Ready to woo millennials? Crack the courtship code


Private company strategies to nab next-gen talent


Already the largest segment of today’s workers, millennials are on target to grow to 75 percent of the U.S. workforce by 2030, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Yet, many of today’s private company executives are scratching their heads wondering how they can recruit, engage and retain this group of workers who have very different views of work than prior generations.

For starters, they’re not job lifers. The average millennial has held 7.8 jobs between the ages of 18 and 30. According to CEB, the average millennial candidate gets 12.5% more job offers than candidates from older generations and change jobs more frequently than any generation before them. They plan on staying with a company for a very short amount of time; their interest is in what can benefit them now. It’s not due to an unwillingness to commit. Rather, millennials have witnessed the result of an unstable economy, increasingly competitive business environments and massive layoffs. They are invested in learning from their current work experience, assuming as much responsibility as possible quickly and moving on to the next opportunity. They look at every opportunity as a chance to build their own professional equity to use as future bargaining chips to help prepare them to move on.

As a result, millennials are impatient with the status quo. They expect organizations to be open to change and new ways of working. They are, after all, a generation that grew up with experimentation and teaching themselves how to do new things----everything from coding to building their own websites to learning how to use MySpace and other social media sites.

What influences millennials' decision to take current job?

A generation that has virtually grown up online, they’ve taught themselves digital skills they expect to transfer to the workplace. And they have little patience for organizations that are intent on doing things the way they’ve been done for 50 years because they know there are shortcuts and better ways of working. They understand only too well that there’s often an app for solving a problem or improving a process, and Google is just a search away. The millennial workforce will demand that organizations to which they commit will be open to finding more efficient ways of working.

Today’s organizations looking to recruit and retain millennials must understand that this group of workers can’t be sold on the career ladder promised their Baby Boomer counterparts. They value different things in a career and their workplace expectations are a clear indication of this shift. They seek an organizational culture that maps to their specific values and needs. In fact, according to Grant Thornton’s Return on Culture survey, 49% of employees report that they would take a lower paying job in favor of a better organizational culture.




Private company strategies to nab next-gen talent


While recruiting and retaining millennial talent is a key challenge for any company today, private companies can look to leverage their inherent advantages to lure top talent. For example, Grant Thornton’s research found that career flexibility, something highly valued by younger workers, is a core value for 68% of private company respondents. That flexibility is also demonstrated in the increased use of temporary, contingent and contract workers. In fact, 73% of private company executives indicated that these groups of workers have served to improve their organization’s culture. As a result, employees from private companies report being more satisfied and engaged.

For private companies—including family-owned businesses—that are challenged with recruiting and retaining millennial talent, one key area of focus to target is creating meaningful work that ties to a larger goal. Begin by taking a hard look at job descriptions for roles that you’re targeting millennial talent. If it’s primarily transactional and process-oriented, it won’t likely hold their attention. Instead, look to incorporate other responsibilities into the role that will provide millennial employees with opportunities to gain new skills or experiences.

Also consider grouping millennials into teams focused on the same goals; this will allow them to understand the big picture and feel like they are contributing to the business outcome. Focus on meaning and purpose when communicating to millennials about their roles and responsibilities. Make sure they understand how their job helps the company achieve its goals.

Chick-fil-A is one privately-held company that has a solid track record of attracting and retaining top next-generation talent. Boasting a 97 percent retention rate among corporate staff and 96 percent among franchisees, it not only focuses on creating appealing challenges for its employees but also invests in training its management staff to be better bosses. Ensuring that managers understand the unique workplace and career needs of younger generations is key to achieving recruitment and retention goals. This can include everything from creating career paths to offering new skill development opportunities to providing flexibility in workplace arrangements.

Clif-Bar is another private company known for its commitment to meeting the needs of the millennial generation. Known for its purpose-driven culture, the company offers its employees (known as Clifsters) enviable accommodations: dogs roam the premises, employees’ children are cared for in an on-site facility, and it even has its own in-house band. Its culture is rooted in intentionality and purpose which appeals to millennial workers. The energy food brand supports innovative small and mid-sized non-profits that give back to the community through The Clif Bar Family Foundation. In addition, the company is spearheading $10 million in endowments for five chairs in organic research by 2020. It has helped its suppliers become more environmentally sustainable and contributes financially to its employees’ eco-friendly home improvements.

What can private companies do to keep in-demand next gen talent from moving on? Here are five key strategies to consider.

  • Cultivate collaboration
    Generational differences in education could be one reason for the disconnect with millennial workers, says Susy Roberts, the founder of people development consultancy Hunter Roberts. Roberts says older generations were taught to do "their own research, show their workings," and explain how they reached their answers. "For millennials, the education system has been entirely different," Roberts says. "Group-work is encouraged, research is no longer conducted alone in libraries, and debate and discussion form the basis of lessons, lectures and seminars." Sharing ideas, learning from others, and co-producing is a generational hallmark that the millennial worker is accustomed to, with technology as the anchor point.

