This article was originally published in Forbes.
In 2016, I wrote a piece on millennials’ mercurial career tendencies, which advised them to consider staying put longer, as there is much to be gained by forgoing their itinerant ways. In the intervening five years, much has changed. Now, in the midst of a tight labor market and bare-knuckle battle for talent, I thought I might revisit the topic, focusing instead on what business leaders can do to enable millennials to stick around. The good news is that we can strengthen our position in the current environment while at the same time recruiting and retaining best-in-class talent.
The first step is to be clear-eyed about this moment: Retaining the top millennial talent is no longer an “if” exercise but a “must” exercise. With 75% of the global workforce projected to be made up of millennials in just four years, the ability to attract and keep the best minds will go a long way in determining whether you are ahead of or behind the curve.
The second step is organizational self-reflection, and perhaps taking a page out of the playbook leaders deploy toward our external stakeholders. We listen, ask questions about their challenges and objectives, identify available options, seek feedback and iterate. Looking inward with the same mindset will not only elevate engagement with arguably our most important organizational assets but also open the aperture to help identify new options and solutions, evolve, adapt and remain a dynamic, enduring organization that is home to the world-class talent we seek.
The question then is, what are the institutional muscles that finance leaders — and leaders in any industry — need to develop for success?
First, it is knowing who you are and what you stand for. Research from LinkedIn found that 86% of millennials would take a pay cut to work at a company whose values aligned with their own, compared with just 9% of baby boomers. That means companies must reflect on and hone their raison d’être. Being a purpose-driven organization — beyond the simple bottom line — is increasingly at the heart of finding talent.
While maximizing shareholder value remains an imperative for corporations, the definition of shareholders has expanded to include employees, clients, partners and society at large. Companies with leadership teams that recognize their core values and build teams around a holistic mission that delivers across multiple KPI benchmarks oriented toward this mission will capture and retain great talent.
Flexibility: Breaking Out Of The Old Mold
The global pandemic has done more to drive flexibility for our workforces than any event in recent history, and it could not have come at a more impactful time. As the first generation of truly digital natives, millennials have been exposed to both the upside and the downside of connectivity like no cohort before them. This always-on accessibility has dramatically blurred the line between work and home, and brought an acute awareness of the need for respecting personal and family time and redesigning workspaces. Research from PwC has found that fully 95% of the cohort surveyed cite a healthy work-life balance as a top priority when seeking new employment.
Companies can take some lessons from these numbers, namely in understanding the existing imbalance they underline and the opportunity for workplaces that support a new balance. With 70% of millennials surveyed in 2018 reporting they have considered switching jobs if it meant greater flexibility, we can apply the same process to creating internal mobility opportunities, benefits programs or professional development. Just as consumers are embracing more personalization, employers must too.
Transparency: Show The Possibilities, And The Pathway To Them
Calls for transparency may cause some executives to recoil at the thought of disclosing internal figures or statistics or the process through which big decisions are made. However, being open and upfront with employees is at the heart of retention strategies for millennials and employees more broadly, reaping dividends across your business. When we ask ourselves why we are being transparent, the motivation for it becomes more clear.
Transparency can be a distinct advantage for firms when it comes to building resilient, productive teams. So, what does it take to reap its benefits? From recruiting and hiring to performance evaluations, candidates and employees who have the ability to see their path forward are more likely to join and stay with an organization where they have confidence in their role.
Accurate job descriptions and open salary ranges build trust while allowing employers to more effectively gauge candidate motivations and priorities. Open dialogue during the interview process signals a collaborative workplace, flatter management model and an environment where input is valued. Openness, adaptation and going beyond the “if-then” direct relationship between the employee review process and compensation or title advancements can boost employee engagement. Finally, providing a clear process for recognition and professional growth is critical to retaining employees.
Create Stakeholders: Invite Input From Those Who You Are Seeking To Retain
Successfully transforming our management structures and organizational practices to match the needs of millennials may seem like a monumental undertaking, and it is. It is also something that should not be done solely from the top down. Bringing in employee voices from all cohorts and seniority levels to help craft and spearhead what each of these measures looks like is, in and of itself, a helpful step in changing culture. The first step in building empowered teams is, not surprisingly, creating mechanisms to listen to feedback and then acting on that feedback. Constructing mechanisms like employee surveys to capture and adjust to these sentiments is critical. Additionally, building a high trust culture fosters employees who are invested in improving it.
The key takeaway from all of these activations — living your core values, flexibility, being transparent and inviting input — is that they will be at the heart of successful organizational strategy going forward. However, they require active engagement and that employees also embrace these same tactics to make their voices heard. Without that, leadership teams are left tilting at windmills.