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Blog: How can employers become millennial-proof?

Geschreven door: Manou van Eerten

Recently I wrote a second article for the online platform for HR professionals, Personeelsnet [1]:

How can employers become millennial-proof?

As the millennial generation (born 1980-2000) enters the labour market, it is smart for employers to focus on the degree of attractiveness of their organisation for this group. Therefor the question is: what meaning do millennials ascribe to your organisation? Career coach Manou van Eerten recommends that employers opt for a social approach to young talent.

Because a lot of millennials sign off after a while. It turns out that up to 90% of employees in their twenties leaves their first job within a year. And after a couple of years almost three quarters of those in their thirties begins to wonder: Is this really it (Wijnants, 2008). And: What do I really want? These are common questions I encounter in my career coaching practice. Such a question usually arises from a sense of malleability of their own happiness and discontent with their current work situation.

What makes millennials leave?

The heaps of gold promised to them as they began their careers, turn out to bear little resemblance to reality. This causes friction. Whose fault is that?

• The employer who reeled the millennial in cheering (I am part of that special class in my company, I don’t just want a follow-up job and give up my salary), pampered him or her during a traineeship, offered training courses, involved him or her in challenging organisation-wide issues and enabled conversations high up in the organisational hierarchy (I regularly met with the alderman during my traineeship, now I never see her anymore?).

• Or the millennials themselves who want to climb the career ladder in a straight line (I’ve been here for two years already and I am still not a manager), are articulate enough to ask for feedback regularly (I want to know how I am doing, but all they tell me is that I am doing well), but don’t ask about potential career paths and therefore lack a realistic picture?

This is enhanced by the fact that millennials are not looking for long-term commitments. An organisation is perceived as something temporary. A shift in loyalty occurs. Previous generations were loyal to their employers (long-life employability) or their field. The current generation however is loyal to their profession. Job-hopping has rather become a rule than an exception. A year is perceived by many as a very long time!

High churn and a lot of stress among millennials

Organisations experience high churn among the youngest generation as a result. In addition, one in five women between the ages of 25 and 35 suffers from stress and burnout symptoms, making the one in seven national average (SCP 2018) bleak in comparison. This is easily explained: a lot of highly educated women opt for marriage and child-rearing once they hit thirty. This means they need to deal with family management in addition to their daily work. Add the dilemma of the thirties to that mix, and your choice overload, perfectionism and sky-high expectations of yourself and your environment are complete.

This is costing organisations heaps of cash. Though organisations unfortunately do not always make that calculation, this is where the pain is. Consider how much time it takes to onboard someone, find a new spot in a team, build a relationship with a superior and the stress it imposes on colleagues (what kind of person is joining us?). That is why it is recommended to determine why millennials leave an organisation and how much it costs the company. It shows the urgency of the problem and benefits both parties; measures will have to be taken in order to manage expectations more realistically and make the working environment more pleasant.

A rational approach does not always lead to the right answers

As organisations realise the severity of the problem, they will start asking questions about why millennials are exploring other employers. However, both in terms of recruitment and exit interviews, the role is the focal point (For example, why are you leaving our organisation and did you find something missing in our working conditions?). A rational approach. Important for sure but it doesn’t reveal any actual answers.

Millennials don’t care about permanent contracts and high salaries. Well, they do when it comes to buying a new home. And of course, good working conditions, a high salary and developing one’s competencies are important factors. But these are not the reasons why young talent opts for or sticks with a specific company.

The employer’s opportunity: Sincere attention

This generation grew up with direct needs satisfaction (ordered before 23.00 hrs, delivered the next day), in an affluent society that offers a wealth of opportunity and poses a high degree of performance pressure. As a result, they breathe the idea that happiness is malleable and that your decisions are what determines your happiness. This is a frequent cause of (choice-induced) stress. Strengthened by high ambitions, comparisons on social media and limitless possibilities.

Growing up in such a high-expectation context makes sincere attention a rarity. From parents, teachers and colleagues. Consider what happens in a meeting room before the meeting starts: people check their smartphones or process emails on their laptop. No time for small-talk. A complete lack of sincere attention.

Grab this opportunity by the horns, be social!

This is where organisations have a great opportunity! I call this a social approach to young talent (The 2017). As employers approach their young talent socially, they gain a better understanding of what they are looking for and why they are leaving. They will ask the young talent about their needs which is fundamentally different from job classification-based thinking.

Take the feedback request for instance. The manager may think: you asked the same question last week. He eases himself out of the situation by saying things are fine. But what is the actual question here? What need underlies the question? It may be a check whether the manager understands how stressed the young talent is, for example because he is trying to buy a home in a tight housing market. It could be a development question, for example how to approach an impending presentation and where to get help. Whatever the reason, I consider this as an opportunity for sincere attention!

Delve into personal needs

Asking about social needs is not an inherent skill. It has to be learned. Managers must regain their curiosity, learn how to ask follow-up questions and get the time to have a proper sit-down with their juniors. Millennials on the other hand need to learn how to ask the right questions in order to make their expectations about their professional reality more realistic.

A simple feedback question can be a disguised way of building a meaningful relationship. With fellow trainees, colleagues and your superior. As I teach these skills to managers and meet with millennials, they learn to close their laptops prior to a meeting and leave their smartphones on the table. You will see that meaningful relationships between people will arise. Not just that, the millennial won’t be going anywhere!

Curious about how to employ the social approach in recruiting and retaining young professionals?
Join the Round Table Discussions on 8 November coming, at 14.00 hrs in Amsterdam. Registration by email.

[1] Published on, on 30 August 2018
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Manou van Eerten - 06 2474 6269

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