Getting the most out of millennials at work

When millennials first started entering the workforce, corporate America was prepared for a generation of workers who would need to be trained to forget the habits learned as a result of parental coddling. We braced ourselves for an influx of self-righteous individuals looking to scramble up the corporate ladder as quickly as possible.

However, as millennials have aged and matured, perceptions have evolved, revealing a cautiously optimistic generation grounded in realistic expectations of the workforce. This millennial realism is particularly apparent in students and entry-level job seekers.

Now, HR departments that have been observing millennials for years are asking: "What are their career aspirations? How can we attract and retain them?"

When it comes to relocation, money and leadership responsibilities, millennials have realistic expectations, but in this candidate's market, employers should be aiming to exceed these expectations in hopes of attracting and retaining top talent.

Millennial expectations

Relocation. According to Adecco Staffing's annual Way to Work Generational Survey more than half of the 1,004 students polled expect to live in two or three different cities throughout their careers, with sixty eight percent saying they would move to "get a well-paying job."

However, in addition to relocating to a new city, many entry-level millennials plan to live at home for about six to twelve months. But it's not because they're slackers. Moving in with mom and dad provides a stable, financially-responsible housing option that allows them to stash some cash while searching for a job.

Money. Contrary to what widely-accepted stereotypes indicate, entry-level millennials do not demand a six-figure salary. Thirty-nine percent of millennials expect to make between $35,000 and $55,000, which is realistic given that the national average for entry level jobs falls somewhere around $40,000.

In addition, millennials do try to gain experience. They seek internships and participate in extracurricular activities that will help bolster their resume. In fact, the majority of our survey respondents (68 percent) believe that they will hold or have already held between one and four internships prior to graduation.

Leadership. One millennial stereotype that holds some validity is their eagerness to climb up the corporate ladder. I recently interviewed a handful of entry-level millennials and without fail, these candidates inquired about learning opportunities, career trajectories and promotion cycles. This isn't to say that they expect to be gifted a promotion — they realize that they must work hard and perform well — but there is absolutely a sense of urgency that exists for millennials around receiving greater responsibility in the workplace. This observation was mirrored in our survey, which found that opportunity for growth is the most important element of a first job.

Working with millennials

Attracting and retaining employees in a candidate's market is no simple feat, so it's important that employers invest in millennial recruitment and retention strategies to secure top talent for the future. Here are tips for employers in any industry hoping to attract — and retain — millennials.

Offer learning opportunities. Surprisingly, 74 percent of our survey respondents feel that their colleges or universities did not properly prepare them for the workforce, so opportunities for professional growth will be positively received by entry level employees. With this in mind, consider offering regular webinars, lunch and learns, third-party trainings and other opportunities for professional development that can help close the knowledge gap students feel exists when they finish their undergraduate educations. Additionally, learning opportunities can mean opportunities for leadership development — whether they own a small piece of a larger project or run an internal office committee.

Be transparent about processes surrounding raises and promotions. Knowing that millennials desire financial stability and are eager to move up the ladder, be honest and open about the process for raises and promotions. Work with your millennial colleagues to create a roadmap that outlines the steps needed for each individual to move up the ladder.

Implement a formal mentorship program. Organizing a formal mentoring program allows entry-level millennials to learn and receive feedback from their more experienced coworkers in a safe, friendly setting. While some employees will likely form mentorships organically, setting up a formal program gives everyone the same opportunity to learn from their colleagues.

Keep social media channels updated with compelling content and useful info. Millennials like to work for innovative companies with strong brand recognition, so show job seekers the cool things your company is doing by sharing projects, content and creative promotions via social media. I recommend paying particular attention to Facebook. According to the Way to Work generational survey, 61 percent of respondents said that Facebook is the most used social media platform when researching the culture of potential employers.

After many years of wondering how managers could nip millennial entitlement in the bud, this issue is no longer a concern. When it comes to important workplace issues like relocation, money and leadership opportunities, millennials have realistic expectations and are prepared to put in the work to achieve financial stability and a higher spot on the corporate ladder.

Commentary by Lauren Griffin, senior vice president, Adecco Staffing USA. In her current role, she leads the firm's north central division.

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