Rockstars or Dead Weight? What You Should Know About Millennial Employees

Millennial employees make up the largest part of the workforce, and it's time small-business owners learn what they want.
December 09, 2015

Millennials may get a bad rap, but recent studies and anecdotes are finding that the kids are actually alright.

A 2014 survey conducted by Elance-oDesk found that millennials possessed a number of skills that made them more attractive hires than previous generations. In the survey of more than 1,000 millennials and 200 hiring managers, millennials were seen as more likely to be creative, adaptable and entrepreneurial compared to Gen Xers. And a 2013 Ernst & Young study found that managers were getting younger; Generation Y managers bested baby boomers and Gen Xers in eight out of 11 managerial skills.

“Personally, I think too much is made of the adage that millennials do not make good employees," says Sara Marie Brenner, principal of Brenner Insurance Group in Dublin, Ohio. "Every generation has its own quirks, its differences, its personality—it just means that we, as business owners and recruiters, have to work harder to provide each individual what he or she needs to thrive.”

As millennials become more prevalent in the workforce (they're the largest generation in America's workforce), small-business owners should learn how to appeal to these potential employees. I asked a number of small-business owners, experts and millennials how companies can attract and retain millennials.

Understand Them

"We all want to do work that matters, but millennials often refuse to do anything else. In hiring and recruiting millennials, I've found that they are driven by outcomes (not personal gain), have a high level of personal awareness and aggressively want to make a difference at a younger age. This is actually a point of connection, not conflict with older generations. When we see millennials as lazy, unmotivated, disconnected, withdrawn and difficult, this is generational bias. When looking to attract and hire more millennials, it's important for small-business owners to eliminate this generational bias and set a clear picture for how their work achieves a big outcome."—Alex Charfen, co-founder and CEO of CHARFEN, a training, education and consulting organization for entrepreneurs and small businesses

"Onboarding a new employee, regardless of age, means that we’re getting to know his or her needs better. Having a solid, multi-stage interviewing process will help weed out those who are truly not a fit, and help you highlight which applicants are a possibility. Also, don’t be afraid to ask each applicant or new employee what is important to him—a flexible schedule, working from home, vacation, perks, an unlimited income potential or other aspects. Make sure that those fit within what you can offer, and don’t try to force a round peg into a square hole.”—Brenner of Brenner Insurance Group

"People in my generation felt that work necessarily had to be difficult and uncomfortable. In that context, the end goal of the job is to get it done and go home with the check. Millennials feel otherwise, and expect to be comfortable in the workplace and enjoy what they do. That doesn't mean having a cushy office with lots of amenities so much as having a friendly, positive workplace culture. Salary and opportunity for promotions are no longer the only yardstick employees use to evaluate their job, and if they don't like working at your office, millennial employees are likely to look elsewhere."—Marc Prosser, co-founder and managing partner of Fit Small Business, a website specializing in addressing small-business needs

Lure Them

"I cannot stress enough how important it is to able to sell the place in which the job is located as well as the job itself. Today the place is prioritized over the job itself for a majority of new college graduates. Young talent show up in the places they want to live and then seriously pursue a job. Alternatively, I have seen businesses present great job packages to this demographic only for them to reject the offer with the place itself given as the reason.

"So my advice is to make sure you operate in a place that sells itself, and if you don’t, invest in making it that way. It’s also worth noting that all young talent don’t want to live in a big city. Increasingly, young talent seek places and companies where they will have a chance to make an impact and lead early, and often, medium- and small-sized cities that are aware of this provide these kinds of opportunities."—Katherine Loflin, a placemaking consultant

Millennials want to know that their work matters. They want to be part of an organization that is doing something for the greater good.

"Millennials want to know that their work matters. They want to be part of an organization that is doing something for the greater good and larger than themselves. Businesses need to have a 'compelling purpose' to attract and retain top millennial talent. This doesn't mean every organization needs to be a nonprofit, but it does mean they need to articulate a clear narrative about their value to the world and how a new recruit plays an important role in that."—Addam Marcotte, vice president at FMG Leading, an executive coaching company

Teach Them 

"We see employees as an investment rather than an expense. That starts with the hiring process, when we pay for them to have a StrengthsFinder assessment so they gain awareness into their innate strengths and motivations. This continues with how we incorporate those strengths into performance conversations, goal-setting and team-building. Each employee also has an $1,500 annual professional development budget to use however they choose to upskill, improve and learn. Knowing that it is likely they will move onto other jobs due to the movement of a millennial's career, we are investing in them as professionals and the long-term impact they’ll have on our community."—Jessica Flynn, CEO of Red Sky, a PR company based in Boise, Idaho

"Coming straight out of college, I had no idea what I was doing or really how to navigate myself into this ‘new’ world I was in. Our goal check-ins have given me structure in how I can grow and drive success in our agency and personally to inform my work. Every single person at Red Sky has guided me and helped mentor me in some aspect or another. I think it’s rare to be in a work environment where individuals are truly valued for their skills and passions and help each other so much. I don’t think anyone is hesitant to ask for help or bounce an idea off someone else."—Marissa Lovell, a millennial and recent hire at Red Sky

Challenge Them

"We're not bad workers, but we want to be challenged, and therefore seek more challenging jobs, often at the risk of instability. Jobs that don't offer advancement or a challenge are going to have a hard time attracting and retaining a younger workforce. Maybe it's the instant-gratification generation. I'm not sure. But we want to move up quickly, because national values have changed."—Chad Reid, a millennial and the director of communications at JotForm, an online form builder

Encourage Them

"One negative stereotype about millennials is that we need to have our hands held and every action we do praised. This isn't the case, but we do react positively to feedback. Things like metrics and quarterly reviews might not mean that much on their own, but if you take your time and provide actual feedback and not simply generic answers like 'works well with others,' it shows them that they are more than a number. Offering constructive criticism is important, but as a manager, I found that bookending that feedback with positive observations is better for any generation of employee. If the only time someone hears how they're doing is as a review, or when they mess up, they start to feel like you don't notice what they're doing. A quick 'thank you' or 'I noticed that you really care about X. What do you think about this project I'm planning for it?' goes a long way."—Jason L. Bauman, a millennial and junior SEO associate at Trinity Insight, an e-commerce consulting firm in Philadelphia

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