How to Get the Most Out of Millennials

It seems that the generations have always been at odds.  In 1965, The Who released My Generation: an album and a song that will live on as a protest against the older, overbearing rulers of society at the time.  It was the anthem that Generation X stood by as they came into adulthood.  The millennials don’t have such a clear rallying cry, but it seems they’re asking for much of the same thing that Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend sang about and that Generation X demanded at a very similar time of their lives.

I think it’s important to harness the perspective that each generation brings to the table.

I’m sure if you’ve been on the Internet this week you’ve read an opinion piece geared at trying to understand this complex millennial generation.  Just as a quick definition, millennials were born in the early part of the 1980s up until the early part of the 2000s.  The term millennial refers to a person who reached adulthood at the turn of the new century.

While other industries have trouble recruiting and retaining millennials, this emerging generation has a strong representation in the technology and digital media spaces.  Not just entry level positions, but also prominent leadership roles.  Most notably, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg: he is 31 years old and fits nicely into the millennial definition.

In my opinion, millennials bring clear value to the digital space due to the contrast between digital natives and digital migrants.  More can be read elsewhere about this concept, but just to recap:

Millennials were born into a world that had fully embraced computers and the Internet.  They are what is known as Digital Natives.  In contrast, a Digital Migrant remembers the world before the first technology boom.   Both types play a very important role in a modern technology or entertainment company.  Migrants bring the perspective of fluctuating markets and effective business practices, while a Native sees only potential for growth within the space and has no doubt about the growth of technology.  They are able to solve problems in creative ways, unbiased by traditional solutions.

Last year millennials outnumbered any other generation in the workforce, so it looks like they’re not going anywhere.  If you couldn’t tell, I am a millennial, and it’s frustrating to read articles expressing that we are entitled and questioning our work ethic.   There are, of course, outliers (you know who you are, so shape up!).

I believe it’s wrong to say that millennials are a difficult group to retain.  In fact, if you are unable to retain new millennial hires, the problem may lay internally.  Here are my suggestions for retaining and getting the most out of millennial staff:

Build in Professional Development

So how do you keep your millennial workforce?   The answer is easier than it appears.  It comes down to education.  Are you providing your employees with the opportunity to grow as professional individuals?  Holding their attention doesn’t mean additional shiny perks, it means you helping them developing skills that will take them to the next level.     

Be Transparent

Something Paladin Software did that I find to be helpful is that every member of our team understands how the business operates.  Our entire LA office, and most of our development team in Krakow, Poland are millennials.  While our teams are being run by peer professionals, we still crave total engagement and ownership in the business that we are a part of.

Create a Sense of Ownership

At the beginning of this year, we all came together and discussed the ins and outs of running our business.  Essentially, we were given a crash course in running a tech company and why our goals are important to help reach the point where we can build new and better features and expand our market base. Because of this, I understand how my role at the company can be seen as both a cost and a profit.  My co-workers and I can agree: we now feel an immediate sense of ownership within the company simply because our leaders were transparent and willing to educated its employees.  This is something we will take with us as we move forward in our professional lives.

The digital and technology world has the advantage in creating this kind of workplace.  I fully understand that my company, a startup in a startup-driven industry, functions much differently than a company with thousands of employees.  But as millennials in the workforce grow in number each year, I believe companies will have to adapt to the growing need to feel connected and involved.   Connected doesn’t mean free snacks, open bars, and expensive perks.  Rather, it means that you show your employees that you truly trust their involvement in the business so much that you’re willing to explain your strategy and your goals, and encourage feedback.

Because most millennials are entrepreneurial and/or see themselves in management, insights from real involvement serve as educational seminars more valuable than anything they could ever learn in business school.  It’s a relatively cost-effective solution that not only helps you retain young employees, but also gives the satisfaction of mentorship.  The companies that are able to perfect this will run smoothly.  Those who don’t find different solutions will deal with the churn of millennial employees.

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