Several times each year I get asked by a client to tell them what they can do to attract and retain younger employees, specifically millennials. Millennials are 35% of the current workforce. By 2020, they will be nearly half of the working population. This means that attracting and keeping top millennial talent is a burning issue for leaders.

My editor recently shared with me an article written by a millennial that shed some light on what the issues are that affect millennials’ willingness to invest in a career with a company. The article highlighted several reasons why millennials are inclined to change jobs frequently. (In case you want to check it out yourself, here’s a link to the article:

Before getting into the specifics of the article, here are several of my own observations about millennials:

  • Millennials have been raised with more choices than any previous generation. They have grown up with wide options for entertainment – first from cable television and then from the internet, streaming TV, and video games. They have been raised to do what they want when they want to do it. This makes them more individualistic and less inclined to sacrifice what they want to be on a team or be employed long term.
  • They are much less inclined to believe in the need to be loyal to one employer to get ahead than any generation before. They have seen parents and friends’ parents be rewarded for long years of loyalty by being dumped out of a job when they are in middle age, still years from retirement. This causes them to be less inclined to fall for many of the traditional tools that are used by employers to retain employees.
  • While some millennials do not want to work, most do. However, they are more picky about where and why they work. They are less willing to settle for a job that just pays the bills. If they do, they are more willing to start looking for another opportunity. Traditional company loyalty is not particularly important to them.
  • When they really commit and get excited about an opportunity, they work hard and can produce amazing results. However, if they determine that they are being taken advantage of – for example making a selfish owner rich at their expense – then they will move on to find another opportunity.
  • Finally, many millennials really want to do something meaningful. They want their job to make a difference. They are looking for a level of personal satisfaction in their employment that exceeds the paycheck. In fact, many of them are willing to take a job with less economic benefit if they can do something they believe in.

Four items were mentioned in the article. Here they are with my comments on each of them.

  1. “Owners and Managers tolerate poor performance.” Embedded in this comment is the idea that employees who don’t work hard are rewarded equally or better than the young millennial who works hard.
    1. This is not a millennial issue. It is an example of poor management. I have clients with long term employees who think they have earned the privilege of not working hard because they have worked there for so long. I also work with owners unwilling to address the performance of long term employees who long ago stopped providing value in excess of their compensation. Tolerating lack of effort and poor performance from any employee is bad management. All employees should be rewarded for performance. Good employees get raises and more responsibility. Poor performers and disruptive employees need to get rewarded for their lack or performance by getting sent home.
  2. “ROI is not enough for me.” The point made in the article is that the millennial needs more than financial targets to be motivated. They want to be part of an organization that makes a difference.
    1. This is not a new issue. I grew up in the generation that rebelled against the establishment for being materialistic and then participated in the greatest increase in wealth and accumulation of stuff in history. The unfortunate fact is that some jobs have very little to do with “making a difference.” To some extent, this view reflects the relative youth of millennials. As they get older and less altruistic, they will realize that much of what we do in life makes little difference to the big picture. Where we can make a difference is to our family and the other people we love. Ultimately, making a difference means that we care more about the people in our day-to-day lives than we do about ourselves.
  3. “Culture is more than free Panera.” A great point. The article goes on to say, “I need to be surrounded by people who are on fire for what we’re doing. I need a manager who is motivated to push boundaries and think differently. Working in a cool office is really awesome. So is free lunch. But a purposeful culture is more important.”
    1. This is an excellent point but not at all unique to millennials. In St. Louis we have a classic example of how a silly, touchy-feely “team-building” culture leads to the fall of an organization. In the later years of Anheuser Busch, nothing meaningful could get done at the brewery due to the paralyzing effect of a team culture that was focused on making everyone feel good instead of performing better. I endorse teamwork, but effective teamwork is a group of people who share a common goal and are led by a leader who drives them to achieve more than they can achieve on their own. Establishing a successful culture requires owners and managers who are willing to lead and who demand performance. A culture that is focused on making people happy instead of getting people to achieve more is a recipe for failure.
  4. “It’s ok to get personal. Treat me like a number? I’ll return the favor.” The article finishes on this point with “I’ll give you everything I’ve got, but I need to know it makes a difference to something bigger than your bottom line.”
    1. Again, this is an absolutely valid point and one which many small business owners are blind to. Employees of all ages resent owners who spend much of the work day indulging their personal interests such as golf, hunting or other recreational activities. When these activities reflect that the owner spends much of his time goofing off while expecting employees to work hard, it destroys the productivity of an organization. People do not want to make sacrifices and work extra hard if the result is merely to make the owner richer and feed the owner’s self-indulgent lifestyle. If you, as an owner, want to enjoy life instead of working in your company, it is your right to do so. Just make sure you pay the people well who are funding your lifestyle because one of these days, the talented ones will leave you and go work somewhere else. Or better yet, work hard and then play hard when everyone is not working.

What I find interesting about the four points made in the article is that none of them are unique to millennials. In fact, all four represent practices that are bad management.

This leads to my conclusion: The only thing unique about millennials is that they are not willing to believe the baloney about loyalty and “teamwork” that is often promulgated by self-indulgent managers. They are not inclined to wait for changes to be made by owners and managers who talk about change but who are not actually willing to address real issues.

The article, and my experience with millennials, shows that they want to work for companies and managers that are led and managed effectively. They want to work for a company with a purpose where hard work and good results are rewarded. They want to work where poor performance or lack of effort is addressed, not ignored simply because the employee has been there a long time.

So, to attract and retain talented millennials, lead and manage your company well. Don’t expect your employees to work harder and longer than you do. Don’t flaunt your lifestyle. Set a vision and develop a plan. Lead by example and reward performance, both good and bad.