Much has been written over the last decade about the
implications of multiple generations and their divergent approaches
to work. When millennials began entering the workforce in the early
2000s, they seemed much more easy-going. At first, they
demonstrated a real respect and admiration for their boomer bosses.
They enjoyed a friendly and familiar relationship. They still
wanted a certain flexibility and freedom that the Generation Xers
first demanded before them, but boomers had already started to
adjust to and embrace these demands, so they seemed more reasonable
With time, the millennials started to move up the organization
hierarchy. Boomer executives started to recognize the young workers
who had "it." Having learned how important it is to give
feedback from those demanding Generation Xers, boomers took care to
ensure that their young stars knew of their bright futures. This
next generation seemed a delight — smart, personable,
And then the resignations started. The millennial employee who
seems poised for promotion announces that he is taking a new job
because he wants to explore a new role. Another changes her career
trajectory entirely. Another announces that while he isn't
resigning at this time, he knows that his current role will not
satisfy him longer term, and he is considering other options.
Hurried lunches are held in an attempt to retain these wavering
employees. The fickle simply need to be reassured how bright the
next ten years look for them — so thought the boomer leaders.
The millennials seem to appreciate the efforts, but they leave
anyway. Boomer bosses are left bereft.
Many years ago, Sigmund Freud famously asked: "What do
women want?" The question from today's hiring
manager might be: "What do millennials want?" As the
millennial generation becomes the largest demographic in the
workplace, and the workforce starts to shrink as boomers retire,
leaders and hiring managers must start paying attention to
millennial wants to secure the futures of their organizations.
First, leaders must take a chance on these enthusiastic new
workers. From day one, assume they will succeed. Invest in them.
Promote them early-and often. Recognize the benefits that the
organization will realize with the injection of youth, optimism,
And then, be prepared for the changes that will be required for
this more diverse organization will operate. Look at alternate
structures for how work gets done as well as how employees are
compensated and rewarded. Consider incentive plans or referral
bonuses. Millennial workers, who expect recognition for their hard
work will respond to awards and badges.
If a star millennial leaves, and then decides that the grass
isn't greener after all, welcome them back. They will be a
better contributor to your organization for the additional
experience, and exploring a new path isn't disloyalty, it's
the natural curiosity that comes so easily to this group of
Have honest discussions with them about their futures. A
paternalist slap on the back and the advice "If you work hard,
someday all of this will be yours" will not resonate with a
millennial. Keep communication as transparent and forthright as
possible. Help them see how their roles tie into the big
Ensure that your HR systems are current and reflect the
differing expectations that millennials have from their employers.
Millennials desire structured feedback mechanisms that focus on
coaching and frequent "check-ins." They want to see
mentorship opportunities with supportive supervisors. As
technological multi-taskers who have grown up with Google and the
ability to find any answer as long as they have Wi-Fi, they value
the ability to telecommute and work flex-hours.
Retention of this group will only become more important and
challenging in the years ahead; it's imperative that leaders
stay reminded of the millennial expectations of their
organizations. John Yokoyama, owner of the Pike Place Fish Market
in Seattle, Washington, wrote a book about the power of creating an
energized work place (Google it, your millennials already have). In
it, Yokoyama says, "I can't afford to say yes to all my
staff's desires, but one thing is certain — I can't
afford the outrageous cost of not listening to their
Like it or not, the millennials are here to stay.
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