Attracting and retaining the millennial workforce

Jennifer Werdel

For the first time in history, the American workforce spans five generations, but arguably none is more talked about, or more desired by employers, than Millennials – those born between 1980 and 2000. Millennials are an ambitious, entrepreneurial group, and many place significant importance on jobs that offer the best opportunities for career progression and personal growth. This elusive, attractive generation, motivated by a desire for greater social good and lauded for its flexibility and adaptability, is expected to represent 50 percent of the global workforce by 2020.

As Southwest Washington continues to experience a post-recession economic rebound, it is perhaps unaware it is entering into a war for talent. Businesses that can provide the types of opportunities that are attractive to Millennials will gain an important recruiting advantage. Millennials are motivated by different factors from their X-er and Boomer predecessors. This younger generation has a greater self-awareness and Millennials want to work autonomously and leave a legacy. Companies wishing to compete for the best talent must examine how they attract, train, retain and reward these younger employees.

Here are four strategies businesses can implement to make themselves more attractive to the Millennial workforce.

ONE: Be a socially noble brand Beyond your external brand – the one your customers and consumers interface with – how strong is your internal, or employer brand? Companies often make a critical and costly error in focusing solely on external marketing efforts, neglecting to consider that their most powerful advertisement is their company and their most powerful advocates are employees. What positive social impact does your company promise? Remember, Millennials desire to align with companies that make a difference – whether through their business practices, philanthropy or careful resource stewardship – so much so that they will consider a 50 percent pay cut to work with companies who match with their values. Consider every business decision as one that will either attract or deter top talent.

TWO: Polish up your perks Even a small business can develop a strong employer value proposition (and bolster its corporate culture) by providing desirable perks. These perks don’t have to break the bank; they just require a new way of thinking about the business. Some of the top benefits cherished by Millennials – flexible working hours, extra time off at the holidays, and gym memberships – are scalable and can usually be implemented and still allow business to run smoothly. Happy employees are typically more reliable and productive, so you may even notice upticks in productivity, innovation and sales!

THREE: Redefine your career pathing Millennials are a restless bunch. This generation grew up multi-tasking before most of us even caught up with the technology to do so. Smart companies can use this characteristic to their advantage, and create new opportunities for employee growth and development. Unlike the X-ers and Boomers whose careers often modeled a ladder, Millennials want greater flexibility and freedom to develop unique paths that hold their interests. Rather than a hierarchical ladder, they want a lattice career path. If this seems daunting, consider the alternative. A 2012 Payscale report found that the median tenure for Millennials was just two years. If you find yourself in an endless cycle of hiring and conducting exit interviews, this might require a particularly thoughtful examination.

FOUR: Recognize, reward and reinforce Millennials seek real-time communication and crave feedback. Beyond annual performance evaluations or holiday bonuses, find new ways to include Millennials in business decisions, which reinforces their sense of value and provides positive encouragement. Tailoring recognition efforts to individual desires creates a culture of positivity and inspiration, and builds trust and transparency between management and staff.

As they mature, Millennials’ impact on the workplace will continue to grow in the coming decades. To remain competitive in today’s “candidate’s choice” marketplace, and foster an environment attractive to this generation, companies should build touchpoints at every step of the employee experience in order to attract, retain and grow their most valuable business asset – their employees.

This week’s Tip of the Week was written by Jennifer Werdel, a Portland-based public relations strategist with Allison+Partners. She can be reached at or 503.290.7302.