Retaining Millennial Workers

Millennials- ask any older employer what makes them happy and you might get an answer that pigeonholes this generation as being inconsistent and impossible to please. It’s under this assumption employers view Millennials as one of the hardest groups of workers to retain. While it is true Millennials have proven to be a generation that demonstrates a lot of movement from one job to another, this doesn’t mean the Millennial generation doesn’t appreciate the idea of consistent, long-term careers. Maybe they just haven’t found the right motivation for creating such. Before pegging this generation as being “on the lam,” employers should consider what motivates Millennials to stay in one place.

Millennials represent the best-educated and most well rounded class of employees in history. Currently, the workforce is comprised of 23% Millennial. It is estimated that Millennials are on track to make up 50% of the workforce by the year 2018. That’s not a lot of time before employers are forced to rethink their retention strategies and begin catering to the needs of a younger workforce, especially when 43% of the Millennial workforce expects to change jobs every one to three years. How are employers going to retain such a vast and talented part of their workforce when it seems this generation is pre-determined to pick up and move the very second a competing employer lures them away with the promise of weekly catered lunches and a handful of new followers on their Instagram?

It’s time to shake the false assumptions that the Millennial generation is only happy with a sandwich in one hand and a smartphone in the other! While it’s true this tech-savvy generation values constant connection and popularity among their social media peers- EVERYONE loves a free lunch. So why do employers assume superficial perks are what keep the Millennial workforce intact?

Millennials Change Jobs Every 1-3 Years

In a recent study conducted by Blackhawk Engagement Solutions, 342 Millennial-aged employees were asked to rank 12 key factors by how much they contribute to feelings of happiness. Only 13% of the study group ranked their jobs as one of their top three happiness factors. On average, more Millennials ranked their jobs 10th overall.

With results like these, one might think Millennials have a long list of what they don’t like about their jobs.


Millennials are actually quite happy in the workplace. In fact, many feel highly engaged in their jobs. They know how they contribute and what opportunities are available to further their career growth. However, one thing Millennials reported their workplace was missing was a solid rewards and recognition program. Of those who said their company offered rewards and recognition, only 40% of them reported feeling like their company’s recognition program included them.

Studies have shown that Millennials have a particular sensitivity to recognition. This generation considers affirmation a key factor in what makes them feel appreciated at work. Now, before joining the choruses of generations before ranting about “kids these days- expecting medals just for showing up,” consider what Millennials actually said what they want to be recognized for:

  • 84% Exceeding personal performance levels
  • 80% Achieving a special promotion or other career milestone
  • 79% Exceeding team performance levels
  • 71% Achieving a years of service milestone
  • 60% Participating in community service

It would seem Millennials want more than just a ribbon for perfect attendance! Studies show 71% of this generation’s workers would like to be recognized for their years of service to the company, proving that Millennials value longevity in a career! Could it be that the key to retaining this younger group of employees is as simple as the proverbial “atta boy?”

Why, yes, in fact.

Often times, employers are afraid to invest in rewards and recognition. They assume it’s a costly and daunting endeavor, especially when tasked with capturing the attention of Millennial workers. What these employers don’t know is that Millennials actually respond to personal attention. A personal email to say thank you, an on-the-spot congratulations, or a company-wide announcement about a special achievement appeals to a Millennial’s desire for recognition. Managers who voice appreciation for their younger workers create relationships that aid the retention of these talented employees.

However, it is no secret that Millennials (like generations before them) appreciate larger, more tangible rewards. Employers looking for a proven retention strategy might consider a recognition program that allows young workers to choose rewards that play to their personal interests. Millennials consider work-life balance to be extremely important in what makes them happy in a career. While many employers assume their employees change jobs simply to make more money elsewhere, only 12% of these employees actually earn more from their next company. Instead, more Millennials are changing to jobs that allow them to invest in their personal aspirations. The younger generation of workers responds to rewards programs that offer opportunities for travel, time with family and fostering healthier lifestyles.

Retention is a challenge all employers face. As younger generations join the workforce, the need for more modern rewards and recognition programs grows. Studies show Millennials are career driven and dedicated to their careers, but seek affirmation for a job well done. Despite the negative chatter about this generation, it’s proven they value recognition for their hard work and contributions to the company just like any other generation of worker.

How Millennial workers are able to text their coworker about the free bagels in the break room while simultaneously typing out this week’s marketing report might still be a mystery, but knowing what office perks really retain young workers sure isn’t! Recognizing Millennials with even the smallest incentives can have a huge impact on employee retention. The numbers don’t lie, check out the full report on “Happy Millennials” here.

Awards Versus Rewards