4 Ways Advisors Can Retain Young Employees (from Someone Who Was Retained)

Sep 13, 2016

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Did anyone else participate in #First7Jobs trending hashtag on Twitter? When I did, I realized something interesting…I’ve only had seven jobs in my entire life.illustration-1

Now that might not seem surprising considering I’m 26 years old – but it actually is, when you consider the retention and turnover trends that come with employing millennials. According to Gallup, 21% of millennials have changed jobs within the past year (more than three times the number of non-millennials), and this costs the U.S. economy an estimated $30.5 billion annually.

So what’s the deal? Do you have to start implementing things like flexible workweeks, virtual office hours, and student loan repayment programs to keep young people around? While those things do sound enticing, I can tell you from my own personal experience that you don’t necessarily have to go to those lengths just to retain your young employees.

If you look at my LinkedIn profile, you’ll see I’ve stayed with my past employers for many years – I’ve been with SEI for 5 years (if you count my internship), an active member of a non-profit for the past 6 years, and was even a waitress at the same restaurant for 6 years straight. The reason I stuck around was not just because of ancillary benefits (although that never hurts), it was because of the management approaches within these organizations.

4 keys to retaining millennials

Here are a few ideas for retaining your younger employees:

1. Advocate for development both in and outside your firm.

It is one thing to take someone under your wing just to keep them motivated and happy at your current company, and it is another thing to truly mentor someone and have their best interests in mind. Trust me, millennials can tell the difference. I’ve had several managers, and the most influential ones were those who mentored me not just as an employee, but for my own personal development. Unfortunately, I have had countless friends on the other end of the spectrum, in roles where they could tell their management didn’t value them and were just paying them lip service to keep them around, when they were looking for true advocates to support them in their career.

The way to show you’re a genuine mentor is by advocating for opportunities for your employees’ development both inside and outside of your organization – even if that means they may potentially leave. (GULP! I know this is a piece about retention and I’m talking about giving people opportunity to leave. What am I doing???) What I mean is that if someone is truly driven, then they’re not going to want to stay somewhere where they feel boxed in. And do you really want to manage someone who is feeling stuck and unmotivated in their current role? I don’t think so.

2. Use recognition (as appropriate) to motivate them.

It’s easy to get tied up in the craziness of the day-to-day and hit major milestones without taking the opportunity to thank those who helped you get there. No one feels motivated to continue putting in the time and hard work it takes to excel in a fast-paced work environment if you never take time to recognize their contribution. It doesn’t take anything extravagant – a celebratory team outing, an email announcement to the company, or even just a one-on-one sit down.

I know people joke that millennials want trophies just for participating – but that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about using recognition to reinforce the right type of employee that you want to keep around.

Here’s an example: When I was in college looking for a philanthropy event for my sorority, I led a fundraiser that generated over $4,000 in donations. The charity’s founder not only provided me with an award for my service, but offered an internship opportunity to me. And just like that – she took my engagement on this one-time fundraiser and extended it over the course of many years. Though I’d like to say I’m just an extremely altruistic individual and that’s what motivated me to stick with this charity for 6 years, candidly I don’t think I would’ve continued my work with this cause had I not received that positive feedback and recognition upfront. (I know that’s rather shameless to admit…but it’s the truth.)

3. Reward success with added responsibility.

When someone has had success, don’t just reward them with recognition – reward them with additional opportunities that present new challenges and responsibilities. Build on their success and view this as an opportunity to help them develop a broader set of skills (for perhaps a broader role down the line). This is the only way they can advance as an employee. Even if the task appears daunting, given their background and years of experience (especially if we’re talking about millennials here), in the end, they’ll be grateful for the learning experience. Presenting them with these types of opportunities sends that message that you value them as an employee.

Despite our (apparently) narcissistic tendencies, millennials – even the highly-motivated ones – find it daunting to work alongside experienced professionals whose careers are sometimes longer than we’ve been alive. (Sorry if that makes anyone feel old) I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked around the room filled with my experienced colleagues and thought, “What the heck am I doing here?” A good manager will not only present new and challenging opportunities, but will also replace those negative thoughts with things like, “They wouldn’t put me in this position, if they didn’t think I could do it.”

4. Give them the autonomy and flexibility to innovate.

No young employee is going to feel energized working at a place that feels stale or stuck in its ways. While it’s great to use your wisdom and experience to train and guide your workforce, you don’t want to close the company off from new opportunities that might come from younger employees. For the right person, it might make sense to give them full autonomy over a project or initiative to help the company come up with new solutions or approaches, as well as to test her management skills. After all, there’s nothing better than an employee who can manage their own workload and be self-directed. Additionally, a motivated or driven individual will appreciate the added sense of responsibility and flexibility.

In my product development role at SEI, I’ve been fortunate to have had many opportunities to take on new projects and test new concepts. Obviously, not all projects pan out. But I can tell you that there’s something refreshing about working at an organization that gives me the autonomy to at least try things out on my own. Tap into the entrepreneurial, go-getter mindset of your millennial employees to bring in new perspectives. Millennials have become the disruptors in many industries, breaking new ground and leaving stale business models in the dust. Consider if your firm could channel this to help you stay competitive.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…

I may not have over 20 years of management experience like many of you, but I do have 26 years’ experience being a millennial. And I’ve seen these situations all too often among my peers:

  • The associate who learned the ropes from her manager and then broke away to start her own business
  • The new hire, who finally learned the ropes after tons of training, then suddenly submits his resignation
  • The young employee, disengaged after years of doing the same thing, begins to look elsewhere

Your younger employees may literally be the future of your business – having a plan to retain and engage them could make all the difference.

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Missy Pohlig

Missy Pohlig

Missy Pohlig is the millennial contributor for Practically Speaking and also serves as Program Manager for the Solutions Team in the SEI Advisor Network.

Learn More About Missy Pohlig

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