The slowly recovering economy and a tough job market have made employment one of the most discussed issues this year. But rarely do employment discussions ever focus on how organizations can prevent their existing employees from leaving and finding work elsewhere.

It’s particularly challenging in digital: Google and Facebook are infamous for poaching each other’s employees, but even smaller start-ups and ad technology companies are wary of losing their young, freshly-trained employees to prestige employers.

The group with the most movement between jobs right now is the Millennial generation, which traditionally stays at a job for one and a half to two years, sometimes less. The younger generation’s work habits are far different than what we’ve seen before — often, Millennials will complete projects and meet deadlines, but they’ll do it when it’s convenient within their lives. Employers need to accept this new idea about work if they are to build and maintain a dedicated young workforce.

Older generations might chafe at the idea of moving away from a traditional nine-to-five workday, but there are easy ways to reach a new level of understanding and encourage employees to buy into the company’s mission.

One of the big reasons today’s twenty-somethings work around the clock and live the always-on lifestyle is because they have a reason to believe that their work is valuable and that they are contributing to the overall growth of the company. Working at a digital company provides even greater flexibility to work remotely, but it also means employees never really leave the office, because important emails are only a few smartphone swipes away. Younger employees need to maintain their lives away from work, so it’s important to take time into consideration.

By moving away from the vacation/sick time/personal day system and toward a new method that measures everything in terms of paid time off, employees view their time off in a different light. At the heart of this system is the fact that employees don’t have to explain why they’re taking time off — they are simply allowed to use the time as they want. What happens is that employees value their time off far more, and as a result they use it more sparingly.

Another factor that ties into the always-on lifestyle is the concept of flexibility, which ties closely into trust. A lot of older employees believe that work is accomplished in the office, and the only way to prove that work is being done is to show your face. Working hard is only accomplished by staying late. Younger employees may not be in the office in the early afternoon, but they’ll hit their deadlines and answer emails later in the evening rather than letting those issues wait until morning. Again, working in the digital space means employees can access their work anywhere, at any time. Working remotely — as long as there are no important meetings or presentations missed — can often be more productive than sitting in a cubicle. Look at the end result, rather than the work process.

When companies trust their employees, these workers will turn more to their superiors to develop and learn about the business. Millennials are hungry to prove themselves and eager to learn, but it’s important that organizations arm their young workforce with the skills to succeed, rather than set them loose without guidance. Be ready to answer questions, but also be prepared to let younger workers grow on their own. Bring them into a client meeting and encourage them to speak up when they can contribute.

As you do this, be prepared to build relationships with the entry-level employees. Loyalty is built on relationships, not salary, and a key factor to keeping employees from defecting to a new start-up or a larger tech giant is the bond between supervisor and employee.

This doesn’t mean you should ax supervisors who aren’t buying their subordinates drinks or hanging out with them on the weekends. It means you need to train your staff to turn potential problems into teaching moments, rather than instances of finger pointing that are likely to drive younger employees to look for employment elsewhere. When working in digital technology, it’s also important that supervisors be prepared to learn from the younger workforce. The Millennial generation is known for its technological prowess. Be sure to learn from them as much as you teach.

All of this ties back into creating a feeling that employees are part of something larger than themselves. Older generations may scoff at the notion of nurturing younger employees, or even refer to is as coddling. But when employees feel that an organization trusts them and has worked on the relationship, those workers are more likely to return that trust with hard work and dedication. They’re also far less likely to abuse privileges and leave the company.



Erika Weinstein is co-founder and president of Stephen-Bradford Search.

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