Retaining Young Employees

Are you struggling to hold on to your younger staff? You are not alone. According to Gallup, “21% of millennial workers… switched job in the last year”, and research by LinkedIn identified that millennials move companies more frequently than previous generations.

kid in suit

‘Millennials’ is the term used to describe young adults who were born between around 1980 and 1995. I myself am a millennial, as I was born in 1994. My generation have been labelled as self-centred, addicted to technology and lazy. We’ve been called the ‘Snowflake Generation’ for being less resilient and more prone to take offence, and singled out as being incapable of commitment.

While every generation attracts negative headlines, many of which don’t stand up under scrutiny, it does appear to be the case that holding on to millennials is harder.

As an HR professional, this poses a problem. How can you retain young employees? Perhaps the answer lies in understanding why they leave.

Why young people leave

Reason #1: Not enough appreciation

Unlike their older colleagues, young employees can be more insecure about their ability to perform their job well. At school and university, regular feedback in the form of grades (and, more painfully, parents’ evenings!) is the norm. Recent graduates and school leavers are used to knowing exactly how they are performing at any given time. So, when they start work, they need more reminding of their value to the company, and reassurance that they are on the right track. If they do not find this in their current role, they are likely to seek work where they might have more of a clear indication that they are making a difference.

The solution

Regularly affirming young employees and discussing their progress is a straightforward way to reassure them enough to stay. There is research indicating that regular performance appraisals boost productivity if done correctly among all age groups. It therefore makes economic sense to provide regular feedback to all employees, but with young employees as your highest priority. This could be as simple as an email, or even a text, with a couple of lines to say how they’re doing. Alternatively, you could speak to them in person for a few minutes.

Reason #2: No career development

Though it may seem impatient, young employees expect to see their career developing faster than their parents. As far back as 2005, Pooley , a writer for Canadian Business, wrote that recent graduates are “not prepared to wait for more than 2 years to get promoted”. How this expectation has come about is under debate, but for sure growing up with technology has got them used to instant gratification, so they expect the same from their work. If they don’t see a clear career path, chances are they’ll set their sights on other jobs to find the growth they are looking for.

The solution

Sit down with young employees as early as possible to discuss their projected career path. This will help you to guide their career in the way that works for both you and the business, and by listening to their aspirations, you’ll have a better idea of what kinds of projects and responsibilities to give them. As they progress, keep helping them develop, through initiatives such as an allocation of extra responsibilities or stretch assignments. You can also offer mentoring for those who need that bit extra support.

Reason #3: Not meaningful

While older adults with more financial responsibilities and dependents can be more reliably motivated by money, millennials often seek something deeper. They have the flexibility to change jobs rapidly until they can find something they believe in. If they are in a job that feels meaningless, or to whose mission they cannot subscribe, they will leave.

The solution

Driving employee engagement is important for any demographic, but particularly for young employees. Spend some time educating them on what the company believes in. This process begins at the recruitment stage. In your job adverts and at interviews, attract employees that want to be part of your company culture, as it really is. If new starters believe in your business’s vision, they are much more likely to do their best work for you. More broadly, get everyone at your company onboard with what the business is trying to achieve for the best results.

Reason #4: Unapproachable managers

Research by Gallup found that many young workers would rather leave a job than approach managers in the hopes of making their current role better. No one is saying bosses should be best friends with their employees, but some are so unapproachable that employees feel unable to talk to them about their frustrations or ambitions. According to Fast Company, being dissatisfied with a boss is the “number one reason” millennial and Gen X employees leave.

The solution

Help managers to understand their role as facilitators of good work, instead of dictators. They are there to encourage employees, not demoralise them.

Let employees know that if they have an issue, you are also there to help them. Speak openly and honestly yourself, so that they feel they are in a safe space. Forgive a lack of professionalism on the part of young employees to a reasonable extent. Remember they aren’t used to working yet. The transition between full time education and working full time is tough. I’m still getting used to it myself.

Reason #5: They feel isolated

Leaving the social world of school or university can be daunting. The diverse kinds of company young people find themselves in all come with their own unique challenges. There are those with directive cultures, who are supportive yet micromanage their employees. Others simply let employees sink or swim. There are those that expect employees to compete with their elders, while others expect employees to stay in their shadows.

According to Forbes, 88% of millennials prefer working collaboratively than competitively. However, some businesses are a lot more competitive than others, and this may be a shock when employees first enter.

The solution

If you have a group of millennial employees entering around the same time, set them an initial group project to help them settle into their role. Recently, I was speaking to a friend of mine who had an internship last summer. She said that in her first few weeks she was asked to complete an internal group project along with the three interns that joined with her. She told me that this was a helpful way to start her new job. She got to know her fellow interns well, whilst also being able to take on an exciting task without the pressure of knowing its success rested on her alone.

If there are only one or two new starters, get them involved in a group project with their team members, even if it’s only a small task. Just something to get them settled in and set them off on the right track.

Conclusion

Despite all the press that seems to paint us as an alien species, a lot of the complaints made about my generation are not unique to us. Different generations have always found each other to be alien. This is nothing new.

If you want to understand how to encourage and support your young employees, think about how you felt when you started your first job. The world of work can be intense and challenging. It is natural to want support and feedback, and the opportunity to grow. The only difference is perhaps that millennials feel more able to seek out what they want than those who came before them. Online communities, and sites like Glassdoor, means it’s both much easier to benchmark their own experience, and look for alternative opportunities. The good news is that we’re not work shy – and we do want to make a difference.

Now just wait a couple of years before my younger brother’s generation, Generation Z, start applying to you. They’re the ones you should really be worried about!

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