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Retaining Millennial employees: What you need to know

Sarah Blanchette, Contributor

Just when you think you have your workforce figured out, a new generation enters the picture. While the Baby Boomers and Generation X had their own agendas, the Millennial generation

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-- workers under the age of 30 -- brings new challenges to the IT landscape.

CIOs must understand that this talented generation requires special handling. What was best for previous generations might actually turn off your younger workforce. Retaining employees is difficult in this challenging economic climate, but knowing the characteristics of Millennials can help IT leaders tailor a mentoring strategy to retain their younger workforce. We've rounded up the most common leadership misconceptions that will jeopardize your Millennial talent.

Misconception #1: Employees will be loyal

Millennials are hesitant to devote themselves to one company. "For Millennials whose parents or families have been through layoffs and downsizes, the idea of having loyalty to the organization is not there as much," said Donald Shandler, author of the book Motivating the Millennial Knowledge Worker

Millennials don't want a boss -- they want a coach or mentor. When Millennials quit, they don't quit the company -- they often quit their boss.

But CIOs can increase their changes of retaining employees through some careful finessing.

"Millennials are very loyal to companies, but they have to be loyal to a company that's loyal to them," said Jessie Newburn, a generational-dynamics expert and president at Stellium Communications in Columbia, Md. "Millennials want an agreement, which is, 'I will give you my intelligence, my time, my commitment, my capacity, but you have to be committed to my development and to my learning.'"

CIOs should strive to gain Millennial loyalty through open communication that includes employee goal setting and career paths. "Go beyond having an employment contract to focus on developing a psychological contract," Shandler said. "Tell them, 'We have a responsibility to meet your needs, and you have a responsibility to meet our needs.'"

Misconception #2: Money is everything

While Baby Boomers and Generation Xers might trade a weak corporate culture for dollar signs, their younger peers aren't so inclined, experts say.

"You could pay me a million dollars a year and, if I don't like the environment, I'm not going to take it," said Jeremy Baumgartner, a systems engineer at SRC Technologies Inc. in DePere, Wis.

While this may be a relief to tight payroll budgets, CIOs must put more effort toward the work environment. "The primary drivers for every previous generation were money and status. For Millennials, it tends to be more relationships and experiences -- that's how they keep score," said Scott Degraffenreid, an analyst who specializes in corporate referrals, retention and recruiting.  

Characteristics of Millennials

  • There are roughly 50 million Millennials between the ages of 18 and 29.
  • Twenty-four percent of Millennials say that their use of technology makes their generation unique.
  • Seventy-five percent of Millennials have an account on a social media site.

Source: The Pew Research Center 

Misconception #3: Employees like consistency

While every generation likes to keep things interesting, Millennials are hardwired to crave new experiences in the workplace. "Challenge them, keep them motivated and entertained because they get bored so fast," said Lisa Orrell, author of Millennials Incorporated and Millennials into Leadership. Bosses should "have things already in place instead of waiting for them to come to you and say, 'I'm bored.'"

One way to keep Millennials engaged and contributing is to invest in learning experiences. "I advocate inside of my company for training; I'm constantly sending my Millennial staff to opportunities," Newburn said. "I don't want to hold the budget tight when it comes to investing in my Millennials' ability to learn."

Misconception #4: Annual performance reviews are sufficient

Millennials need a boss who listens to them and supports their ideas. "The quality of leadership is important to Millennials. If they see that they're not going to be able to change a poor relationship, they're very likely to bail," Degraffenreid said.  

"Millennial workers really thrive on instant gratification and constant feedback. Generation Xers or the Baby Boomers may not have that need," said Shandler, stressing that the chain of command is crucial to retaining Millennial employees. "They don't want a boss -- they need a coach or mentor. When Millennials quit, they don't quit the company -- they often quit their boss."

Kevin Soohoo, director of IT at Air Systems Inc. in San Jose, Calif., holds biannual "Millennial meetings" that include the HR director, the CEO and employees under 30. "We get pretty good participation -- about 90% attendance," Soohoo said. "I think they all look forward to being able to have some seat time with the CEO. There are no filters -- just air it out and then run with it. It's been well-received."

Orrell believes that Soohoo's organization is on the right track and voices a similar suggestion: "Have separate staff meetings [for Millennials]. They'll be less intimidated and feel as though they're really being heard."

While this generation does require some special handling from IT leadership, the results can be huge for the CIO. Not only do Millennials have a strong interest in technology innovation, but they also tend to think about business and technology in a unique way.

"They are going to be the superstars as technology moves forward," Shandler said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Wendy Schuchart, Site Editor.

This was first published in May 2012

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