If you’re a business owner or an HR executive, I’m guessing you’re trying pretty hard to attract millennials to your organization. It’s easy to talk about millennials as if they’re an elusive, wild species. If success isn’t coming easily, perhaps you’re looking at the superficial layer and not actually getting close enough to understand how millennials function and what they truly value.
I’m the CEO of a digital marketing agency, and I fall into what some would consider the early millennial category, but others call me a late Gen Xer. My team of 16 is predominantly millennials who have dedicated years to the company, beginning as paid interns and working their way into larger roles.
I know it’s challenging to identify common characteristics let alone pinpoint specific perks or motivators for the millennial workforce. There are major differences between a 24-year-old and a 28-year-old and putting them all in the same bucket isn’t fair or productive. There are ways to build a team of hard-working, intelligent, driven, dedicated 20 and 30-somethings, if you just spend the time to understand what makes them tick.
Here’s what I’ve learned during my years of recruiting and retaining talented millennial employees. I’ve enlisted some respected millennials to provide their insights as well.
1. Nerf Guns And Pool Tables Help, But Millennials Will Look Beyond The Superficial Toys
Office perks can portray a cool, fun vibe, but if it doesn’t match the personality of your office environment, these toys feel like relics in a museum. If you’re comfortable with your employees having fun at work, then commit to it. That could mean playing music in the office, having basketball games on TV during March Madness, or creating a bracket that everyone participates in. You need to allow space for your employees to decide what has value in the company culture.
“I love beer in the fridge as much as the next person my age, but it will never make up for a $20,000 difference in salary or a 1 percent difference in equity,” said Nicole Harris, director of operations at SnipSnap.
2. Money Is Hardly the Most Important Thing
You can attract young talent with a high salary, but will that keep them happy? No one wants to be underpaid, but money is not always the driving factor. Millennials value self progress, personal identity and the ability to have an impact on the organization. They put these things above initial salary, as long as there is potential to grow their role and compensation in the future. They want the opportunity to invest in something they believe in. If there’s not room to invest, expand and define themselves personally and professionally, your well-paid millennial will likely shift to a more rewarding and potentially even lower paying-gig somewhere else.
“A young person in the workforce today needs to know that their work is part of a bigger story that is going to impact the world around them,” said Robert Moore, CEO at RJMetrics.
3. Flexible Schedules Are Essential
This goes for work hours, vacation and personal time. It’s tough to balance, but you have to trust and empower millennials if you want them to succeed and enjoy their jobs. Embrace the importance of a change of scenery, a vacation, an outside mentorship or an impromptu half-day to handle personal or family needs. I’ll go a step further — push them to take personal time. Reward efficient and productive work, not long hours. At Brolik, we understand that a few hours at a coffee shop or at home in a quiet living room can be more productive at times. This goes for everyone, not just millennials.
“Flexible hours and location are super important. When I was at Rackspace, I really appreciated that I could visit my family on the East Coast and work remotely for a week or longer,” said Justin Mares, author of Traction Book.
4. Embrace The Virtual Workday
It doesn’t have to be all the time, but if your employees can work from home, let them. Commuting can be draining, and you don’t want burnout. While this may limit face-to-face interactions with the team, collaborative tools like Hipchat and Slack can enhance remote working and facilitate team communication.
5. Create Opportunities To Build Personal Brand
This could mean creating a platform for side projects or guiding professional writing for the company blog. Facilitate and mentor millennials during the creative process. Feature their work and call out good performance. Look for opportunities for them to be published or quoted in industry publications and show them how it’s done. Millennials want recognition within their field and from their peers.
“Encouraging millennial employees to focus on side projects is a win-win. It enables growth and positions your workplace as an open environment for creativity and side hustle, which millennials crave,” said Brendan Lowry, marketing director at Curalate.
6. Make Time For Team Building
Millennials appreciate taking time outside of the office and getting to know their fellow team members. They view co-workers as friends if the culture promotes it. Take an afternoon and give permission for everyone to leave the office and their work behind. Team building should never be required and should not cut into personal time. If your team is energized and enjoying what they do, the half-day won’t be damaging to the company. When your team is connected, it will pay dividends.
“Every Friday at Porch, lunch is provided for all employees while the leadership team presents company metrics and strategy, and addresses any questions or concerns employees have. It’s simple team building that goes a long way,” said Chris Wagner, city manager at Porch.
If you want to truly understand what millennials value in their career, make time for one-on-ones and getting direct feedback. Ask questions that will return answers you might not want to hear. Take genuine interest in their hobbies. Make sure snacks and coffee are stocked and a case of beer shows up on a Friday afternoon. It’s not complicated, but takes consistent attention and care. It’s worth it.
Jason Brewer is the CEO of Brolik, a digital marketing agency based in Philadelphia.