (born between 1960-1980) are:

  • less motivated by incentives or overtime pay and more motivated by personal job satisfaction.
  • known to challenge authority if they feel they are not heard and seek personal acknowledgement.
  • highly results-oriented, and creative thinkers.

This generation seeks to understand the bigger picture and though job security is a priority for them they will not hesitate to switch as soon as they feel dissatisfied with their work or workplace.

Millennials (born between 1980-2000) are a generation who grew up with a staple diet of technology.

The results of a global generational study of two years published in 2013 by PwC states that the millennial employees:

  • are more interested in a work-life balance “rather than the promise of a substantial compensation”. They do not wish to make work an “exclusive priority” in life.
  • prefer flexible work hours. They do not believe that productivity at work should be measured in terms of logged-in hours at work. In fact, they are willing to give up a part of their pay for working fewer hours.
  • place high emphasis on the culture of the workplace and value teamwork and transparency. They are keen to explore overseas opportunities.
  • are technically savvy but e-communication is not what they would choose to employ especially if it is about discussing their careers with their managers.
  • place emphasis on being supported and appreciated
  • are less likely to continue working in the same organization for more than two or three years.

A report by Gallup states:

  1.     “Millennials don’t just work for a paycheck — they want a purpose.
  2.     Millennials are not pursuing job satisfaction — they are pursuing development.
  3.     Millennials don’t want bosses — they want coaches.
  4.     Millennials don’t want annual reviews — they want ongoing conversations.
  5.     Millennials don’t want to fix their weaknesses — they want to develop their strengths.
  6.     Millennials ask “Does this organization value my strengths and my contribution? Does this organization give me the chance to do what I do best every day?” Because for millennials, a job is no longer just a job — it’s their life as well.”

Ways to Engage and Retain the Restless Millennials

Millennials are smart and swift workers, clear on what they want and need to do, and are not willing to stay on in the same organization if their needs are not met or their interest fades. So keeping them interested and engaged needs creative and flexible thinking, as well as strategic planning.
Here are a few ways to keep those restless, highly creative, millennials in your organization engaged mentally and emotionally:

1.  Provide Them Continuous Training to Upgrade Their Skills: Millennials have grown up at a time when there have been the biggest technological advancements and hence they are natives of the digital era. Since they were born at a time when technology was (and for that matter still is) rapidly transforming the world almost every day, they have an almost unquenchable thirst for knowledge and growth, personally as well as professionally. They need to keep up with the fast-changing world at a rapid pace.

They are the first social media generation and the first to experience a wireless world. As such, they expect information to be available at their fingertips.

According to a Forbes study, millennials want training and development more than they desire flexible working hours. For, it is training and constant up-gradation of skills that enable and empower them to keep pace with the sudden changes every other day.

Investing in training and providing the right resources for personal development can not only keep millennials engaged but also retain them.

A few tips to create a workspace which is learning friendly include:

  • Making learning flexible by making the lessons available on multiple devices so that the employees can learn where and when they want.
  • Information presented in small chunks will keep their attention from wandering, encourage them to finish their training, and they will also be able to retain the information. The information can be in the form of bite-sized pieces, short lessons and modules.
  • Games can be incorporated into learning to make the learning more interactive and effective.
  • Including video content is highly effective to keep a learner engaged.

Soon after Nokia was acquired by Microsoft, the Nokia CEO, Stephen Elop, during a press conference ended his speech emotionally by saying, “we didn’t do anything wrong, but somehow, we lost”.

Rahul Gupta in his article states, “Nokia has been a respectable company. They didn’t do anything wrong in their business, however, the world changed too fast…They missed out on learning, they missed out on changing, and thus they lost the opportunity at hand to make it big.”

As I had mentioned in my article, How AI is Transforming The Landscape of HR Operations, underskilled employees can make an organization defunct.

2. Flexible Work Culture: If you want to retain millennials at work build a work model in your organization that millennials will find very difficult to leave.

That starts with work-life balance which millennials are so passionate about.

In fact, this is one of their foremost priorities. With advanced communication technology that makes collaboration across the globe effortless, be it through Google Hangouts, Skype, Zoom, it is no longer necessary to be physically present in an office to perform daily tasks.

Flexible work hours or remote work options are an investment that will pay rich dividends in the long term to both the employer and the employees. A study conducted by Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom found that the employees who worked at home increased their productivity by 13 percent and took fewer sick leaves. Also, the attrition rates among the employees who had the work from home option was half compared to that of the in-office employees.

A 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey states that 75 percent of the millennials would like to work from home, and 51 percent among them believe that it will allow them to be highly productive.

In fact, a female participant in the survey summed it up rightly when she said, “Ensuring employees feel comfortable—that is a successful company; where people are free to perform their tasks and duties regardless of time and space.”
This option could just stop the job hopping millennials on their tracks and keep them glued to your organization.

3. Transparent Work Culture: Transparency in workplace is vital to millennials. They are very engaged when they understand as much as possible about:

  • their workplace (culture, business model, etc.)
  • goals of the organization
  • issues/gaps that need to be addressed
  • their role in contributing and adding value to the organization

According to a study by ORC, “Almost 3 in 10 millennials (29%) do not understand how their work contributes to the success of their organization.” This has a direct impact on their engagement with, and retention in the organization. Millennial employees need to recognize their own value in the organization and the value they can provide to it to be able to build a relationship of trust with the organization. Transparency and trust go hand-in-hand. Transparency also includes a clear-cut compelling vision being conveyed by the organization, which provides a sense of purpose to motivate the millennials to work with the organization.

A white paper titled, “Unlocking Millennial Talent 2015” published by the Center for Generational Kinetics and Barnum Financial Group states that, 60% of the millennials say that a sense of purpose is part of the reason they chose to work at their current employer.

