It’s happened. Millennials have now surpassed Gen-Xers in the workplace. According to Pew Research, they’re the largest generation on the clock. "Millennials are the 54 million adult Americans aged between 18 and 34 in 2015 and now make up one third of the American workforce," said Fortune.
That’s positive news, because millennials bring considerable value to the workplace. Fortune said, "These digital natives ... are well adapted to change, technologically savvy, and are poised to unleash innovation — when given the right environment, support and autonomy.”
The caveat there is important: “when given the right environment,” millennials can be a powerful force. But don’t assume we’re suggesting you coddle anyone. Recently, IBM released a study designed to debunk millennials’ negative stereotypes. In fact, what millennials want is not so different from what Boomers and Gen-Xers would like as well, which means that as employers make changes to accommodate millennials, the rest of their workforce is likely to respond as well.
How to attract and retain millennial workers
Fortune showcased several companies that have millennial employee retention dialed in.
"At these companies, pay, profit sharing, and promotion decisions are executed fairly; everyone gets a shot at special recognition; and workers have a say in decisions that affect them. These workplaces exhibit strong, open, two-way communication; a high tolerance for risk-taking; high levels of cooperation and support among employees; and reduced roadblocks to innovation, such as internal politics."
Let’s unpack that. Here’s what not to do:
1. Don't obsess over rules. "Strict dress codes?" said Ray Gillenwater, millennial and CEO of a successful tech startup. "Meetings to talk about meetings? The 'legacy-effect' of traditions, language that sounds like corporate-speak and outdated practices are all hard for us to stomach." If you're holding onto policies you don't need, it’s time to let them go.
2. Don't expect blind obedience. When you involve millennials in the purpose behind the project, you're not enabling entitlement: you're creating buy-in and empowering personal initiative. When people are respected and their voices are heard, they can become forces of innovation.
3. Don't ignore diversity. Pew Research said that 43 percent of millennials are not white; furthermore, those who are believe that diversity is critical. Diversity means not just ethnicity, but personality, work style, accent, religion, orientation. Don't neglect the opportunity to make it clear that you embrace differences.
What to do: These six things
1. Invest in employee growth. Training and development are the top workplace benefit that millennials want, Forbes said. They "want to grow, even if that means growing out of your company." Show that you're invested in them personally by giving them challenges and encouraging them to seek opportunities, and paradoxically, they’ll be more likely to stick with you.
2. Offer flexible hours and telecommuting. Work-life balance is another priority that topped the list. But perhaps "integration" would be a better way to put it. Lindsey Pollak, the millennial workplace expert at the Hartford, said, integration is "that understanding that work can take place anywhere."
3. Integrate your workplace. Pollak observed that millennials want to work with older generations. They also prize balance and democracy. "Accessibility and open communication are inherent to a generation accustomed to emailing professors and tweeting directly at corporations and celebrities alike," said CNBC. So toss the procedural red tape and move toward a more open structure where leadership is defined by communication.
4. Be ethical. The IBM study found that if there's one thing that millennials (35 percent), Gen-Xers (37 percent) and Baby Boomers (35 percent) agree on, it's the importance of ethics and fairness in management.
5. Be creative. Unconventional benefits are magnetic to millennials, and it doesn’t have to be high-dollar to create a strong draw. Entrepreneur had a few suggestions on that note. Celebrate milestones. Track workplace health goals with a fitness app. Organize team-building events like a monthly movie night or cocktail hour.
6. Educate them about your benefits package. When it comes to traditional benefits such as disability and health, harness digital tools (like videos and apps) to communicate the importance of those and how to get the most from them. Share tips, follow up to make sure your workforce is covering all their bases, and invest in a plan that's tailored to their needs.
While employee benefits represent a significant investment, the right perks are worth it: turnover is costlier, and disengaged employees are even more expensive. As we mentioned above, what millennials want isn’t really that odd. If you address their needs, chances are the rest of your workforce will appreciate it, too – and your employee retention rate will reflect that.