Millennials: Now That We Have Them, How Do We Keep Them?

By Miranda Kitterlin, Ph.D. Assoc. Professor, Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management, FIU | March 15, 2015

Studies by the American Hotel & Lodging Association have previously found the turnover rate in the lodging industry to be approximately 48% (American Hotel & Lodging Association, 2014), nearly three times the rate of turnover in other industries. Other studies have reported that more than 30% of this turnover occurs at the managerial level (Davidson, Timo & Wang, 2010). The substantial costs of recruiting, selection, and training aside, this high rate of turnover also lends direct negative impacts to the quality of service properties are able to provide the guest. Here's another interesting statistic: Today's millennial worker is likely to stay with your company only about 3 years, which is less than a third of the tenure expected from workers belonging to previous generations (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014).

A simple internet search of "millennials in the workplace" will offer nearly one million results advising you as to best practices in 'dealing with' this new generation of workers. Much of these publications, I'm afraid, focus heavily on the problems and challenges associated with this new labor pool. The word 'millennial' is often associated with words such as 'narcissism' and 'entitlement' – generalizations that may or may not be entirely accurate. Whatever the case may be, it is futile to spend one's time complaining about the millennial generation, when one should instead focus on how to successfully work with this generation. We cannot force the millennial worker to think and behave a certain way any more than we can force our guests to do as such; we can only attempt to understand the millennial worker and modify our practices to incorporate them and capitalize upon their strengths and the opportunities they bring to our industry.

It is true that the millennial generation displays characteristics unique from its predecessors. These young workers have never experienced life without instant information and responses, hence their demand for immediacy in every aspect of life. In the context of recruiting and retention, these differences may open the door for confusion, miscommunication, and frustration for all parties involved. However, these issues can be mitigated by understanding the millennial applicant, and modifying retention efforts. The technology dependence exhibited by this generation, for example, calls for a need to maximize recruiting efforts on social media. It should be noted that a company will not only want to use social media to advertise job openings, but the company image on social media will also need to be monitored and managed. Millennial workers are not just looking for openings on sites such as LinkedIn, but they are also using social media to determine what companies in which they want to pursue employment. A company with a poor image on social media may inadvertently discourage applicants. With regards to technology and recruiting, companies may also find value in the use of smartphone and tablet applications. Making the job application as easy and mobile as possible will appeal to the millennial's desire for immediacy and instantaneous action.

So, now that we have them, how do we keep them? It has been widely reported that one of the biggest challenges companies face with the millennial generation of workers is retention, or lack thereof. Some retention strategies are not mutually exclusive to one generation or another; classic and universal ideas still apply, such as, "you don't leave a job, you leave a boss." Ensuring that employees are managed with respect and consideration is still just as important today, if not even more so. Gone are the days of staying with the same company for 50 years, as millennial workers are more apt to make numerous career moves in order to advance more quickly up the organization chart. These young workers are more likely to think of themselves as "free agents" versus being loyal to one company.

Akin to their expectations of immediacy is the desire of millennials to 'race to the finish line' – they want to be on top, and they want to be there now. This generation of workers has been raised using short, instant messages, and may not have the attention span to wait for their dream position within your company. It has been reported that the millennial worker expects to remain in a company no longer than one year without promotion. While it is not practical to hire an early 20s worker right out of college to be the company CEO, it is possible to make the pathway to promotion very clear, and to ensure that each hire understands exactly what they need to do in order to advance to each level within the company. Having realistic promotional goals and timelines in place may help to keep the millennial worker's eye on the prize within your company, versus looking outside of your company for the next step in their career. Promoting from within whenever possible will also send a message of motivation to these employees, as will also providing regular opportunities for development, and attainable bonus structures.

Another characteristic of this young labor poor is the need to be challenged, and in a meaningful way. This is not a generation of workers who will respond to instructions because "I'm the boss, and I say so," or "That's just the way we do things." Instead, they want to know why things are done a certain way, and how their jobs and responsibilities relate to the big picture within the company. Engaging the millennial employee in processes and decisions by welcoming suggestions and self-reviews can result in positive outcomes for both the employee and the company as a whole. This also speaks to the need for regular communication within the company, including praise and celebrations of success, as well as feedback for improvement.

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