Millennial retention

Many companies seem to be having a full-scale freak-out as they realise that their Generation X-run business doesn’t engage so-called millennial employees.  If you’re not freaking out, perhaps you should be? Well, that’s overstating matters a little.  A millennial trait of mine.  And let’s not pretend that all millennials are the same, whatever their age and cultural background.

Still, there are plenty of legitimate concerns about recruiting, retaining and engaging millennials.  Handling those concerns is a culture change, internal and external branding challenge.

Why should I care?

It is trite to say millennials are the future of your business, less so that we are your present.  Many companies are accidentally alienating us and it’s hurting them in hiring and retaining the talent they need.

Who else are you recruiting as your junior staff?  Further down the track many of us, born in the early/mid 80s, are entering the prime of our careers and even demanding consideration for senior leadership positions.

We have different attitudes, in multiple ways.  For example, one client, a financial institution, recently told us

Our millennial staff always ask ‘why?’ before doing what they’re told. Our Generation X management find this really difficult.

Their managers experience this as insubordination – in their day they would have knuckled down, no questions asked, so what’s this upstart doing?

Having conflicting attitudes is understandable, but how to handle them…Not answering or getting annoyed is to misunderstand: we’re not (usually!) questioning your authority.  Understanding the “why” is as important to us being able to feel we’re wholly engaged as it is for consumers engaging with your brand.

Including everyone

We also expect to feel our views are heard and valued; that we share our company’s purpose and values; that we can progress to new challenges; and the list goes on.

What’s more: if we don’t feel this enough we will just go somewhere else.  For example, in the US, the average tenure of a millennial is 3 years compared to 10 for people aged 55-64.[1]  We’re twice as likely to start our own business than baby boomers too.[2]

Feelings of inclusion and being valued are not unique to millennials.  Creating them for the whole team is therefore both a means to handling the ‘conflict’ between the generations and an improvement the will impact the whole workforce.

What next?


It doesn’t have to be doom and gloom.  Really, there are companies out there that do things differently, retain better and outperform the market.

Take insurance company Acuity as an example.  It’s 5th on the Fortune 100 Best Workplaces for Millennials despite insurance being far from perceptions of being dynamic.  How?  Acuity

  • Includes workers of all levels of seniority in strategic planning, so everyone feels they own the “why” of their day-to-day work
  • Engages in considerable amounts of charitable and community work, with employees directing efforts
  • Runs lunches for employees with senior management where genuinely open discussion is encouraged
  • Adopts employee ideas and removes barriers to innovation

There’s no reason this couldn’t be you.


So, you wish to join the enlightened few?  Let’s not pretend: there’s no magic millennial wand to wave over your company.

To paraphrase Tolstoy, every unhappy company is unhappy in its own way.  However, there are some broad pointers on what you can do:

  • Audit your culture – get an external, non-biased view on what it’s really like within your organisation
  • Talk to millennial and Gen X staff – listening not only gives you insights but is the start of answering the ‘I want to feel heard and valued’ aspect (just make sure you don’t appear to be going through the motions!)
  • Re-shape / re-focus purpose and values – putting this at the centre of what your company does gives us something to care about, take pride in and feel ownership of
  • Make D&I strategically central – millennials want a range of viewpoints and perspectives, and tend to be much less tolerant of monocultures
  • Train management / senior leadership – helping them understand and giving them techniques to manage millennials will also make them happier in their roles
  • Get your internal comms in order – if a company seems like its engagement and inclusion is only skin deep, it’s likely to be counterproductive, so communications need to be carefully guided and designed

This might sound like a lot of work.  There are lots of quantifiable, direct benefits to demonstrate return on investment.  Just to mention a few examples:

  • What’s your recruitment budget? What would it be if you could retain even 5-10% more of your staff each year?  What if your millennial staff stayed even an extra 6-12 months above average?
  • How many working days do you lose per year to employee absence? What could you do with an extra day per employee per year?  Data shows[3] that an inclusion focus can give you an extra day from your whole team, not just the millennials.

Customers care

Here’s a parting thought.  Your customers care about how they perceive you as an employer and, increasingly, base purchasing decisions on this.

This goes beyond the idea that your customers might be millennials so you need millennials to really engage with them.  There is a trend for customers looking at how you appear to treat employees as part of your brand.

Several companies are using their “employer brand” (broadly, how they appear as an employer) as part of their consumer brand in order to drive sales based on exactly this insight.  Interesting recent examples include a campaign repositioning people’s perceptions of GE and UPS simultaneously showing why you’d want to work for them and why you’d use their services.

Even if the benefits to productivity and efficiency don’t appeal, not taking action on this could have a direct effect on revenue.  Can you afford to take the risk of sup-par engagement becoming a cost/income double-edged sword?

[1] Employee Tenure in 2014, Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor (Sep 2014)

[2] 2016 BNP Paribas Global Entrepreneur Report

[3] Deloitte: Waiter, is that inclusion in my soup? Page 9