  • Focus on skills development
    Companies looking to attract and retain millennial workers need to focus on creating work experiences that help to develop their skills. Consulting firms, investment banks and law firms have already tapped into this mindset by offering formal skills development and mentorship opportunities. Doing so helps employees feel engaged and invested in the organization. Google is among those companies that leverage millennials’ need for skills improvement by sending employees to boot camps or conferences. In addition to fostering an improved sense of employee engagement and value to the company, training programs assist with knowledge transfer. With 10,000 boomers reaching retirement age each day, training and education will be vital for a smooth generational transition.

  • millennials citing career paths loyaltyRetain millennials with a career roadmap
    According to Grant Thornton’s Return on Culture study, more than half of millennial respondents (51%) cite clear career paths and sense of purpose as key culture elements driving their loyalty to the organization. Half cite mentoring as an important factor. In order to remain invested in an organization, millennials must see a path forward. It’s critical that organizations provide that path and proactively offer continuous learning opportunities to allow millennials to improve their ability to perform their existing role and to prepare them for their next one. Keeping in regular content via one-one-one meetings and a formalized development roadmap with defined milestones every six months to demonstrate career progression will help to retain top millennial talent. Be prepared to articulate what their career might look like in your organization three to five years.

    Creating multiple career tracks within your organization, each requiring increasing capabilities and responsibilities can be key to retaining this group of workers hungry for new career experiences. Consider pairing a mentor with employees to develop skill sets on paths of their own choosing.

  • Promote a purpose-driven culture
    For millennials, your corporate culture isn’t just a marketing tagline. It’s an important reason they join, remain or leave your organization. Your culture must be meaningful, authentic and clearly understood. Be sure to outline your values, culture and purpose and continuously communicate them to your employees. In particular, millennials care about the social impact of their work and what the company stands for.Be sure to convey the “why” behind what your company does when looking to successfully attract and retain millennial talent. Wanting to encourage employee fulfillment and loyalty, many companies have amplified their corporate social responsibility initiatives in recent years. They vary from paid time off for volunteering — NuStar Energy offer 60 hours per year, for example — to Salesforce, whose 1-1-1 model pledges 1% of its product, time, and resources to charitable causes.

  • Facilitate accessibility and transparency
    In an era where weekly all-hands meetings and open-door policies are a given, millennials have a desire for increased transparency in everything from salaries to feedback. Annual performance reviews just don’t cut it for this generation of worker. They crave continuous learning about what they’re doing right and wrong, and how they can improve. Consider the case of Adobe which swapped its annual performance reviews in 2012 for informal “check-ins”, which occur at least quarterly. Since its implementation, the revised approach has been credited with decreasing the company’s turnover by 30%, as well as saving 80,000 hours each year that managers would have otherwise spent on annual performance reviews.




Think outside the traditional retention box 


Recruiting and retaining top millennial talent has its own challenges and rewards for today’s organizations. To be successful, businesses need to be willing to think differently about talent management. In short, they need to think outside the traditional retention box.


Headshot of Mike Ward

“Now’s the time for organizations to take a quantitative or analytic approach to talent management and retention.”

Mike Ward

National Managing Principal, Business Consulting

Grant Thornton LLP

Speaking during a recent Grant Thornton CFO Insights Exchange, Jim Ledbetter, Editor, Inc., suggested that companies looking to successfully attract top millennial talent need to adopt different, technology-focused methods for recruitment. “Artificial intelligence applications are now being used in a lot of workplaces to identify potential candidates,” Ledbetter said. “A lot of job interviews are now being done over video so you can zap through videos very quickly in order to identify candidates you’d like to interview in person. Getting up to speed on technology options could be very useful for a lot of companies.”

Another way that today’s organizations can obtain a competitive advantage when it comes to recruiting and retaining the millennial workforce is through advanced data analytics. “There’s a huge mushrooming of interest around the whole concept of workforce analytics,” explained Grant Thornton’s Mike Ward, national managing principal, Business Consulting. Capturing data from within the enterprise to impact everything from past performance reviews to mining data for employees with the highest potential for future roles to succession planning can be invaluable to organizations. Today’s modern human capital management systems offer a lot of options to use workforce analytics for better decision making as it relates to talent management.

“Now’s the time for organizations to take a quantitative or analytic approach to talent management and retention,” Ward said. Predictive and prescriptive analytics can be applied to employee feedback to uncover insights to better develop and retain talent. It can also be used effectively to determine areas of the company’s training process that are effective as well as those that need work. 

Perhaps most importantly, these workplace strategies shouldn’t be saved for after someone is hired. Make sure your organization effectively communicates workplace benefits and organizational culture values throughout the hiring process and via online channels. Consider that 40 percent of Generation Z say they would use YouTube to determine if they want to work for a company while 37 percent would use Instagram.

While the workplace needs desired by next-gen talent have always been desired by employees, for millennials, they are a condition of employment, not just “nice-to-haves” in a job. Companies will find if they continue to ignore these critical needs, millennials and Generation Z employees are just a swipe away from finding an employer that will deliver on its brand promise of a brighter future and bigger vision.

Interested in learning how today’s employees value company culture? Download our Return on Culture report and view our latest insights on organizational culture.

Insight Exchange GT logoThis article is part of an exclusive content series for Grant Thornton’s Insights Exchange, where you will be connected with peer executives and leading experts to share best practices and solutions to help build tomorrow’s organizations today.






Our featured advisory services insights