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Tactics to retain Millennial workers

I don't quit

by Mary Jawgiel

Millennials, also known as Generation Y, have a reputation for being job hoppers, moving quickly from job to job because they are not content to stay with one organization for very long. When you consider the estimated cost in time and resources to replace departing workers is between $15,000 and $25,000, this can be an expensive problem. The truth is: Millennials are not necessarily looking to move OUT of your organization. They are looking to move UP, and they are an impatient bunch. If you provide them with the tools to move up the ladder in your organization, chances are they will stay for a while.

According to an employment study by Waltham, Mass.-based Bentley University, 80 percent of Millennials believe they will work for four or fewer companies during their career. If they start working at age 20, and they work until age 65, that’s an average of just over 11 years per company. Keeping workers around that long is much more cost-effective than trying to replace them because they are not happy with their employment at your company.

So, how do you go about keeping younger workers around for a while? Give assignments that provide opportunities for them to experience variety and stretch their wings, offer training so they can learn the ropes and deliver constant feedback.

Millennials, perhaps more so than other generations, want to keep moving forward. They are not content to spend years (or even months) doing the same thing day after day. To prevent a dull routine from setting in, schedule something new and different for them each week. Invite them to sit in on a meeting with the “higher-ups” or another department, so they can experience variety. Encourage your warehouse worker who expresses an interest in sales to job shadow one of your inside sales reps for an hour or two. Conversely, it might be good for the younger inside sales reps to experience what goes on in the warehouse, as well.

Millennials consider career progression a priority. According to the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina, over half of Millennials say opportunities for career promotion make employers more attractive. Does your company demonstrate how employees can move forward clearly and concisely?

PTDA’s website offers a “Career Progression Resource” section at which could be a great reference for developing a career ladder document for your company. It offers a skills set matrix which matches skills, such as listening and project management, to jobs such as manager and marketing. It also helps visitors understand how to progress from entry-level to management, complete with salaries and organization charts at each level of the ladder. Perhaps your trade association offers something similar.

Job training is another way to help employees progress. Employers don’t always offer training for Millennials to develop new skills and hone existing skills. According to the “Millennial Mindset Study,” conducted by online training company Mindflash, Millennials were most surprised by the lack of company support for training and development. Meaning, training is something they expect from their employers.

For many industrial distributors, there is no human resources department to offer and promote training programs for employees. However, even small companies can access the many online and face-to-face training programs available for the development of soft and other work related skills. Check the course offerings at your local community college and think about instituting a tuition reimbursement policy to encourage employee growth. By making an investment in your employees to grow professionally and personally, you will be making an investment in your business as well.

Search your trade association’s website; they may also offer industry-specific training programs. You might be surprised at what you find. And feel confident knowing Millennials, especially, will find ways to bring back any new ideas they gain to help your business. They take pride in sharing their knowledge.

No matter how much task variety you provide on the job or how many tools you offer for training and learning, if your managers use outdated management strategies, Millennials may walk anyway. This is understandable knowing Millennials have grown up with constant positive feedback where everyone who participates wins a trophy, whether they won or lost the contest (or even finished it!) The key here is feedback. They crave it. They want to know how they are doing on the job and they want to know now. They can’t wait for the annual review or even the mid-year review.

Set up weekly meetings to review their progress and coach them in next steps. If you can do this even more frequently, do so. Use whatever opportunity you have to tell them how they are doing. Drop positive notes on their desks and give them an “Atta boy/girl” verbally, when you see them. If you wait to provide feedback until the annual review, you can be assured your Millennial will already be looking for other opportunities elsewhere.

Help your managers to be open, honest and flexible with your Millennial employees. Genuine concern for their well-being and active listening go a long way with this cohort. Military-style top down management is considered old-school. Accept that they may know more about some things than you do and learn from them.

This may be a different way of working with your employees. Companies and managers who accept and adapt to Millennial generational differences in the workplace will be the ones who retain their younger employees longer and get ahead in winning the talent game.

Mary JawgielWith a life-long passion for helping young people in their career development, Mary Jawgiel is ICP program director for Industrial Careers Pathway (ICP), a cross-industry initiative supported by American Supply Association (ASA), Industrial Supply Association’s (ISA) Education Foundation, National Association of Chemical Distributors (NACD), National Association of Electrical Distributors (NAED), NAHAD–the Association for Hose and Accessories Distribution, NIBA-The Belting Association and PTDA Foundation. For more insights on recruiting, hiring and training Millennials in the distribution industry, subscribe to the monthly ICP Talent Tipsheet at

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2015 issue of Industrial Supply magazine. Copyright 2015, Direct Business Media.


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