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Interview With Dan Schwabel: How to Retain Your Millennial Workers

Millennial branding guru Dan Schawbel sheds light on the looming retention problem and what you can do to scratch younger workers’ two-year itch.

September 16, 2013
Related Topics: College Recruiting, Generations, Interviewing, The Latest

You have a retention problem brewing, and it’s going to cost you. According to research conducted by author Dan Schawbel in conjunction with job site, more than 60 percent of millennial workers plan to leave their employer in less than three years, with a cost between $15,000 and $25,000 to replace each employee lost. Workforce caught up with Schawbel to find out what can be done.

Workforce: Do we have a millennial retention problem or simply a retention problem?

Dan SchwabelSchawbel: I’ve looked at previous studies and it’s been consistent. Millennials always leave in two years. And it’s not about salary. It always comes down to corporate culture, meaningful work and flexibility. If you compare this generation, they’re not willing to settle for something they’re not interested in or passionate about. They’d rather have a lower-paying job. They would take a pay cut to do work they care about. Boomers leave in about seven years and Gen X leaves in five years.

Workforce: What does strong cultural support for millennials look like?

Schawbel: A startup culture. This generation is the first one that will ask why there is a 9-to-5 workday. No one has a good answer. It’s like we’re in 1960. Companies need to start realizing that a lot of people go home or go on vacation and they’re still doing work. You can’t trap someone from 9 to 5 every day when they’re going to be doing work outside of work. It just doesn’t make sense for the world we live in.  All these programs — volunteer programs, intrapreneurship programs, internal hiring programs — this is good for everyone. Managers are always saying [about millennials], ‘They’re entitled, they want all these different programs.’ The question is: Wouldn’t you want those programs?

Workforce: Do you see other mismatches between the practice of HR and what younger workers want?

Schawbel: Millennials want companies to do good for society and give back, but most companies are set up just to make profit and please shareholders. That’s one of the things that needs to change in the future. [Younger workers are asking:] ‘What’s the meaning of what I do? What’s the impact of what I do and what the company is doing?’ Some companies might be doing a good job but they’re not communicating it the right way to the public and to current employees. Communication is going to be an issue. ... Managers want face time, but is there a new version of face time?

Workforce: What would you suggest HR do right now to address retention?

Schawbel: The biggest missed opportunity is setting expectations. That includes transparency. More companies should set expectations: a manager saying on your first day of work — or even in the interview — this is what’s expected of you and what you’re responsible for.

Mike Prokopeak is editorial director of Human Capital Media, the parent organization of Workforce. Comment below or email Follow Prokopeak on Twitter at @MikeProkopeak

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