How To Retain Millennials (And Talent In General)

illustration of young woman in office elevator with older colleagues millennial in elevator at work

Millennials stand out at work, but not necessarily for negative reasons. | Source: ShutterStock

Guest blogger Rex Conner is the author of What if Common Sense Was Common Practice in Business? The lead partner and owner of Mager Consortium, he applies the uniquely effective processes of Dr. Robert Mager to the entire spectrum of human performance in the workplace.

For more information, visit, and connect with Conner on LinkedIn.

The factors for which Millennials stay in jobs or choose to leave aren’t so different from other generations. The reason for which retaining Millennials is such a hot topic is that they are a lot more willing to leave a job than their older co-workers – they will bolt with less provocation. The question is what is causing them to job hop?

The key to retaining Millennials is to fix what is broken sooner.  So, what is broken?

The HUGE problem that no one is talking about is in the communication between the boss and the bossed. Buckingham and Coffman did a tremendous amount of research for their book, First, Break All the Rules, in which they state, “People join companies, but then they leave their boss.” We can relate to this as a common experience, but is this because all bosses are evil?

No, it’s because your workplace is full of subjectivity. That’s the source of evil!

Disagreements and the sense of not being treated fairly come from subjective work processes, not from bad people. Get rid of the subjectivity and you will keep not only more Millennials, but more of all of your good employees.

Subjective Work Processes – Subjectivity means that it’s open to interpretation. Subjectivity in your work processes is a mist of darkness and confusion that needs to be cleared up!

A work process is simply the sequence of steps we take to get something done. The best work processes are objectively formalized and documented, but many are not. They were created when people found a way to get things done. That means it depends on the people involved to get it done – it’s subjective. Since different people will have different ideas of the best way to get it done, or how it should be evaluated, there is plenty of room for disagreement.

Think of your own experience… a time in the workplace when you and your boss have disagreed. The disagreement may have been about how to do a task, about how your performance was evaluated, or how you get paid or recognized – or didn’t get paid or recognized. All of these situations and many more like them, all have the same root cause; something was left open to interpretation instead of being defined. If that something had been defined ahead of time, that particular episode of misery could have been avoided.

You can do something about this!  Revise the subjective work processes to make them transparent and objective.

Here is one way to do it. The next time you are having a disagreement, call a time-out and consider why you are disagreeing. The source of that disagreement was probably a process that was left open to interpretation. If the relationship with your partner in the disagreement is still intact, you can better define and repair the process that caused the disagreement.

If you need additional help, the skilled HR and/or Quality people in your organization can help you find and destroy subjectivity in your work processes.

The fuzzies are not so warm and fuzzy.

Another common hiding place for conflict-causing subjectivity that leads to the revolving door of Millennials and other workers is the simple communication that deals with people performing in the workplace.

“Be a team player,” “take initiative,” “tighten-up those requirements,” “you need strong communication skills,” are all examples of fuzzy (subjective) communication. When fuzzy communication is used to give directions, describe performance expectations, or to evaluate performance, it is grounds for fight or flight!

Here’s a simple example. We’ve all been on one or both sides of the parent/child conversation that starts with “go clean your room.” Isn’t “clean your room” fuzzy? To the parent it means clothes where they belong, bed made, clutter in its place. To the child it’s a cleared floor and clothes out of sight, usually under the bed or stuffed in the closet. To clarify these fuzzies, the parent has to describe observable performances.

Observable performances are the key to clarifying fuzzies in the workplace also. For example, “take initiative” might be translated to:

  • Complete a business plan when a project is assigned

  • Volunteer for community service projects

  • Do your own analysis before handing in a project for evaluation

The lesson here is that each of the bullet points is an observable performance and doesn’t leave nearly as much room for interpretation as the original fuzzy of “take initiative.”

As you have read these ideas it’s likely you have been struck with the notion that this is just simple, common sense. Well, YES! When you can bring common sense to your workplace you can reduce or eliminate the source of conflict, and significantly increase the retention of the mobile Millennials and the many other good people that you want in your organization.

You can actually make common sense common practice!


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