Are you reluctant to hire millennial workers because you believe these free-spirited 20-somethings will leave your business for greener pastures after you’ve invested time and money in training them? Popular opinion of millennials portrays them as members of a "free agent nation," happily hopping from job to job. But the reality is far different.
Millennials are actually much more likely than older workers to value the idea of long-term careers, reports a recent study by Monster.com and GfK. Nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of millennials aged 18 to 30 say it’s possible to have a lasting career in today’s workforce, compared to less than half (48 percent) of baby boomers.
So what constitutes a career for millennials, compared to just a “job”? More than one third (37 percent) of millennials believe that a career provides a sense of accomplishment; just 2 percent think a job does. Financial security is also a defining factor. More than half of millennials (57 percent) say a career provides them with lifelong earning potential, while only 5 percent say a job does. Baby boomers, in comparison, were less likely to draw distinctions between the benefits of a job and of a career.
If you’re surprised, perhaps you shouldn’t be. After all, as the study notes, coming of age in a turbulent economy is enough to leave anyone yearning for a well-defined, secure career—and millennials are optimistic that they can find one.
Clearly, providing a career—or at least the potential for one—is an important way your small business can attract and retain Gen Y employees. It also has important benefits for your business. Employees who feel satisfied they’re on a career path at your company are less likely to leave for advancement elsewhere. So how can you create a cadre of careerists?
1. Develop a personal career plan for each employee. Do you ask job candidates in interviews where they want to be in five years? Make that question more than just an interview formality by sitting down with new employees and their direct supervisors to develop a road map for that person’s career development. (Do this with all your employees at review time or more often.) Discuss what they hope to achieve and what you want them to attain. Set goals that are measurable and realistic, so people feel challenged but not overwhelmed. Break it down into smaller interim steps in between the major milestones.
2. Provide training. Employee training doesn’t have to be a budget-busting proposition. There are many low-cost ways for employees to learn new skills. Try having employees cross-train each other. Take advantage of free or low-cost training and development programs offered by your industry association, such as conferences and seminars. Also look for online trainings or webinars—many are free and can quickly get employees up to speed. When appropriate, consider sending them to community college or adult education courses. You can save money by having one employee take a course, then come back and teach others what he or she learned.
3. Communicate the benefits to all employees. Are you worried that a focus on career development will make your veteran employees jealous? After all, if people below are moving up, won’t the senior employees get pushed out? It’s important to use career development with every employee—not just the new or young ones. This way, employees won’t fear for their jobs, because they’ll have chances to grow within their roles or move laterally. If you do career development right and everyone is learning new skills, your business should soon be growing to the point that there will be plenty of new jobs to move into.
4. Think outside the box. I mentioned lateral moves, and it’s important not to think of career development only in terms of title changes, raises and promotions. Remember, a key factor defining a career for millennials is the ability to make a difference and do something meaningful. When you can’t provide an opportunity to move up in your business, look for ways employees can do work that’s more meaningful to them. That might mean getting more involved directly with customers, spearheading a new project that they come up with and manage, or even getting a few hours a week to focus on charitable work in the community.
Yes, millennials want careers—and if they can’t find one with your business, they won’t hesitate to move on. But take these steps, and you should have those 20-somethings with you until they’re ready for Social Security.
Read more articles on employee retention.