Despite what the trends focusing on workplace culture and perks suggest, when young professionals think about what they want from an employer, the first thing on their mind isn’t an ergonomic desk chair or free lunch. What employees really want is to win, and true professional fulfillment occurs when companies give employees opportunities to succeed, both individually and as a team.
When 50% of millennials have left a job because of mental health reasons like burnout, the pressure on employers to provide a rewarding work environment has never been higher. Why, then, do so many leaders direct their retention efforts on initiatives that don’t work, like adding fun bonuses to the office, when they should be getting at the root cause?
Let’s explore the answer and look at how you can improve millennial retention at your company.
The Perk Problem
In the past decade, the business world has seen a huge rise in companies like Google using elaborate campuses and free services as recruitment and retention tools. They invest huge amounts of time and money bringing in speakers, holding workshops and organizing off-sites, all with the purpose of further engaging their employees. Today, those tactics are falling flat, not because millennials expect them, but because they see right through the efforts as shallow.
Millennials expect to win, and they have a keen sense for bull. They’re risk-takers when they believe the risk is worth the reward, but they’re also cautious because they grew up during the post-2008 heavy recessionary period. Perks won’t be enough to overcome their aversion to losing. If you, as a leader, continually offer up initiatives that can’t win, millennials won’t stick around for long.
Leaders must realize that a job won’t be fulfilling if it’s not also providing the employee a sense of accomplishment and purpose, even if they do get their laundry done for free. No amount of lunch-hour yoga classes will make up for the disappointment of being assigned to failing projects over and over.
Workers, especially millennials, want a deeper sense of satisfaction from their jobs, and it’s up to leaders to set them up for success by pursuing winning initiatives from the start.
Failing To Execute Ideas
Too many executives make big promises about growth when, in practice, they have no idea whether the initiatives they’re funding are going to actually deliver. They put their employees through the ringer trying to force growth and success from initiatives that had no hope of succeeding. The root of this problem lies in executives failing to make informed decisions during the early stages of an initiative.
As a leader, you must fix any retention problems your company has at the decision making level by measuring your execution readiness. Determine how realistic an initiative is based on the resources you’re working with and the expertise of your team. Choose initiatives that have a high chance of success over those with the flashiest ideas. After all, an idea is only good if it can be brought to fruition.
Once you’re pursuing achievable goals and positioning your employees to win, then you can invest in company culture. A strong culture is important, but it should be seen as secondary to winning, not the first line of defense against fleeing employees.
Once you’re at a point where you can focus on company culture, keep in mind that a key part of culture is having a clearly defined vision and adhering to it. For example, “We’re going to be more environmentally conscious.”
Employees, especially millennials, will engage more in their roles when they share core values with their employer. Ideally, you’ll have employees who are tied into the culture, the purpose and the outcomes of your company. They’ll understand the company’s goals and the role they play in achieving them.
However, if they aren’t also experiencing wins, no amount of purpose will earn their loyalty.
A Changing Standard
While many companies still cling to the idea that a trendy campus should be enough to appease their younger workers, other leaders are coming around to a new way of thinking. Since 1977, the Business Roundtable, which includes two hundred of the most powerful CEOs in the world, has held that the fundamental definition of a business — its sole purpose — is to maximize shareholder value.
As of August 19, 2019, they’ve updated their definition to align much more closely with the values held by many millennials, stating that a company is defined by five functions: delivering value to customers, investing in employees, dealing fairly and ethically with suppliers, supporting the communities in which it exists and generating long-term value for shareholders.
These leaders have realized that infinite growth is not sustainable, nor is it compelling to what is now the largest age demographic in the workforce. To retain their millennial employees, companies need to get on board with the new definition and create meaningful work for their employees that has more global impact than improving the bottom line.
The only way to achieve the necessary results is by executing on initiatives successfully and setting up employees to win. Until leaders make that change, no amount of feel-good company culture or surface-level perks will keep millennials from walking out the door.