Five tips for hiring (and holding on to) young people

Forget ping pong and free food, this is what 'millennials' want in a job.

by Jack Torrance
Last Updated: 05 Jan 2017

Sometimes there’s no substitute for an experienced pair of hands. But plenty of businesses are nonetheless keen to attract bright new talent. Young workers are full of fresh ideas, it’s said, are often better acquainted with new technology and can be moulded to fit the requirements of your company. And the fact they’ll work for a lot less pay than their older colleagues doesn’t hurt either.

So how can you make your business more appealing to the younger generation of workers? Many a company has gone down the Silicon Valley route of investing in ping pong tables and offering free food. Perks might help make a company seem a touch quirkier and more fun than a stuffy City bank, it’s unlikely to win over many applicants in-and-of-itself.

I did a small (and totally unrepresentative) straw poll of what young people I know look for in a job. While a couple said free cake wouldn’t go amiss, most of their desires are much more grown up – things like job security, recognition and opportunities to progress. But don’t take my word for it - there’s plenty more rigorous research backing that up too.

Even after you manage to sign up a young worker there’s a good chance they won’t stick around. Deloitte’s latest ‘millennials’ survey found that 66% of the younger generation expect to leave their current employer by 2020. With that in mind here are five tips for attracting young workers - and hanging on to them for as long as possible.

1. Progression, not ping pong

It’s often said that young people expect everything to be handed to them on a plate. In reality most know they will have to put in some hard graft if they have any chance of enjoying the same lifestyle that their parents have become accustomed to. Just look at how many spend weeks and months doing internships for little or no pay in the hope of landing a proper job.

That said, they’re only willing to put their nose to the grindstone if they’re actually going to get something out of it. In the absence of a bumper pay packet, that means a good name on their CV, regular feedback, training opportunities and above all useful experience. Deloitte’s survey found that those millennials who were least likely to leave their current organisation were offered training and opportunities to progress, while those most likely to leave felt they were being overlooked. Go figure. 

2. Ditch stuffy rules

Today’s consumers enjoys a lifestyle that’s increasingly ‘frictionless’. We can pay by the tap of a card, book a holiday on our mobile phone and order pizza by speaking to a digital assistant like Amazon Alexa. Those accustomed to such a lifestyle expect the same from their work. Jumping through seemingly pointless hoops that don’t create any real value to an organisation is a massive drag.

This applies to many aspects of work life. Is forcing everyone to wear a jacket and tie or other formal attire really necessary? In some offices the answer might be yes. But those who remain stubbornly attached to outdated dress codes may find young workers harder to recruit. The same goes for bans on using one’s mobile phone or going on Facebook in the office, or using the printer for the odd personal errand.

3. Flexibility

Many of those I spoke to mentioned flexibility. Nowadays expecting people to be chained to their desk 9 till 5 Monday to Friday (or longer) feels a little outdated. It reeks of micromanagement and a lack of trust. If I’m most productive lying in bed at 9pm on a Saturday then why can’t I do my work then? I’ll be happier and more effective as a result. You might not want to give people totally free reign over when and where they work. But letting them work from home on a Friday or the occasional 10-6 will show you trust them and make their life easier too.

4. Purpose

This one comes up a lot, both in the published research and in my straw poll. Getting paid matters, but without a sense of purpose it’s very hard to be enthused about what we do. In Deloitte’s survey, 87 per cent said ‘the success of a business should be measured in terms of more than just its financial performance.’

You need to be clear with candidates and employees what the purpose of your company is (That can be as lofty as ‘making the world a happier place’ or as pragmatic as ‘helping our clients produce more widgets’). And you also need to make sure that everybody’s job is bound up in that purpose – if somebody feels like they are doing work for work’s sake then they aren’t likely to stick around for long.

The research also suggests millennials are more concerned about the ethics of their employer than previous generations so if your present strategy involves burning down rainforests or misselling financial products to vulnerable people then don't expect to have potential new recruits queueing out the door. 

5. Don’t forget the almighty dollar

Young people might be willing to prioritise purpose over pay, but at the end of the month a decent bundle of cash can always make the difference between whether someone remains in their job or not. Many millennials are acutely aware that if they don’t start saving for a deposit on their house or paying into their pension now then they could face real financial difficulty in later life. They won’t work for peanuts forever, so be mindful of what your competitors are paying and if you really want somebody to stay then be prepared to put your hand in your pocket.

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