How to Keep Millennials from Quitting

March 9, 2015

When it comes to hiring millennials, retention is a major challenge. Once upon a time, short job stints were major red flags. But today, perspectives are changing. Among high performers, job hopping provides the most direct path for career advancement.

Consider the case of Amanda Healy as an example — a millennial who, according to Jonnelle Marte at The Washington Post, has worked for three companies in three years. Each move, even the transitions she received within her own company, brought her a 25% pay bump and more responsibility.

Job hopping can be a good strategic move, and one of the best things that company leaders can do is expect the fact that their top performers will eventually leave. But far too often, millennials decide to quit because of limited advancement opportunities, unmet needs, low team morale, and unhealthy work environments. This type of turnover is damaging to a company's reputation  — but it’s preventable. Here are 5 ways to create a millennial-friendly retention strategy.

1. Help them navigate the ‘quarter life crisis’

Tip nominated by: Ryan Blanck, Founder & CEO at Deviate.

One of the biggest challenges that twenty-somethings face is that they’re still figuring out what to do with their lives.

“I was teaching a leadership program at Stanford's Business Leadership Program a few years ago,” says Blanck. “It was in September and I was mentoring undergraduate seniors who were bent out of shape that they hadn't accepted a job offer yet, even though their senior year hadn't even started. They struggled not knowing the answers and not having a direct patch outlined specifically for them.”

High-achieving millennials are smart, and when they enter the workforce, they’ll develop a better understanding of what they want — and what they don’t want. It’s this need to explore that will push them to pursue ‘greener’ pastures, as they may feel uncomfortable requesting a role change.

Employers can hold on to their millennials by providing coaching, Blanck points out. Make it very clear to team members that it’s possible to explore by pursuing internal opportunities.

“Our company has a dedicated process to help millennials outline their vision and figure out what they want to do with their lives,” says Blanck. “We have a series of questions that our managers and HR teams ask to bring clarity to murky waters.”

Understand that millennial teammates will want to try new roles – stop them from leaving by helping them explore within your company.

2. Give them entrepreneurial freedom

Tip nominated by: Laura McGarrity, VP of Digital Marketing Strategy for Mondo.

A recent study from Bentley University proclaims that millennials are the ‘true’ entrepreneur generation — many twenty and thirty somethings believe that career success comes from pursuing an independent venture. In another report, 60% of surveyed millennials reported that they self identify as entrepreneurs.

“One of the biggest retention challenges involves competing with employees’ business ideas and entrepreneurial aspirations,” says Hendrickson.

Rather than fighting or trying to compete with these challenges, corporate leaders can redirect them inwards. Encourage millennials to act upon – and practice executing – their entrepreneurial desires by funding projects for them to complete internally.

Adobe has spent years developing and testing an intrapreneurship methodology that they have recently released under an open source license. Named Kickbox, the model packages an innovation process into a kit that every employee receives. With a prepaid credit card, instructions, scorecards, frameworks, and exercises, team members have what they need to independently run their own experiments. These processes can give millennials the structure that they need to innovate within your organization and practice becoming entrepreneurs, without having to leave.

3. Don’t burn out your high performers

Tip nominated by: Nate Good, CTO at ShowClix.

Startup culture tends to glamourize late evenings and 14-hour workdays. While these working conditions may be reasonable in very short spurts, they aren’t sustainable. No matter how enthusiastic your twenty and thirty something team members might be, you’ll run them dry of you overload them with responsibilities.

“Especially with small teams at growing companies, it is easy to fall into a trap of grinding employees to the point of exhaustion,” says Good. “But a burned out employee is naturally going to look for other less stressful or hectic opportunities.”

It’s important for HR leaders and teams managers to intervene when team members are working to the point of exhaustion. Good tells leaders to acknowledge the hard work, and encourage time off.

“This could be as simple as taking the afternoon off or ShowClix paying for the employee and his or her partner to have a night out,” says Nate Good.

Ensure that millennials have the space they need to feel balanced, healthy, and appreciated.

4. Prioritize empathy

Tip nominated by: Sean Si, Founder & CEO at SEO Hacker.

Millennials want to be part of a bigger vision — to that end, they care about the work they’re doing and the team members that they’re supporting. That’s why it’s important to prioritize empathy as part of a company’s culture and decision making process.

“People in this generation listen to their hearts as much as their brains,” says Si.

Foster a culture in which team members can speak to the emotional side of their work. Encourage discussions that allow millennials to openly express what makes them happy and frustrated.

“When we know what team members care about, we can delegate projects more efficiently — the work becomes more meaningful,” says Si. “I am also a millennial and thrive on this working style.”

Millennials want to care about the work that they’re doing and the people with whom they work.

“If they find a work environment and team that emphasizes more of who they are - autonomy, freedom, passion, empathy, competition, and all of the little things that make a millennial who they are - they are a lot more likely to stay,” says Si.

5. Be transparent and clear about career paths

Tip nominated by: Heidi Garside, the director of HR at C.H. Robinson

Millennials are hungry for advancement opportunities. The challenge, however, is that the majority of companies have less-than-clear career paths. Even though promotions and raises are available to team members, they’re often happening behind the scenes — millennials may decide to move on when they don’t immediately see an opportunity for growth.

“Put together clear expectations and obvious career paths to help employees focus on development and performance,” says Garside. “Provide supportive and relevant feedback to enable employees to get context and self-correct.”

One of the most common misconceptions about working in the supply chain industry, for instance, is that employees need specific transportation or logistics-related skills to be successful. Garside explains that this lack of clarity has been a challenge within her own organization — and one that other companies are likely facing too. Companies must develop messaging that creates a clear blueprint for hiring and promotion decisions.

“While baby boomers and gen X-ers might value stability at this point in their career, millennials are looking for a solid and clear opportunity with a company that fits their values,” says Garside.

Final thoughts

There’s one word that creates a link between the 5 tips above. It’s transparency — a tried and true HR best practice. Millennials want to know that your leadership team cares about their professional success. Show your commitment to helping your team reach their next plateau. Yes — your millennial teammates will eventually leave when the time is right. But, you can make sure that the time isn’t sooner than it needs to be.

*Image from Life Inside Dropbox

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