Do you know the median tenure for Millennial employees? It’s three years.
Pretty brief, right? Here’s another spooky statistic: According to Deloitte’s 2016 Millennial Survey, 25% of young workers would leave their jobs within the next year, given the opportunity. For a company of Workshop Digital’s size and demographics, that’s basically an entire department walking out the door in 2016 (even if you’re the best place for young professionals to work in Richmond). Yikes.
This isn’t exactly news. The Millennial generation of young professionals is one of the most researched, discussed, and documented cohorts in modern history. Business owners know they need strong YoPros, but also that the group is hard to keep around.
So, what can you, Mr. Business Owner or Ms. CEO, do to attract and retain young professionals? The answer starts and ends with company culture.
Eww, “company culture,” the nebulous and oft-misunderstood concept. It’s a tricky sea to navigate, especially for companies trying to create something innovative and amazing (hopefully your organization is).
Most often I see companies confuse culture with history or amenities. Work culture isn’t buzz or how long you’ve been around. It isn’t the beers in your fridge or your dusty foosball table.
Culture isn’t an afterthought to your business plan, something you slap on when employees start stampeding out the door. Culture is your company’s operating system. It’s the sum of processes that influences every person’s motivation for joining, working, and staying in your organization.
Culture isn’t just for keeping YoPros around. There’s a mounting body of research supporting the simple fact that why we do something determines how well we do that something. Defining an effective work culture is mission-critical to your business and all its people.
Focusing on the why behind the work might feel overwhelming. That’s why we turn to smart people who have already boiled work motivation down into six buckets:
1. Play, or work for work’s sake (because it’s enjoyable).
“I love digital marketing because working with data and solving technical problems sate my curiosity.”
2. Purpose, or work for the value of the output.
“I love digital marketing because my work directly helps clients reach their goals.”
3. Potential, or work for personal identity.
“I won’t rest until I’m considered a thought leader in digital marketing.”
These first three are healthy motivators tied to the work and the person performing it. Emphasizing these motivators in your culture enhances employee performance. The opposite may be true for the following three, as they are removed from the work itself.
4. Emotional pressure, or the external forces affecting the self.
“If I fail, my peers will think I’m a moron.”
5. Economic pressure, or the external forces of rewards.
“I need to finish this task so my bosses won’t yell at me.”
6. Inertia, or working from habit.
“I don’t know why I’m doing this work. I’m just doing it.”
Framing your processes within these buckets will help you understand the factors driving all of your employees to work. That’s not to say we’re heading off track, though. This article is about young professionals, so let’s get back to it.
If we understand what corporate culture is, how do we build one that brings in young employees and keeps them around?
Make work meaningful
Young folks aren’t simply grinding for the almighty dollar anymore. Yes, compensation is important. But young professionals seek work with higher meaning, work that impacts something bigger than themselves.
At Workshop Digital, we’re all working toward our vision: To be thought leaders in digital marketing execution. Aligning our team with that vision means everyone is focused on being the best damn marketers we can be for the sake of the work we love doing. That’s a passion we hire for.
Ask yourself: Does my organization have a vision? Is everyone who works here invested in it, or is it bullshit? Am I putting the necessary processes into place to make it happen? Young professionals want to work for the bigger picture, but if their organization doesn’t empower them to make the vision a reality, they’ll certainly find an employer who does.
Learn about their career goals
Your young employees are trying to figure their lives out, who they want to be, and how they want to grow in their careers.
Help them. Ask each employee what they want to achieve. Show them the growth paths in your company. If their goals don’t fit the org chart, ask them to define their ideal role within the company. Young professionals who feel like their boss is invested in their development are far more likely to stick around.
Command less, coach more
The Millennial cohort wants greater access to company leadership. That’s why Workshop Digital’s co-founders maintain an open-door policy. In my time with this company, I’ve been able to approach my bosses with any issue I’ve run into. They often share stories from their individual careers or challenge me with questions about my problems. This has allowed me to grow professionally by giving me a safe space to voice concerns, practice face-to-face communication, and interact with the higher-ups in the organization.
