By Megan Salzano
As retail owners across the country look toward retirement, attracting a new generation of employees has become paramount to a store’s longevity.
Those searching for the best candidates should consider a dip into the millennial pool—the generation’s current numbers show its members will soon make up a large portion of the workforce, and retailers should be tapping that potential.
However, attracting and retaining a millennial staff can be somewhat tricky, as the generation has skirted the traditions of generations past and espoused new needs within the workplace. The key to this generation, experts say, is first acknowledging you need them and then adapting to their workplace wants.
Why millennials matter
While millennials may have been saddled with less-than-flattering labels surrounding their work ethic by the generations before them, much of the generation has dispelled such stereotypes and even helped create a more proactive workforce.
“The workforce in general has evolved thanks to the millennial generation,” said Mike Fromm, chief human resources officer, Shaw Industries. “This group has encouraged more feedback, work/life balance and quick advancement in the companies where they work. These characteristics are also impacting change in other working generations, and employers need to be aware of these changes.”
When it comes to impacting other generations, Marsha Everton, principal, The AIMsights Group, noted, “Millennials are known for their interest in having a job that ignites their passion and allows them to make a difference. What surprised us is the boomers outscored the millennials on both these job requirements. Appealing to millennials will also increase your employment appeal to boomers.”
Millennials are not only evolving the workforce and the needs of that workforce, but their sheer numbers mean they are an important part of recruitment. According to the Korn Ferry Institute, the U.S. the labor force is 161 million—of that number, 56 million are millennials; 53 million are Gen Xers; 41 million are baby boomers; and the rest is a small number of the silent generation. In addition, every day boomers retire and more millennials join the workforce.
“I often find it helpful to remind people that millennials are now older than many people think,” Everton said. “The older millennials have moved into a new life stage—they are getting married, buying homes, having children and doing all the ‘adult’ things that include substantial financial responsibilities. Reliable income is a critical component of this new life stage. To grow or even maintain your business, you must recruit and retain them.”
When it comes to what millennials bring to the retailing table, Fromm said an associate from this generation can help catalyze new thinking and provide a lifeline for consumers. “For flooring, an industry that has been around for decades, it’s vital to encourage those with different perspectives to speak up,” he explained. “Consumers relate to sales associates with whom they have shared life experiences, and retailers should recognize the importance of hiring millennials as they can connect with other millennials in the floor buying process. We know the process can be daunting. However, having a millennial sales associate who can relate to this new generation of consumers can lead to sales success. Any organization not actively recruiting this generation is missing a large portion of talent, which can hinder their business’ growth.”
What millennials want
So what is it that retailers need to keep in mind when trying to recruit millennials? Experts say it comes down to cultural, employment and leadership factors, and each are able to be tailored to not only the millennial mindset but that of the evolving needs of every generation within the workforce today.
When it comes to the cultural aspects of the job, experts believe the No. 1 factor is respect. “Millennials—and all generations, especially boomers—want to feel valued,” Everton said. “They want to know that the company will listen to them and take action based on their input. They want to be acknowledged as a person—not a number—with recognition of what makes them unique.”
Shaw’s Fromm echoed those sentiments, noting, “We have found the environments millennials work best in are those that are accepting and empowering. Millennials don’t want to be seen as a demographic with little to contribute based on their age; they want to be seen by companies as a demographic with potential.”
It’s not just recognition that millennials crave. According to Matt Beaudreau of The Center for Generational Kinetics, millennials also embrace transparency within an organization, an obvious local impact and a clear organizational stance on social issues that identify with their own.
When it comes to the employment factors that can impact a retailer’s success with millennials, those relate more to aspects such as a “work/life balance” and other direct impacts to an employee’s working life an employer can make. For instance, money. “Money matters. ‘Good’ money is the top requirement for millennials as well as all generations,” Everton said. “We also found as the millennials get older, good benefits become a more important requirement—part of moving into the adult-life stage.”
Millennials also place a high priority on flexible hours. While that fact may inspire hesitation from employers, experts say it shouldn’t. “This doesn’t mean they want to work less hours; rather, they may spread their work out over the day,” Beaudreau said.
Millennials are also looking for a company or job that will allow them to grow professionally and personally. “Any company can help them with the former, but it’s growing personally that sets employers a cut above,” Shaw’s Fromm said.
He added that millennials seek to understand what steps and paths they need to take to be successful at a company. “We’ve learned that creating an outlined, formalized process for professional growth and advancement is key to millennial success. This generation will be more outspoken about this need than previous generations and desire opportunities for smaller, potentially faster advancements.”
When it comes to leadership factors, Fromm said millennials truly believe in the adage stating the best leaders are those who lead by example. This generation, he said, wants to see a leader be successful in their role so they know what it takes to advance in the company. Millennials also prefer approachable, inclusive leaders to more formal, inaccessible leadership. “Leaders who empower and hold themselves and their millennial employees accountable for their performance will have the most success in working with this generation.”
A shifting retail strategy
In order to attract and retain millennials, some retailers may need to shift their hiring and business strategies to entice this new generation of employees. Beaudreau noted one of the smartest things an organization can do is invest in a leadership development and mentorship program. “Millennials are taking on many management roles at this point, and they truly want to impact the organization,” he explained. “Many of them feel like there is a disconnect with their organization, though, and an assigned mentor can help them to develop their own leadership skills.”
Another way for retailers to adapt business practices for millennial employees is to revamp performance review processes. As Shaw’s Fromm explained: “Millennials prefer frequent feedback and clearly defined strategies for success. Spending dedicated one-on-one time coaching and providing feedback for a millennial employee will cost very little but have a positive impact.”
Managers and employers should take into consideration what millennials need/want from their employment and evolve their workplace strategies to meet those needs when possible. “Recognize them,” Everton said. “Respect and listen to them—and take action that shows that you listened. Also, communicate frequently with transparency and authenticity; invite them to collaborate in achieving your clearly stated strategy and goals; provide the training and guidance they need to grow in their careers; offer competitive compensation and benefits; and smile like you enjoy your job, too.”
However, even if a retailer intends to implement new strategies within the business plan to attract new employees, attraction begins with getting millennials interested in the organization in the first place. On that issue Beaudreau posed the following questions: “Are you public about your mission? Are you actively and openly giving back to others in your community? Are the people who work for you feeling empowered and valued? If the answers to those questions are yes, then how do you show it?”
From a millennial point of view, utilizing platforms like video, social media, etc., give dealers the greatest possible reach to impact the perception of an organization. “Once you get them on board, utilizing the strategies mentioned above will help you retain them for the long haul,” Beaudreau explained.
While hiring a new generation of employees and evolving long-held workplace practices may seem daunting, experts say independent retailers may already have a leg up on attracting this generation to the industry. “People work for people, not companies,” Everton said. “The independent retailers have a potential advantage in their more personal environments to nurture those relationships that keep us happily or at least meaningfully employed. In that smaller environment, the owner can frame the employment opportunity as having the benefit of being part of a smaller, more elite group—especially if they also offer the freedom to bring innovative ideas to the business. It’s what makes most of us happy.”
In the end, millennials aren’t as different as they seem. “It is imperative that businesses not single them out or view them negatively,” Fromm stated. “They bring new energy, creativity and unique perceptions to businesses. This new generation of millennials can—and will—contribute to business success, and it is vital that Shaw, as an innovative, adaptive and strategic company, recognizes the value millennials bring to the workplace.”