Transparent work culture also includes providing consistent feedback to the employee and encouraging communication.

Transparent communication can lead to an alignment of organizational goals with the individual goals of the employees.

In fact, it has been observed that employees perform better when they know they are working towards the best version of themselves. In a research paper titled “The ideal self as the driver of intentional change,” researchers found that people are highly engaged and motivated when they feel they are working towards their personal ambitions to become their ideal selves.

Once transparency leads to trust the employee will be in your organization for the long haul. 

4. Good Relationship with the Manager: As the saying goes ‘people leave managers not companies’. A Gallup poll of more than 1 million employed US workers concluded that the number one reason people leave their companies is because of their immediate supervisor or manager. In fact, 75% of the workers left their companies because of their immediate bosses despite having good jobs.

It largely depends on the manager to have a good rapport with the employee, and be able to align organizational goals with the individual goals of the employee.

Millennials need managers who are approachable, who can empower them, and build a relationship of mutual trust and understanding. They need managers who can let them take calculated risks, experiment, make mistakes and encourage them to learn.

In other words, millennials actually don’t need managers, because it’s simple really, they do not like to be managed. They want to be mentored and thus need mentors.

They need a leader:

  • who can understand them, i.e., the way they work
  • understand their goals
  • let them be themselves, and at the same time push them enough to get them out of their comfort zone
  • take responsibility
  • be accountable for their actions
  • who takes the time to build a personal rapport with them and:
    • appreciate them for a job well done
    • listen to what they have to say
    • keeps them updated on the ideas or suggestions they provided

The ‘managers’ (I think it is high time that term needs to replaced by the term ‘mentors’ across organizations) while working with millennial employees simply need to create the right atmosphere of flexibility, trust, cooperation, support and a creative work environment. They need to encourage conversation and provide consistent productive feedback.

Google is known to attract the cream of the talent pool from across the world, not based on salary but based on the relaxed and casual work culture and almost paper-thin hierarchy.

At the end of the day the organization which keeps a track of each its employee’s needs and goals and is able to map them to its larger vision is the one which will have a thriving work culture, contented employees, happy customers and ringing profit registers

5. Consistent productive feedback: Millennials seek feedback as a way of growing in their jobs, pushing their boundaries, and ensuring that their work is of value to the company. In fact, a study says that 42% of the millennials seek feedback every week – that is more than twice the percentage of every other generation. A lack of consistent feedback is the biggest form of disengagement for millennials.

According to a research done by ORC, millennials seek continuous check-ins and progress reports.

The number of reviews ORC arrived at from their study is 71 times a year. That is, “the average US millennial wants to know how they are doing a staggering 71 times a year!”

As the Gallup report ‘How Millenials Want to Work and Live’, states, the feedback process for millennials is not an annual event but rather an ongoing conversation.

Besides, millennials are not interested in working on their weaknesses, rather they want to know how to improve upon their strengths.

Most of the managers are not transparent during the feedback process, due to fear of hurting sensitivities. But that does not help in any way and rather has an adverse effect on the trust-building process. The manager can:

  • balance both negative and positive reviews while laying more emphasis on the positives.
  • discuss the gaps to be addressed, including the roadblocks to complete tasks and guide the employee on how to close the gaps.
  • find out what are the goals and interests of the employee and discuss ways to align the employee’s personal goals with organizational goals.
  • discuss ways of enhancing the employee’s skills through advanced training and hands-on experience.
  • find out the stress points of the employee and provide suggestions or even suggest a counselling programme if the organization offers it, and should the employee need it.

These are some ways to show the employee that the organization cares.

A company’s growth curve is directly proportional to the growth curves of its employees’ learning and career progress.

6. Rewards and Recognition: Appreciation is the fuel for employee:

  1. satisfaction
  2. motivation
  3. creativity
  4. productivity
  5. loyalty

Appreciate your employees for jobs well done and you will find your company’s profits too will appreciate.

Generous appreciation and visibility keeps employees emotionally engaged and does not allow them to consider alternative job opportunities!

It is not just millennials. Humans by nature seek appreciation and visibility.

Besides, millennials are known to be swift job hoppers, therefore their loyalty to a job is less, however, their loyalty to an organization increases when they feel their work is being valued, appreciated, and rewarded.

A Gallup study showed that employees are happiest when they receive some form of recognition every seven days.
Rewards and recognition:

  • creates a sense of satisfaction, pride, and being valued at work
  • creates a sense of being valued at work, which in turn increases employee morale, the sense of cooperation and teamwork and drives employee experience.
  • fuels creative ideas in the team
  • increases productivity in leaps and bounds
  • motivates the employees to stay loyal to the company and thus counteracts attrition rates
  • finally increases the company’s profits because happy employees equal happy customers

Appreciation for a team member can be expressed in the team meetings, or company gatherings and may be in the form of emails, handwritten notes, certificates, trophies or gift vouchers.
As Sam Walton had aptly said, “Appreciate everything your associates do for the business. Nothing else can quite substitute for a few well-chosen, well-timed, sincere words of praise. They’re absolutely free and worth a fortune.”

Organizations across the world need to rethink and revamp their traditional “one-size-fits-all” work policies and culture to be able to engage and hold the interest of the millennial workforce and retain their services. The learning, feedback and even the measurement of employee satisfaction needs to be personalised and intelligent using new age employee engagement software. 
Jacob Morgan, author of The Employee Experience Advantage: How to Win the War for Talent by Giving Employees the Workspaces They Want, the Tools They Need, is spot on when he says, “We have to focus on designing employee experiences, which is the long-term organizational design that leads to engaged employees. This is the only long-term solution. Organizations have been stuck focusing on the cause instead of the effect. The cause is employee experience; the effect is an engaged workforce.”