This is a follow up to my first post on Millennials. Read that one here.

I was sitting at a luncheon not too long ago. Around the table was a group of senior HR leaders from different companies – these were smart people, well connected with great backgrounds. We were brought together by a well-respected industry leader and mentor of mine. The question on the table was, “What is the biggest challenge you will face this year from a talent perspective?”

Some of the answers:

“Talent acquisition – it’s really hard to find good people for the kind of jobs we have available.”

“Retention – The Millennials – they stay for a couple of years and then they bail.”

“Development – finding the time, money and the right opportunities to actually prepare people for the next step.”

And as we went around the table, everyone said one of these same things, in his or her own words, from a different company’s perspective. I was not at all surprised.The conversation then turned to what we were doing about it. That’s where I was surprised.

These were smart leaders – men and women who spent their careers in and around HR, tackling these challenges, or similar ones all along the way. But here is a synopsis of what was said:

“We are offering retention bonuses with long vesting cycles.”

“We’ve been making a lot of counter offers, but that doesn’t always work. I’d say it works 20% of the time.”

COUNTER OFFERS? I couldn’t believe my ears! Why would you want to save someone who is already halfway out the door? How much engagement could you possibly squeeze out of a person who already accepted another offer? And if that person actually was to stay, how engaged would he or she really be? Don’t get me wrong – there is a time and a place for counter offers, but it really shouldn’t be a talent retention strategy.

What if:

  • We accepted the fact that Millennials can’t be bought?
  • We recognized what we often view as entitlement is actually a preference for working differently, and more efficiently?
  • We tried to give them what they wanted in the allotted time we were given with them?
  • We made their experience so good, and so rich that they’d tell all their friends about how it spring boarded their career?

And what if we actually helped them to become great leaders that went off to invent things, or run big companies or start foundations? What if they would attribute at least part of that success to us? Wouldn’t that be awesome?

So let’s do it. Let’s begin to build programs with that in mind. Let’s design employment brands and on-boarding programs that lay out expectations clearly – and show what’s in it for them, and what’s in it for us.

For Millennials (at least the ones I know and talk to), it’s about their everyday experiences. So, let’s create opportunities that can achieve what they need: hands-on experience, constant learning and growth, and meaningful, purpose-driven work.

I took my hypothesis to the test. I went to one of my favorite millennial “sounding boards”; A very successful working mom who just turned 32. Here’s what she said:

We (millennials) are growing up in a world where we have been taught to find the VALUE in things. We aren’t money driven and don’t have company loyalty beyond what’s logical. In my specific case, I’d take a 20-30% pay cut to work 4 days a week. It would make me happier and therefore more productive, increase my retention, and I work efficiently enough that it would have zero impact on my output. 

If you let me wear jeans and sneakers, I’d take another $5k pay cut. Because I don’t see the VALUE in pantsuits.

If you gave me a fun, comfortable work environment, and didn’t monitor my internet use, I’d take another pay cut. 

Alicia, she said “we are not driven by money, we are driven by the yearning for better value in our opportunities.”

So, instead of trapping the millennials in entry-level jobs for which they can see no end, let’s put an end in sight. Let’s say, “You do this for 18 months, and then you move to your next thing – either inside the company or outside.” But then during that 18 months we make it compelling. We make it valuable. We make it about learning while they are doing. It doesn’t have to be hard or expensive.

After 18 months we have other people lined up to take these jobs. The original group has the option of moving up, or moving on. If they decide they want to stay – we’re thrilled – because it’s cheaper to onboard them, and they already know and embrace our culture. If they move on, we’re also thrilled because they filled their commitment and we were able to plan for it.

And so it will go and continue. Some will stay, and some will leave. But we won’t pay anyone to stay that doesn’t want to be here. And we can leverage the engagement/excitement of new folks every 18 months – we get fresh ideas, thoughts and perspectives. And we can be purposeful and intentional about the turnover. And at what cost? That they can wear sneakers to work?

What if we just thought about things differently and stopped trying to fit the Millennials of today into the mold of yesterday.