Stewarding the Millennials: From Job Jumpers to Company Committed

As president of a relatively young PR agency, not only in the number of years we have been in business-six-but also in the average age of our staff-under 30-I started thinking, how does an employer retain its most valuable possessions-its staff?

Research indicates that most college graduates today will have a dozen (!!!) jobs by the time they reach their 30s. While reluctantly admitting I am now beyond middle age, I have had only four jobs, with the first being a 15 year stint as a teacher/public relations director in a Catholic girls' school, and the most recent being the founder of Gambel Communications.

So what prompts this sea change? While baby boomers may have stuck with the same job for a lifetime, millennials don't like to sit still. Accustomed to instant gratification with drive up windows, multiple mobile devices and high speed connectivity, they don't like to stay in one place too long. And this attitude has transferred to the workplace.

Emily He, CMO of talent management solution Saba, explains, "For millennials, it is more a matter of career exploration than climbing the traditional ladder ...it has become societally and culturally okay that they explore. The expectations have changed. Your 20s are used as the time where you actually figure out what you want to do, so the constant job hopping to explore multiple industries is expected."

What's an employer to do? Must we simply tolerate this high turnover, or will these young professionals stick around if the culture is right?

To that end, I have embarked on the art of staff retention as my personal quest.

This month my longest tenured employee, Christine, celebrated her fifth anniversary with our company. While five years may not seem like a long time, considering the track record of 20 somethings, especially in the PR/marketing field, five years, to me, was worth celebrating big time. And so we did. It was a white tablecloth lunch at one of the finest restaurants in New Orleans then a surprise trip to a favorite jewelry store where she was greeted with champagne and an afternoon to select whatever she wanted. A pre-arranged conversation with the store principal, who herself is a young woman, ensured that Christine would be treated like a queen and expertly guided to select a long lasting token of my appreciation.

Yes, Christine was thrilled and surely knows how much she is valued, not only on her anniversary but, I hope, every day. Besides showing appreciation, what else can an employer do to provide a company culture that promotes "stick-to-it-ness"? My response is to try to provide a corporate culture that meets the needs of my employees.

Here are a few aspects of the Gambel Communications culture that we have identified as mutually important:

  • Trust and value your employees. Include them in policy and benefit discussions. My company is small enough that we can be transparent and confidential with appropriate company information such as financials and profitability. Major decisions are made with the input of the staff, and this includes hiring.
  • Engage your employees. Help them understand the various facets of the business. Let the conversation be about what we can accomplish together rather than what they can do for the company. Then provide the connectivity, context and culture that will power that relationship.
  • Provide professional development. Regular industry meetings, out of town conferences and networking are priorities. We encourage our employees to assume leadership positions in organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, apply for competitive leadership classes and volunteer in the community. Dues, tuitions and corporate release time are courtesy of Gambel Communications.
  • Offer financial support. Our 401k contributions are made whether the employee contributes or not. While this practice may make me feel better than a young person who may be thinking more about clothes and cars than retirement, it sets a standard in my mind by providing investment habits for them. Profit sharing, bonuses and new business incentives are in place for everyone.
  • Be flexible. The nature of our PR business requires early mornings, late nights and weekends; thus, it is only natural that flexible schedules are the norm in our office. We also have a "newsroom" environment, so if there is a need for quiet time, employees are invited to work remotely.
  • Make life easier. We stock the kitchen with breakfast, lunch and snack items, along with a full selection of coffees and teas. And while you may detect the coffee aroma when you enter the office, you also cannot help but notice the enticing fragrance of lavender and eucalyptus to keep us healthy in mind and body, thanks to our diffusers.
  • Work and play together. As an all-female office, we love doing things together-from beach retreats to shopping surprises to activities such as TGIF's, boxing classes and field trips. And a spontaneous massage or makeup/hair for special occasions is just lagniappe, as we say in New Orleans.

Positioned against the backdrop of independence and personal aspirations of the millennials, it is critical to guide my employees to expand their own connections, to help them understand that their success is the company's success and to strengthen the trust we have for each other. Ultimately I hope that even after many years in the business, they will still love what they do, and I hope we are all still doing it together.

This blogger graduated from Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Small Businesses program. Goldman Sachs is a partner of the What Is Working: Small Businesses section.