It is not news that our work environments are now in the unique position of experiencing the confluence of four generations of employees at the same time for this first time in history. What is most important about that though, beyond recognizing the basic, underlying differences in work styles, is that the needs of these groups, and the incentives required to both recruit and retain them are significantly different.
For now I would like to focus solely on the aspects of the job environment that are most useful, and I believe most cost-effective, at enticing the youngest of these 4 generations, the so-called Gen Y category (those born after 1980), to become part of our organizations and remain as employees in the long-run.
Extensive research (see Dorsey, Buckingham, and others) tells us that the average cost of losing and replacing a new employee is upwards of 2 times that employee’s annual salary. Clearly this is a not-insignificant cost that we cannot ignore. It becomes especially troublesome if our staff turnover rate begins to escalate. The key then is to identify those things that we, as managers, business owners, and even colleagues, can do to reduce the turnover rate, and thus costs. This is where the differences in generations become most evident and important.
Recent work by the State of Oregon, Deloitte Touche, and SPSS Corporation indicates that, unlike employees from previous generations, Gen Y staff do not see money as their primary motivator in the work place. Nor are traditional benefits seen as the way to convince them to stay. This is the direct result of a significant change in attitude toward careers by these young people. Whereas previous generations, particularly Baby Boomers and Traditionalists, often viewed their employers as the single place they would work for their entire careers, Gen Y employees go into new positions with an attitude of ‘show me the reasons to stay or I will go elsewhere.’ On average, the first ‘professional’ job for a Gen Y employee lasts less than 2 years.
There appears to be animportant threshhold point however. If these employees can be convinced to stay for 3 years or more, they likely will stay at least 7-10 years. The question is then, given that they are not as financially-oriented as their predecessors, how do we do this? In fact, the answer is far simpler than most would believe, and much less costly than you might expect.
While money is not the be-all and end-all for these staff, what is important to them is professional development. Let’s be clear that I am not referring only to basic technical training that gives them the skills necessary to do their assigned jobs. Obviously that is important as well, but what drives these individuals is the opportunity to grow, learn and move up within the organization. This requires that they be given chances to try out new skills, new ideas, and new areas. They need to be able to learn about the broader mission of the organization and how they fit in, not just be told about their small part. And most importantly, they must be allowed to ‘take the wheel’ now and again, whether it be on a small project or large work group, to try their hand at leadership.
Some concrete examples of things that can be offered for little or no cost that are often successful at helping encourage staff:
- Job shadows – Allow staff to work with a more senior member of the organization in an area in which they may be interested in future work;
- Job rotations – When short-term projects present themselves and a staff member can take on a new role in a different section, give them the flexibility to try this out;
- Use of social media tools – Too many organizations have shied away from allowing their employees to use Web 2.0 tools for fear that they will become time wasters. On the contrary, this generation is exceptionally savvy with the use of these tools and is able to bring them into the workplace and utilize them to become more efficient and productive. As an example, the use of professional contacts through LinkedIn or technical newsgroups like those offered by Microsoft enable employees to very quickly get responses to work-related questions, at no cost;
- Free or low-cost seminars – Literally hundreds of opportunities exist for employees to go to or experience (in-house training, webinars, professional organizations) free or low-cost learning and networking seminars. These can be used as excellent opportunities to demonstrate to your employees how much you value them and feel they can not just bring back, but also contribute to the professional discourse.
As we move further into the 21st Century, it is going to become more imperative that organizations recognize the value of younger employees and determine methods for recruiting and retaining them. Obviously cost is always a barrier that we cannot ignore. However, with some creative thinking-and involvement of these employees in developing strategies!-you can easily design some programs and plan ways of improving the odds that you will be able to hold on to your most valuable asset.