How to inspire and retain Millennials, and employees of every generation

We’ve all heard, or thought, some of these assumptions about the Millennial generation:

“Millennials are entitled.”
“Millennials expect the world and are barely willing to work.”
“All millennials do is stare at their phones on social media.”
“Millennials aren’t committed to their jobs and won’t stay long.”

In an effort to help our clients and, more broadly, our readership, I embarked on a mission to learn more about what Millennials are looking for at work. Much to my surprise, research I found does not support the commonly held perceptions about the Millennial generation (born between 1981-1999, or sometimes more narrowly defined as those born between 1983 and 1994).

Millennials have good intentions at work

There’s a strong body of research about employees’ preferences among generations and how they relate to employment. Topics range from the types of benefits preferred, to work environment, flexible schedules, and having an opportunity to make a difference in the company and the world. In nearly all categories among thousands of people surveyed, there was little-to-no difference in responses between the generations. What surprised me the most, is the data related to employees and their intentions to stay at their job for a long time. Even in that category there wasn’t a significant difference between generations.

Most of the articles on the subject conclude that the concerns of more seasoned managers regarding younger workers are essentially the same concerns that have existed about younger workers for decades. In other words, someone likely made those same statements about your generation when you were that age.

There is, however, a theory that the Millennial generation is more vocal about how they feel than other generations.

So where does that leave us?

This is actually great news! What it means is that solid employment practices to inspire employees and encourage retention don’t need to be tailored to specific generations. People are people, and companies and managers can generally expect employees to respond positively to and be more likely to stay at their jobs as a result of the following management practices:

  1. Treat everyone with respect. EVERYONE. No matter what they look like, what age they are, or how they’ve treated you. Set the example in how you treat employees at all levels, how you treat customers, and how you treat people outside of work. In some cases, that may mean having to communicate a difficult truth to someone. But that conversation can happen in a respectful manner and can bring about change in an employee who really wants to be a part of your team.
  2. Make sure every employee understands the company’s goals. Then help everyone see how their work helps to accomplish the mission and vision of the company. Any connection an employer can make between the mission of the company and the betterment of society is an excellent way to help get employees get on board, as well.
  3. Listen. Employees who are at your company working hard every day will likely have productive ideas and new perspectives. Most employees, regardless of generation, want to collaborate and be part of a creative solution to work problems.
  4. Invest in the employee development. That includes formal and informal training. Teach them how to do something new and give them opportunities to apply those new skills in projects that will impact the company’s relationship with its customers or clients, or otherwise impact the bottom line.
  5. Make advancement opportunities clear and available. As you develop employees, help them see how they can advance within the company so they don’t want to take those valuable skills elsewhere. It’s difficult to keep employees who don’t see any advancement potential.
  6. Offer workplace balance and flexibility when possible. This is also something all generations look for in their employment. If flexibility doesn’t work for your company, help them to understand why so they know you will make options available when you can.

Leading by example and making retention initiatives a part of your regular operation as a company has benefits for every generation of employees.

Employees of all generations can be influenced to stay at your company in an inspiring and supportive setting. In a job environment where unemployment is lower than it’s been in years, retaining employees from every generation has never been more important.

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Trisha Crigger, Human Resources Generalist