A Fresh Approach to Retaining Millennials

By Sherri Merbach Managing Director, C-Suite Analytics | March 04, 2018

High millennial employee turnover saps us of the talent they bring and the training we’ve given them. So how can we reduce turnover to leverage their skills and improve our own productivity? Let’s start with some facts:

- Millennials today are 13 to 35 years old, and will comprise more than 1 of 3 adult Americans by 2020 and 75 percent of our workforce by 2025

- Millennials change jobs and companies 7 times by age 28, and 10 to 14 times by age 38

- The average time a millennial spends in one job with one company is just 2 years

Distracting Data 

High millennial employee turnover saps us of the talent they bring and the training we've given them. So how can we reduce turnover to leverage their skills and improve our own productivity? Let's start with some facts: - Millennials today are 13 to 35 years old, and will comprise more than 1 of 3 adult Americans by 2020 and 75 percent of our workforce by - Millennials change jobs and companies 7 times by age 28, and 10 to 14 times by age 38 - The average time a millennial spends in one job with one company is just 2 years .


It gets worse. Per Gallup, millennials are the least engaged in their work than any of the 5 generations in our workplace. But of course, we cannot improve employee engagement if we don't solve millennial employee turnover first.

Here’s more data from Gallup, telling us what millennials want at work. This is the type of data we’ve grown accustomed to, from various reports and conference-speaking “millennial experts”:

  1. Millennials don’t just work for a paycheck—they want a purpose.
  2. Millennials are not pursuing job satisfaction—they are pursuing development.
  3. Millennials don’t want bosses—they want coaches.
  4. Millennials don’t want annual reviews—they want ongoing conversations.
  5. Millennials don’t want to fix their weaknesses—they want to develop their strengths.
  6. It’s not just my job—it’s my life.

So, there is your answer, just give them those things. Any questions? Your questions should be, “Where do we start…and what do we do next?”

I find studies such as these to be useless. They paint millennials as aliens, creatures completely different than us who therefore need customized, new-thinking solutions. And these are strategy clues at best, with zero instruction for tactics. This harkens to a more productive study by IBM: (See chart below)

I find comparing the left and right columns, millennials to baby boomers, to be the most instructional. Who would have thought baby boomers are more interested than millennials regarding solving social or environmental challenges as the data above reveals? The bottom line is maybe millennials are not aliens after all.

But another bottom line conclusion is more important: Generalizations about people always fail and there are always many, many exceptions, whether about gender, nationality, race…or age

Somehow this lesson we were taught in school gets lost in the hub-bub about young people, and vendors and publications like the Gallup study above have sucked us into non-productive, spinning-our-wheels group-think.

The Employee Retention Solution

So, what is the best way to find out what is important to millennials or for that matter any employee? Ask each one because each person is different.

The key word here is “each”. Stay Interview conversations conducted by leaders are the best solution. Stay Interviews are one-on-one meetings supervisors conduct with each individual employee to build engagement and retention…and to build trust. In fact, trust is the one quality research tells us every employee wants, regardless of age or any other demographic.

Stay Interviews out-perform employee surveys, exit surveys, millennial surveys, focus groups, and all other “representative” ways of gaining employee data…for the clear reason that each person brings their own needs and perspectives. Consider this example regarding a millennial employee at a client company. During his Stay Interview he said this:

If you want to do one thing to keep me, let me come in an hour early and then leave an hour early on days when my boy has his little league games. Then I’ll work as hard as I can and stay here a long time.

No survey or focus group would have told us that. And it’s no surprise that this client company has seen turnover fall by 45% by implementing Stay Interviews and solving the unique needs for each individual employee.

Stay Interviews succeed because (1) they provide information that is always current, (2) they build trust between each manager and employee, (3) they address the absolute most important issues for each individual employee, and (4) they put managers in the solution seat versus HR because the primary reason employees leave is failure to trust their direct manager.

Stay Interviews work best organizationally when part of a 5-step proven approach to slash turnover.

Let’s go back now to the processes your company has in place to manage sales and service. The approach below developed by Richard Finnegan takes a similar path but reflects fresh thinking for solving engagement and retention instead:

“Dollars” represents the conversion of engagement scores and turnover to dollars, the language of CEOs. Once executives understand the real investments they are gaining or losing, they will no longer ask for benchmarks.

“Goals” refers to improvement goals for both engagement and retention. These must be set at the organization, unit, and individual leader levels, top to bottom.

 “Stay Interviews” represents the primary solution to achieve these goals. The equivalent solution for sales would include sales training and collateral, and for service the training and tracking that leads to customer satisfaction and repeat customers.

“Forecasts” refers to the forecasting supervisors do to predict how long each employee will stay. The greatest value of these forecasts is that supervisors and their managers are now alerted to employees who are considering leaving and can take actions to retain them.

Supervisors also learn over time that they can improve their forecasts’ accuracy by conducting Stay Interviews better.

“Accountability” is of course the linchpin to all. Supervisors on all levels are then accountable for their goals and their forecasts…and they now truly own their talent.

Finnegan’s Arrow (see chart above)  represents the “fresh thinking” BusinessWeek said about our approach and represents the way we should all improve employee engagement and retention.

Conducting Stay Interviews

The top leader in the organization should begin the process by conducting Stay Interviews with her direct reports. Then those direct reports would conduct the Stay Interviews with their own direct reports and continue the cascade until all employees have participated in a Stay Interview conversation.

Using our carefully selected and researched 5 Stay Interview questions in the following sequence will best build trust with both your new hires and existing employees.