Keep the education coming
Developing each employee isn’t solely leadership’s responsibility, at least not directly. No YoPro expects the people running the business to hold their hand the whole way.
That’s where training and education come in. Many Millennial workers are driven to improve themselves, whether through on-the-job training or higher education. Progressive organizations invest in their young employees by offering proprietary training, funding the pursuit of degrees, and memberships to professional organizations.
At Workshop Digital, we’ve committed to offering these opportunities to our employees. We’ve hired a number of people straight out of college, so we developed intensive eight-week training programs for new and existing employees. Our dedicated Training Manager identifies knowledge gaps to help everyone learn and grow together. The company also sponsors memberships to local groups like AMA Richmond and HYPE.
Young professionals are accustomed to team environments, diverse workplaces, and open collaboration. According to the aforementioned Deloitte survey, 76% of YoPros who intend to stay at their companies longer than five years work in inclusive environments.
When your company holds team meetings or group work sessions, who speaks? And when? Whose ideas are accepted or rejected? What ideas and resources are shared or hoarded, and by whom?
In an ideal environment for young professionals, communication is open and respectful. Employees at all levels are encouraged to speak and share. Leadership doesn’t shoot down ideas or speak over others, and people are not ignored.
Millennial workers are most comfortable (and likely to stay) when there’s a sense of accountability in an organization. That doesn’t mean a rigid system of rules, however. Effective work cultures promote accountability by setting clear and credible expectations for each role and being transparent about the results of exceeding, meeting, or failing those expectations.
Focus on the outputs
The rules of work are changing. YoPros aren’t content with the definition of “hard work” as a standard 40-hour work week. Younger generations also have increasing access to technology and information, helping them work more efficiently.
Accordingly, this generation is far more focused on the results of their work than the work itself. If I’m kicking ass and hitting goals, why should I stay late? Good question, Mrs. Millennial.
What are the expectations of work in your organization? Is the primary focus of your feedback what is being achieved instead of how time is spent?
To keep your young employees loyal and invested, keep your eye on the outputs. Structure reviews around what each employee is accomplishing. Highlight achievements and contributions where appropriate.
Prioritize work + life balance
To piggy back off my point above, young professionals want flexibility and time to do the non-work things they love. If you can, build flexible work hours and opportunities to work remotely into your company policy. Progressive benefits like unlimited paid time off go a long way toward keeping young employees focused on doing great work. After all, who would want to leave a company with infinite PTO?
But Millennials don’t simply want more time away from work. What they want is a seamless blend of work and social life. Leadership can promote this blend by sponsoring team events that have nothing to do with work. As an example, team managers at Workshop have monthly fun budgets. The budgets encourage us to spend time with our coworkers on our own terms. Our paid search team uses theirs for outings at Dave and Buster’s or one of Richmond’s escape-room venues. Our SEO team spends the budget mostly on beer.
Help them get to know their city
This tip isn’t based on documented research, but I feel it’s important. Many young professionals move to brand new cities for their jobs. This is certainly true for Workshop. Companies that want to keep their young employees should help them get invested in the city they live in. One of the fastest ways is to encourage community involvement, as this generation is highly motivated to perform community service. Nothing breeds attachment to a place like making it better.
Put your money where your mouth is
Wrapping things up, nothing is more important to retain young professionals than delivering on your promises. This is a distrustful generation exposed to economic and political uncertainty. Don’t let your company culture be the one-millionth thing that’s let them down.
All of these tips can and will help your company attract and retain young professionals, but only if you make them integral to your organization’s values and commit to making them reality.
Oh, by the way
We’re always looking for smart, talented, passionate people of any age to join our awesome team. Peep our careers page to see which position are waiting for your extraordinary application.