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By Joanne Sujansky

Retaining Gen Y Workers is Challenging

The first of 80 million young people born between 1981 and 2001 are beginning to enter the workplace, and boy are they shaking things up! They’re multi-taskers, technologically savvy and they bring a different attitude with them. But, as challenging as they can be to manage, Generation Y (sometimes called “Millennials”) present the biggest test to recruiters.

Gone are the days when an organization kept top employees in the fold with high salaries and fat benefit packages. Employees used to call those financial goodies “Golden Handcuffs”-incentives to keep them.

But make no mistake, this doesn’t mean that Gen Yer’s don’t value salary or benefits. Our own research shows that millennials expect to be paid well. Yet, for many, a fun and engaging work environment is an equally powerful recruiting tool. A job with good financial rewards but a tedious atmosphere won’t keep these free agents cuffed for long. They’re likely to take their skills and education to a “cooler” company that also offers competitive salaries and benefits.

Does Your Organization Have the “Cool Factor?”

How can you tell which organizations possess that elusive “cool factor?” That’s what Wisconsin’s Small Business Times wanted to know when they asked the 50 fastest growing companies in southeastern Wisconsin “What makes your company cool?” Some of the respondents talked about things like their corporate mission, generous benefits, or the products they produced. But many of the 50 discussed perks and incentives that brought employees together, fostered communication, encouraged flexibility, and promoted loyalty, such as:

* Creative communications: Boring old meetings and employee events (think employee awards ceremonies … yawn) have been replaced with fun themed meetings, Friday “happy hour” meetings, “Party Pail” theme days, Nerf(tm) fights, group paint ball fights, and special employee trips.

* Contests and rewards: Employees usually respond well to competition, but these days companies are going beyond sales and service competitions to offer prizes for completing company training programs and receiving skill/knowledge certifications. To build enthusiasm many companies also let employees define the prizes. Incentives that don’t “incent” aren’t very motivating!

* Employee-centered facilities: Many of the respondents talked about open office layouts (no walls) exercise rooms, healthy and hip refreshments, Internet cafes, and on-site services, such as dry-cleaning and childcare.

* Work flexibility: Time continues to be a powerful recruiting tool, with flex-time, family leave and work-from-home options topping the list.

If there is a common theme to the perks that “cool” companies provide, it may be the message to employees that, “You matter to us. Your well-being, comfort, and enthusiasm are an important ingredient to our success.”

As one entertainment industry CEO put it, “Anyone can own equipment. It’s the people that propel the business forward. Since we understand that, we embrace it and proactively focus on getting the right people on the team, getting them into the right position on the team and keeping them challenged and satisfied in that position”

But Don’t Go “Disneyland!”

It might seem like fun and games are all it takes to attract and retain talented Gen Y employees, but Millennials are looking just as much for meaningful, engaging work as they are for innovative workplaces.

I remember one manager I met on a consulting assignment who expressed frustration trying to deal with her Gen Y employees. “They think they know everything, starting from day one on the job!” she complained. “One of our employees was telling me how to do things better after less than 30 days on the job.”

You can’t afford to squash that kind of enthusiasm! Sure, they don’t yet know all the ropes, but why not create an assignment for that new employee to dig into a department-wide problem, explore some causes, build some relationships, and provide some suggestions? This way you tap that supreme confidence and give your “rookie” a chance to get a feel for her new work environment.

More and more, KEYGroup’s consultants are called upon to help organizations of all sizes restructure their work environment to attract and retain more Gen Y employees. We’ve found that while millennials can be a handful sometimes, they can also prove to be enthusiastic, energetic and visionary workers. The key is knowing how to respond to them.

For some additional information that may help you deal with your Gen Y employees you may want to read “The Challenges of Engaging Gen Y Workers,” an article I wrote with my son ( or listen to our audio CD “How to retain Talent in Your Company” (

Joanne Sujansky, Phd, CSP, is the founder of the KeyGroup.

For more information, visit