How to Retain Young Employees

Millennials don’t need special treatment. However, attention to their unique traits will help your company attract Gen Y and keep them on staff long term.

Katie Caron
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(Photo: Shutterstock photo #606781667 by livertoon)

When it comes to keeping Millennials happy in the workplace, misconceptions about the cohort abound. Some think that retaining younger employees means you need to offer them weekly trophies, free food and a “hip,” Google-esque workspace. But the truth is that while Millennials have some unique concerns and desires, creating their ideal work environment isn’t about bells and whistles. 

Since your young hires could be the future of your company, it’s important that they feel valued. We talked to retailers to find out how they attract and retain their Millennial employees. Here’s what they said.  

1. Have a strong brand identity and digital presence.

A key part of attracting younger employees in the first place is having a strong digital presence that showcases your brand’s mission. Millennials will be checking out your site and social media before they submit their applications, so you want to make a strong first impression. 

Leadership speaker and consultant Dov Baron says the first step to this is clearly defining your brand’s story.

“Millennials want to be doing work where they feel they’re connected to something bigger than themselves, and certainly something bigger than your company or your profit,” Baron says. 

Your marketing efforts should articulate that story. This might center on a family-owned history or a commitment to philanthropy or sustainability. Think about the anecdotes and milestones that define your business and weave a story that highlights your purpose.

2. Offer educational opportunities.

Early-career hires are eager to learn, so make sure you’re offering ample opportunity to gain knowledge and skills. This includes on-the-job mentoring and access to industry events, seminars and certification programs. 

At Epoch Furnishings in Richmond, VA, co-owner Jacob Moore says all of the younger people he employs place the acquisition of skills and experience as currency. He focuses on mentoring his employees to keep them engaged.

“You’re not going to keep a really bright employee forever,” Moore says, “but you’ll keep someone around longer if they’re continuing to  learn and if they’re given the opportunity to pick the brain of a more experienced person.”

When it comes to educational opportunities, Baron cautions that it’s key that experiences are catered to individuals. A class that might benefit one of your employees could be old news to another. Make sure you’re asking your staff what they’re interested in.

3. Manage transparently and give feedback often.

Millennials value transparency in and out of the workplace. At Wabash Lighting in Indiana — where 10 out of 28 employees are Millennials — Division Manager Lisa Needler says she keeps an open door policy, creates a relaxed work environment and shares as much as she can with her staff. 

It’s also important to be transparent with your staff regarding their performance. Rather than relying on rigid review structures, make sure you’re giving feedback as often as it’s warranted. While these conversations can be awkward, it’s important that your employees know where they stand — otherwise they’ll feel disconnected from the team. 

“Millennials are more open and receptive to feedback,” Needler said. “Even if it is a negative, they’re more receptive to it because they crave it.”

4. Give them responsibility.

If you want to retain Millennial staff, it’s important to offer chances to make decisions, give them special responsibilities based on demonstrated skills and involve them in key conversations.

At Wabash, Needler involves her younger staff members in buying decisions, brings them to markets and gets regular input on product selections. 

“Everybody needs to feel like they have a say in the new products or new design ideas or just even being able to say, ‘hey this process isn’t working,’” Needler says. 

5. Compensate them well.

While research shows that Millennials care less about pay than previous generations, they still need to support themselves and are often burdened with debt and rising costs of living. Make sure your wages are actually livable in your location and that you’re offering solid benefits. You’ll attract more quality employees if you offer solid compensation. 

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