Learning Opportunities Improve Millennial Retention

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By Martin Berman-Gorvine

April 15 — Employers should offer millennials learning and career advancement opportunities to improve retention of this notoriously fickle workforce, consultants say.

By 2020, 66 percent of millennials—typically defined as those born in the early 1980s to the early 2000s—expect to leave their current employer while only 27 percent expect to stay, and it costs about $20,000 to replace each millennial, Dan Schawbel, partner and research director at New York City-based executive development firm Future Workplace, said during an April 12 webinar sponsored by the Society for Human Resource Management and Cornerstone On Demand. The figures were attributed to Millennial Branding, Beyond.com, PayScale and Deloitte. “Stealing talent is going to happen more and more,” Schawbel said.

Part of the problem is that only 26 percent of millennials say they are always learning something new at work, Mark Murphy, founder and CEO of Washington, D.C.-based LeadershipIQ, said during a webinar his company sponsored April 15, citing figures from his own company's surveys. “Every single month, you need to have a learning conversation with your millennial workers,” he said. That doesn't mean employers shouldn't also have such conversations with older workers, Murphy added.

Questions Murphy suggested asking during these conversations include:

  • “What's something that you're better at now than you were last month?”
  • “ What things would you like to get better at this month?”
  • “What's your plan for developing these skills?”
  • “What resources can I help you with?”

    Also, make sure that company goals involve lots of learning for employees, Murphy said.

    Schawbel agreed on the importance of such opportunities for retaining millennials. “There is a training problem—a lot of colleges do not prepare” millennials for the workforce, he said. Therefore, if you don't support millennials with needed training, “they will leave,” he said.

    On a related note, 40 percent of companies surveyed by Millennial Branding and Beyond.com said they are offering mentoring programs to retain millennials, the second most popular answer after instituting workplace flexibility programs (48 percent), Schawbel said. Real-time feedback and mentoring are key, he said, noting that most companies persist in doing annual performance reviews, but millennials want more frequent feedback.

    For example, Pepsi has its “PepsiCo Conn3ct” mentoring program for millennials; Schawbel recommends employers offer formal programs like this. Another example Schawbel cited is Satellite Healthcare, which has a “career pyramid” program that “emphasizes performance as the main basis for career advancement.”

    Some 93 percent of millennials say they want to be leaders, but only 16 percent want to do that at their current company, because there is “no path” for them to advance, Schawbel said. So employers should offer leadership training to transfer knowledge down the generations, he said.

    What Characterizes Millennials?

    “There's not a lot of evidence” for the widespread stereotype of millennials as “deluded narcissists,” Murphy said. Complaints about young people appear in popular media every so many years, he said, but these are “3,000-year-old complaints.” The ancient Greek poet Hesiod was grumbling that the young “only care about frivolous things” in 700 BCE, Murphy noted.

    The evidence is against this view of today's younger workers, he argued. In a study LeadershipIQ did, 18-to-30-year-olds had the lowest proportion of people who “strongly believe that their writing skills are better than their peers,' ” at 35 percent, as opposed to 39 percent of 41-to-50-year-olds, or that “their communication skills are better than their peers’” (28 percent versus 42 percent).

    So what does characterize the younger generation? The entire concept of definable “generations” is somewhat arbitrary, Murphy noted. Nevertheless, there are “six psychological events that really typify” the millennial generation, he said: schools' and parenting books' emphasis on young people's “self-esteem”; millennials growing up with more economic (consumer-based) “power” than previous generations; millennials having greater “technological authority” because they grew up with technology such as cellphones; young people growing up with “immediacy” and “customization” of products and services thanks to the Internet; and “concurrency,” or being able to do multiple things at the same time.

    “All of those psychological effects have led to certain drivers in the workplace,” Murphy said, although he cautioned that their impact should not be exaggerated. What inspires millennials “to give their best effort at work” is whether they believe that the quality of work their organization provides is excellent; that they are always learning something new at work; and that their work is valued by their leaders, he said.

    Schawbel stressed a somewhat different set of millennial characteristics, noting that many younger workers already have “side gigs” that could become main careers at any time. Millennials want to work in tech or entertainment, and don't want to work in insurance or manufacturing, so employers in the latter fields should examine how the former fields attract millennials, he said.

    Also, he said, millennials have a different view of what loyalty is, take their tech savviness for granted and think they are more social in ways other generations can't understand. Millennials talk openly about salaries and don't trust CEOs, politicians or companies, so employers should gain their trust by involving them in discussions. Millennials are looking for honesty, vision and communication in leadership, he said.

    More specifically, Schawbel noted that millennials check their cellphones all the time (40 percent do so every 10 minutes), and 45 percent check social media as part of their daily routine, so “you need to engage with them there.” Employers should use social recruiting; be a content source; engage with potential millennial candidates on social media; and tap current employees to recruit new ones over social media.

    Other Tips to Recruit, Retain

    Internal hiring programs are very important in maintaining millennials' loyalty, Schawbel said. Millennials will leave an employer if they don't see a career path forward.

    But it takes more than career advancement prospects to keep millennials happy. Flexible work is the biggest topic in workforce management now, Schawbel said. People are working 47 hours a week on average, he said, and “because we know employees are working more outside the office, we have to be more accepting of them doing personal tasks in the office.” Otherwise, employees burn out. At Aetna, 47 percent of employees work from home full time, “after they spend six months proving themselves,” he said.

    Finally, their work must have meaning. Salary is important to get people in the door, but then they need to be doing work they believe in, Schawbel said. Millennials are givers, and can be attracted by programs like Ernst & Young's “EY Connect” community service day.

    Even entry level jobs should be meaningful, Murphy said. The most engaging cultures are the enterprising cultures, where even the junior-most employees can have their ideas taken seriously, he said. And yet, only one-third of 18-to-30-year-olds “truly know whether their performance is where it should be,” the lowest proportion of any working generation, and that is “a problem for meritocracies,” he said.

    Google and Amazon are examples of meritocracies that are appealing to millennials, whom they hire heavily, Murphy said. Yet management at many organizations still has a “parent-child relationship” with employees, he said.

    To contact the reporter on this story: Martin Berman-Gorvine in Washington at mbermangorvine@bna.com

    To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tony Harris at tharris@bna.com

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