Want to attract and retain 20-something employees? Don’t treat them like millennials

Ryan Malone, Contributor
Actors Blake Anderson, Anders Holm and Adam DeVine of Comedy Central's 'Workaholics'
Brian Putnam | Getty Images

What comes to mind when you think about attracting and retaining millennials in the workplace? If it's the need to offer all sorts of stereotypically special perks, from in-office massage, nap rooms, a health food allowance, meditation sabbaticals and everything in between, you're not alone.

But let me play the contrarian here and tell you this isn't the case — that if you want to appeal to millennials and keep them in the fold, don't treat them like millennials. Instead, address millennials as you would employees in any other demographic group.


Because people are people, and millennials want the same things from companies as the other generations. Consider this: 52 percent of millennials interviewed for PricewaterhouseCoopers's recent "Millennials at Work" study said leeway to move quickly up the corporate ladder attracts them most to an employer, with 44 percent putting competitive salaries in the No. 2 position.

And this: According to a study by Korn Ferry, Generation X-ers and millennials alike favor employers with which they share a vision and that offer real opportunities to make an impact on the organization. Thirty-eight percent of millennials queried for the study cited visibility of buy-in into a company's mission as their top reason for choosing one job over another.

So rather than worry about how to keep up with the Joneses regarding millennials, why not just become a better hiring manager? Keep the following tips in mind when attracting and attempting to retain members of any generation — millennial or otherwise:

Millennials don't want diamonds
Millennials don't want diamonds

Hire based on your company's values

Make hiring decisions based on the values that motivate your company and whether or not a candidate espouses that set of values. A millennial prospect may or may not fit the mold. The same is true of a Generation X-er or Baby Boomer. Keep generation out of the hiring equation and focus on the values you know will lead you and the new hire to success.

Explain your vision

Be transparent about where your company will be in a year — as well as in three, five, and 10 years. Explain how it will reach these milestones. Share the trade-offs you've made and may make to get the company to where it needs to go.

Understanding a company's vision is very important to millennials — and to others, as people rally around that which they believe in. The more familiar with this vision your employees are, the more likely they are to stay and be strong contributors.

Lead by example

Millennial or not, employees are also more apt to stay with a company where leadership by example is the norm. They like to see that you're living your values and doing the same thing you require of them.

When management is eating its own cooking, so to speak, everyone is on the same footing, and there's little inclination for anyone to go anywhere else.

Provide opportunities for growth

Millennials have a reputation for looking for the next really shiny object, but that isn't really what they're after. Like everyone, millennials want to develop their professional skills as fast as possible.

So if you've hired the right people, holding them back from honing the skills that support rapid growth, and from that growth itself, is a bad move all around.

Alberto Buzzola | Getty Images

Give employees a voice from the get-go

Allowing employees the opportunity to express their ideas early in their career with your company sets a precedent for their growth there.

But when there's no chance for them to make suggestions, and to see that their ideas are of value and have as much potential to be implemented as the ideas of longstanding colleagues, they won't grow — and they won't stick around.

Offer opportunities to be a hero

Don't micromanage; nobody likes it, and most employees respond poorly to it. Instead, afford them the trust and flexibility to hit a home run by themselves, even from the starting gate. The only parameters that employees will need are the concept of a goal, with guardrails around it (for instance, ways to document processes) and a deadline to get things done.

Ignoring preconceived notions about millennials can be difficult, especially when the myths are coming at you from every side. Yet, it's a must if you want to attract and keep the best employees, millennial and otherwise.

Forget stereotypes and give people the foundation and leeway they need to grow and you'll find yourself with a talent pool of "A" players. I guarantee it.

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Ryan Malone is the Founder and CEO of SmartBug Media, an award-winning growth marketing agency. After starting his career leading marketing teams for publicly traded and early-stage technology companies, Ryan founded SmartBug Media to help organizations build more impactful sales and marketing teams.

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