A few days ago, I went to an alumni case club meeting sponsored by the college that I got my undergrad and MBA from... along with my paychecks. It was on the iPhone, it was with a professor I had taken a couple classes with, and I figured it would be a good chance to do some networking, maybe hit on chicks with jobs, and keep up to date with business trends.
I ended up sitting with two women (both married, alas) who were in my MBA class, one of whom works for the same college I do. Before the discussion, the prof - who also does some consulting on the side - was talking about the problems recruiting "millennials" - the generation that comes after GenX, often defined as people born just after madanthony, aka after 1980. The problem is that they have always been told to follow their dreams, that they don't seem jobs as lifetime careers, and that they tend take jobs and then leave soon after to pursue something else. The prof had observed this in both highly skilled technical jobs and in skilled but more blue collar positions.
He had a few ideas, including contracts, but observed the contracts often result in people leaving as soon as they are done. Someone commented that the trick is to find out what people's passions are, and give them that at work - great in theory, but how.
And then the other person who works where I do commented that we seem to be the opposite. And I agreed - our problem is the opposite - nobody leaves, so highly skilled and educated employees (cough * madanthony * cough) are often underemployed because there are no places to promote them to.
Why? madanthony's fellow college employee mentioned benefits, and that's a big part of it - we get a generous retirement plan (with an 11% matching contribution from the college), free college tuition for the employee, their spouse, and their kids, decent health care, interest-free loans to buy computers, discounted membership to the college gym, and a ton of other stuff. So is benefits the answer?
I don't think it's just offering benefits - I think it's offering benefits that appeal to people who are looking for stability over emotional fulfillment or exciting. Take a look at that list - what kind of person is likely to want free tuition for their kids? Someone with kids, who is a lot less likely to decide to leave their job to join a band or go to law school. Offering a lot of benefits is good, but offering benefits that appeal to people who want stability is even better - especially if you tie those benefits to length of time - our tuition for your shorties benefit doesn't kick in until 5 years of service.
So offering benefits that appeal to people seeking stability, or that encourage people to be stable, is probably a good strategy. Tuition is one. Homebuying assistance is probably another good one - madanthony's occasional thoughts of quitting his job and pursing an entirely different path have been quashed by the need to send half of his monthly salary to the bank, lest he and his cute little kitty cat end up on the street.
But while the stability argument works on a lot of people from my generation - it seems like half of my coworkers are currently pregnant or involved in the creation of a pregnancy - there are still a fair number of single, childless, youngish employees where I work - including myself, of course.. So why, besides the free tuition for themselves, have they remained?
Well, part of it is that not every millenial/gen-x-er wants an adventure. Some want stability. And some just want a place where they get along with their coworkers, enjoy what they do, and make enough that they can pursue their passions outside of their jobs.
So the trick to keeping millennials? I think it's twofold. I think the "find a way to allow people to pursue their passions" is good, even though it's tough. Doing things that make it easier to pursue their passions while remaining employed is a good first step - generous vacation time, flexible time, ability to work from home - these are all ways that someone can keep their job while still touring Fiji or playing in a rock band. And as a bonus, many of them also appeal to people with families/kids - part two.
As the second part of part one, make work something people can feel passionate about and enjoy. Have the workplace be fun, a place people want to go, where they forge relationships with coworkers and do off-the-clock activities together - it's hard to leave where your friends are. Let employees work on stuff that isn't directly tied to their jobs - Google is great at this.
The second way - offer benefits that appeal to people who want stability - as I've already mentioned.
Now, the biggest argument with this is probably that millenials don't crave stability - they are single, don't have kids, don't need free tuition. But there are some who do, and maybe aiming your recruiting for people with a few years experience - who have gotten their wild early 20's out of the way - isn't a bad idea.
The other thing is that the state of the economy greatly how willing people are to stick with jobs. I had the misfortune of graduating from undergrad in 2002, right after the dot-com bubble burst. I remember going to job fairs where the most popular tables were those operated by government agencies, especially the IRS. When you could leave one dot.com job for another, people were willing to take the risk, but when there weren't any dot.coms left, not so much.
I think the same is about to happen now - there are already a ton of mortgage and real estate people looking for new careers, and if the economy is as far in the shitter as the media seems to suggest, there will be more to follow in other fields. Many of these people will be craving stability after having experienced how much being unemployed sucks. Which could be a great thing for employers seeking new workers.