Is Retaining Millennials Possible ?

Employee turnover is the greatest issue facing HR I read today. Leaders say, forget retention, millennials are on the move, they don’t want to stay for more than a few years, we must expect that. The people under 40 that I know say: We don’t want to move all the time, we have no choice. Because we are told it’s a great place to work and then realize it’s a sweatshop. Because the pay isn’t there. Because the flat structures mean there are no opportunities offered to us.

It’s the chicken and egg story – which came first?  We stopped striving for employee retention because we didn’t see it happen, or people stopped staying because they felt no effort to retain them?

Let’s say it’s some of both. You are wondering, should I care? Well, it depends. Is your product or industry complicated enough and specialized enough that you benefit from tacit knowledge and memories of what led to now? It’s likely that you don’t have it all documented. Is the time and energy spent recruiting and training people amortized over more than the time they stay? Then it’s a waste of money. Do you feel you are prepping people to give their best to your competitors? Are employees leaving and telling customers and new recruits what a lousy employer you are? Then reputation is at stake.

The next few years will be a make-or-break for many awesome companies, poised for growth to sustain their bigger impact on the world. Everyone is looking for the magic formula to keep the start-up culture  – informal, flexible, fast-paced; but cloned out across hundreds of diverse and dispersed teams.

For business leaders considering how to tackle the subject of Retention, here are some tips:

  1. Reflect on your own principles and philosophy (and biases) on job movement and career advancement. Remember what works for you – and a handful of people much like you – will not fit a larger more diverse community.
  2. Determine your best strategy for retention. How long do you need to keep people to make hiring them profitable, and to protect your intangible assets like knowledge and reputation? How permeable are the boundaries you wish to establish as people move in and out of the organization over time?
  3. Look at specific roles in terms of learning curve and difficult-to-fill. You might want to increase stay-time here. That might mean offering a bit better pay or more flexible work arrangements. Look at some of the tougher roles (i.e. customer call centre) and expect short stints to avoid burnout.
  4. Use exit interviews, but sort the data by who said it. Pay most attention to the comments of those you didn’t want to leave. These people should be interviewed face-to-face by someone who can probe beneath the polite “I’m leaving for a better opportunity”.
  5. Create early-warning-signals and teach managers to recognize signs of fatigue, discontent and disengagement. Skill them up to have conversations that are not just honest and transparent, but safe. But guard against seeing each situation as a personal scenario. Have HR collect their “field intelligence” to quickly assess systemic issues and disturbing trends around workload, inter-team conflicts and unresolved tensions.

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