1. When you travel to work each day, what things do you look forward to?

The opening clause, “When you travel to work each day”, encourages the employee to imagine their daily commute…by vehicle, bike, or foot… to capture their everyday images in the here and now. Then asking them what they look forward to drives them to their positive images, so they identify for the manager and more importantly for themselves what they like most about their jobs.

2. What are you learning here?

“Learning” in the present tense sends the compelling message that we want you to grow, to prosper for both yourself and our organization. Employees who respond with examples of self-development then hear their own lists so they know they are developing and not standing still. A response of “nothing” leads to probes about is that OK, as some employees are ambitious and others just want to work and go home. And further probes lead to discussions about possibly taking on new roles.

These are sticky areas for some managers because we have long-assumed they intuitively have skills for “career coaching”. When we train managers to conduct Stay Interviews, we teach them that all career discussions are built around the word “skills” so probes might include these:

  • “What skills would you like to build?”
  • “What skills do you think are required for that position?”  Or as a career development step:
  • “How about if I ask someone in that role if you can interview them, to learn precisely what skills are required for their job?”

3. Why do you stay here?

With this question, we learn the most information to improve employee engagement and retention. The goal is for the employee to dig deeply to identify and then share why she stays, and the dialogue often goes like this:

Manager: “Tell me then, Judith, why do you stay with us? You are very skilled and can likely have opportunities anywhere, yet you continue to come to work with us every day. Why is it, then, that you stay?”

Judith: “Well….uh….uh….I guess I have to pay the bills.”

Most employees are floored when asked this question, having never considered what precisely makes them continue to come to work versus ambitiously seek other jobs. The trained manager continues the discussion this way:

Manager: “Yea, I have to pay the bills, too. But I’ve thought about what keeps me here and I want you to think about that, too, and then share it with me.”

The manager’s next job is to refrain from giving hints, from making this easy by providing choices like do you stay for your team? Your customers? The short commute? This is the time managers must be comfortable with silence and permit the employee to think. Encouraging statements are OK, though, and might look like this:

Manager: “Take a few minutes to consider why you stay. In fact, I’m going to get a cup of coffee. ‘Want one?”

The employee’s contemplation and ultimate disclosure drive an important point…that few employees bother to consider why they stay. And they ultimately remember their reasons once they discover them within themselves and announce those reasons to their manager.

For the manager, this is gold. Now knowing what the employee looks forward to from the first question and combining that data with why this employee stays, the manager can consider how to re-organize that employee’s job in small or big ways…or just “five degrees” as I tend to say. Here’s an example:

Employee: “I guess after thinking about it that I stay because I like to talk with our the same guests that come year after year. It is a joy to see how their kids have grown.”

Manager: “Yes, it is the gracious hospitality that you provide to our guests that keep them coming back.”

The manager might then add this question to ensure the employee has ample opportunity to enjoy this important part of her job:

Manager: “So do you find enough time to connect with these returning guests? I know doing so is important to you.”

Exchanges such as this one drive up trust, improve employee engagement, and ultimately improve employee retention.

4. When was the last time you thought about leaving our team? What prompted it?

This question rises above all subtleties and gets to the core retention issues…and yes, everyone considers leaving at one time or another. The probes matter for all questions but particularly here:

  • “How important is that issue to you today?”
  • “What’s the single most important thing I can do to make it better?”
  • “Can I count on you to come directly to me if you ever feel that way again?”

Pause here and consider how you would respond if your manager heard you had considered leaving and responded by saying, ”Tell me and I will fix it”.

5. What can I do to make your experience at work better for you?

This question begs for feedback on the manager’s style so all who ask it should have seat belts buckled, and prepare to avoid being defensive. But more importantly, answers provide clues regarding how each manager should adapt their style to each employee. Probes might include:

  • “What should I stop doing that frustrates you?”
  • “What should I start doing to be more supportive?”
  • “Are my expectations and directions clear?
  • “Do I seem genuinely interested in your career here?”
  • “How do you like to be recognized? Privately? In public?”

Let’s compare those 5 questions to the “millennial wants” list above.

Each Stay Interview question is designed to elicit specific, very helpful information, and the summary results provide the best opportunity to build individualized retention plans. So, if you want to explore, for example:

“Millennials don’t just work for a paycheck—they want a Purpose” …listen carefully to their answers to Stay Interview questions #1 and #3, and probe deeply to understand what really turns them on.

Or how about “Millennials are not pursuing job satisfaction—they are pursuing development” …then listen carefully to their answer to Stay Interview question #2.

The one that for me is most difficult to grasp, “Millennials don’t want bosses—they want coaches” …then probe deeply to fully understand their answer to Stay Interview question #5.

Stay Interviews cut across all demographics because they address people as people, as individuals versus part of particular group.

These five questions stand alone as powerful gatherers of the most important information to improve each employee’s engagement and retention. Managers who leverage these carefully-selected questions with strong probes, detailed notes, and deliberate next-step action-planning reach the holy grail of leadership…by building highly-skilled teams who give their best and stay.

Stay Interviews reduce turnover and are THE employee retention solution!

Ms. Merbach Sherri Merbach has extensive experience providing organizational development, executive coaching, leadership development, and consulting services. Ms. Merbach is a change agent creating a sustainable bottom-line impact. She brings her high degree of personal effectiveness plus her accumulated skills and experiences to clients. Known for her ability to connect with both CEOs, leaders at all levels, and front-line employees, Ms. Merbach brings three distinct credentials to her clients. Ms. Merbach is a business executive first, having earned her CPA designation while working with a top-5 global accounting firm and subsequently earning her MBA degree. Ms. Merbach can be contacted at 407-948-0321 or smerbach@c-suiteanalytics.com Please visit http://www.c-suiteanalytics.com for more information. Extended Biography

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