The Millennial Offer, And Why It Will Cost You More (And Less) Than You Think

Want to make your business competitive when it comes to hiring cream-of-the-crop Millennials? Here's the one thing they're really looking for—and four ways to give it to them (including the "compliment sandwich").

They’re young, full of infectious energy, and the must-have talent of the moment. Yet attracting and retaining a Millennial employee is both an exciting and scary proposition for most companies. Known for their mixed bag of tech savvy, superior social media skills, but poor management know-how—who can blame them, most are fresh out of school—their confidence, sense of capability, and desire for achievement makes them dynamic and innovative in the workplace, but can also make them a flight risk if they don’t get a package they deem worthy of what they have to offer.

So how does a company even begin to tackle the task of putting together the “Millennial offer”?

Many organizations—startups and established businesses alike—have struggled to find a compensation model that works for their younger employees as well as the business. Throwing money at their young employees doesn’t seem to solve the problem. And installing a game room or adding a “beer hour” on Friday’s doesn’t seem to satisfy them either.

Because Millennials don’t value money or a dynamic culture. They value money and dynamic culture, as well as something less tangible: purpose.

“The single biggest thing you can do to retain Millennial employees also works well for older employees: provide meaning,” says Matthew Bellows, CEO of Boston-based startup Yesware. “Everyone wants to feel that the time they spend at work is making their world a better place. So figure out, communicate, and underline the long-term mission that your team is working towards."

This is especially true for the generation which grew up to be less concerned with competition and more concerned with tapping into its unique, individual potential. This is the “winning” generation where everyone is “special” and anyone can grow up to be “anything you want to be.”

But as they flood the workforce, Millennials grapple with a harsh reality. They see their jobs as the place where all that specialness, all that potential, will be truly realized and kicked into action; where the purpose for all that potential will be revealed.

This is why Bellows insists on involving his entire staff in not only carrying out the company’s vision but also contributing to what it should be. Team meetings are conversations, not directives, where everyone from the CEO to the most recent hire have equal opportunity to voice their opinion.

All of this feeds the Millennial sense of worth, which has become integrated with his or her work. Jobs aren’t just jobs; they aren’t just ways to make a living. They are reflections of who Millennials see themselves as being; they are validations, or contradictions, of their specialness of this “entitled” generation.

So when it comes to compensating Millennial workers, companies shouldn’t underestimate the fact that purpose can override money and culture when it comes to attracting and retaining this particular type of talent.

This is why we see a 29-year-old still living with mom and dad, just so he can work at a startup. Or why that 24-year-old accountant is job-hopping from the Big Four firm to the local shop.

For some businesses, the need to appeal to a “cause” can feel like a heavier mantle to bear than simply paying more or dropping to casual attire. But in actuality, it can be simpler than you think.

Here are some tips on attracting and retaining millennial talent:

  • Tweak job titles. For many Millennials, the sense that they are doing work that matters can be created by offering them a job title that sounds impactful without changing the job function. Example: shifting the job title “customer service representative” to “customer relations specialist” or “customer happiness consultant.”
  • Take time for feedback. This outspoken generation thrives on small doses of feedback because it makes them feel important to management. Try giving five minutes of your time using the “compliment sandwich” technique (small compliment, piece of constructive feedback, small compliment) once a week, especially to new hires.
  • Ask for their opinions. Sure, the entry-level assistants you hired might not have the years of experience you do in your field, but chances are they still have thoughts about on your current challenges. Getting Millennials involved is a great way to help them feel valued, engaged in problem-solving, and purposeful. And while you don’t have to follow their advice, you never know when you might actually get a few worthwhile insights.
  • Lay out an immediate future plan. The drive for instant gratification is ingrained in Millennials. When conducting performance reviews, for example, share with them where you see them going in the organization—not over the next decade, but over the next six months to a year to 18 months. By communicating a timely future plan you are indicating that you have great expectations for that individual and that there is a purpose to whatever tasks they are currently doing.
Of course these are just guidelines, and it is important to remember that like members of all generations, each individual has different needs, wants, and compensation desires. But unlike other generations, Millennials will expect you to already understand that.

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[Image: Flickr user tpmartins]

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6 Comments

  • Ara ohanian

    Nacie, you’re right that organizations need to attract Millennials to continue growing and I like your four tips for doing so. One thing I’d add meets another need that Millennials, in my experience, exhibit – the need to grow. Most Millennials come straight out of college and are still keen to learn and to develop themselves for the future. They may not plan to be with you for very long but paradoxically if you can supply them with growth opportunities where they can learn and take on more responsibility, you are more likely to keep them. Challenge and growth are addictive and providing these for your Millennials will keep them at your organization far longer than the 24 months you would probably expect. Of course this also applies to your existing employees – the more they have a chance to growth the more they will want to get out of the bed in the morning and go to work with a positive attitude.-

  • Spark Hire

    Great post! It’s true, Millennials want both competitive compensation and a top-notch company culture. They also want plenty of feedback and to know their opinions are being counted. While interviewing a talented Millennial candidate, whether it’s in person or through online video, make sure to highlight your company’s attractive culture and how you truly listen to employees. This will help you bring in the energetic Millennial candidates you crave.

  • Seriously?

    Is this really anything new? Doesn't every employee - regardless of generation - want competitive compensation, enjoy their work environment, and get / give feedback. Do something you enjoy and feel valued by others for it. Any single company cannot, and should not, bear the brunt of the responsibility for the happiness of its employees. The individual must bear the lion share of responsibility for his/her happiness. No one institution can make everyone happy.

  • Guest

    Because so-called Millennials know how to read, it might be better to only share your first bullet point among management.  

  • Disappointed in Hawaii

    Fast Company, I've followed you since high school, but this piece's unbridled condescension toward youngish people — who I have to assume are or soon will be your most valuable audience — has done harm. This is like a creepy childless uncle explaining to other creepy childless uncles how to hold the newborn at Christmas Eve dinner without looking uncomfortable, or getting pissed on. What are you thinking?

  • Disappointed in Hawaii

    Damn, I apologize, that was mean. I'm sure the author is intelligent and well-meaning. I stand by the message of the comment but not the harsh tone. Sorry. Let's make out and forget about it.