Heidi Ganahl: How to retain Millennial & Gen Z women
It’s not a question of “if” but rather “when” the promising new grad you just hired begins looking for her next job.
The numbers don’t lie: Generation Z and Millennial women are only staying at their jobs for an average of 18 months. In comparison, the national average for salaried employees is 4.6 years, according to an Economic News Release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The American workforce has changed dramatically since Millennials came on the scene. This phenomenon has left many of us wondering why the ways we engage, reward, and retain employees have not changed with it. Today, especially with a historically low national unemployment rate, companies cannot afford to lose their ambitious new talent. The costs of turnover and training can add up in ways that go beyond the measure of profit margins. Reputation, recruitment, and employee turnover can add up to about half of an employee’s annual salary. Let that sink in for a moment.
If you want to retain Millennials, your organization’s leadership must give them better reasons to stay.
Give them a voice
First, invest time in building an environment of trust. The ‘trust fall’ and workshop icebreakers facilitated by your management team aren’t enough anymore. The groundwork of this point of view stems from the height of my success in building and growing another brand I founded, Camp Bow Wow. There I led thousands of employees system-wide and created a “culture” of conversation. The simple fact I’ve learned is that if you don’t create an environment where feedback runs both ways, unengaged and burned-out employees will plan their escape behind your back. Opening the lines of communication is the first step in keeping your team engaged and in their roles.
Millennials who believe their company has a high trust culture are over 22 times more likely to want to work there longer. Take the time to ask your employees and team members what’s working, and what’s not, then show you value each opinion. Ask questions. Honor feedback. Be transparent. Make your workplace an environment where people want to stay for more than 18 months. Make it a place that, when employees do leave, it’s because they have a significant growth opportunity you’ve prepared them for—not just because they felt forced to look for the next best thing.
Give them meaning
As a leader, it is your responsibility to find rewards that mean something to your employees. Millennials started their careers in a culture that throttled the idea of work-life balance. Now that they make up half the workforce, they’re eager to flip the rules. So, why not do it with them?
Bentley University conducted a study in conjunction with KRC Research firm revealing that 77% of millennials felt flexible work hours would make the workplace more productive for people their age. More importantly, the same study found that 80% of millennials believe they will work for four or fewer companies in their lifetime, and 36% of millennials expect to stay in their current job for at least 4 to 5 years. So why does it feel so hard to retain these employees? Susan Brennan, Executive Director of Bentley University’s Career Services and Corporate Relations department says, “Millennials intend to be loyal to employers, but they are ultimately looking out for themselves…If they do not see these benefits in their current company, they will look elsewhere.”
The bottom line is Millennials value independence and flexibility. They are more mobile, well-traveled, and value jobs that don’t make them check who they are at the door. Find ways to reward their contributions with perks that match their values—whether it be flexible hours, work from home time, sponsoring attendance at conferences that match their professional interests, or others. Think outside the bonus box and watch as 18 months become two, three, or even 20-year careers.
Give them a community
If you want to keep your promising new grad hire, build them a community. If going out to lunch for office birthdays is your idea of satisfying employee engagement, it’s time for you to rethink the way you’re doing things. Millennials are happiest when they feel genuinely connected to their co-workers. Find projects and opportunities for Millennials to get involved in teams and projects that matter to them. Tap into the needs of the “wellness generation” by making sure employees’ physical and mental health is being considered.
Earlier this year, I created a campaign, SheFactor, to empower young women to live more authentic lives. What started with a book titled SheFactor — Present Power, Future Fierce, would become a lifestyle brand dedicated to this model of retaining young women by empowering them. Together and alongside my Gen Z daughter, Tori, we designed an app, launched a podcast, and have been building squads, or “chapters” that will help companies large and small create a community for their female Gen Z and Millennial employees to keep them from absorbing the 18th-month curse. In our squads, we have created a forum for them to know, prioritize, and honor their individuality, bringing out the best in them.
Give them your story
To avoid the ‘18 month turn-around’, I strongly suggest that leaders tell stories that make people trust them with power. Anecdotal insights are severely under-resourced assets in the workplace. Chances are you’ve been in their same shoes from time to time, and surprisingly, vice versa. People enjoy connecting; after all, that’s what this is all about.
Through Tori, I witnessed firsthand the challenges and under-preparedness that young college-aged women face coming into the workforce. It seemed the advice she was getting was graduate, and then go figure it all out. “The real world,” as they say.
I believe now what I believed then, that with even a bit more encouragement and support—which the SheFactor Squads are providing, we could generate real change in women’s careers, happiness, and lives.
It very quickly became apparent to me that my perspective on my daughter’s post-college life was not unique. Back in 2014, I sold the $100 million Camp Bow Wow brand, a franchise I built from the ground up. It was the opportunity of a lifetime to meet and get to know my women franchisees and Camp Bow Wow staff across the United States. Today, I am a state-wide elected official in Colorado where I proudly represent one of Colorado’s largest employers, the University of Colorado, on the Board of Regents. This role has allowed me to spend the last couple of years talking with voters, students, parents, and others who share the same point of view—that we must focus on preparing and supporting our next generation of leaders: Gen Z and Millennial women.
My experiences and perspectives added up to something great. And, so will theirs.
Heidi Ganahl, is a businesswoman, entrepreneur, author, and elected member of the University of Colorado Board of Regents. She is the founder and former CEO of Camp Bow Wow, an international pet care franchise. In 2019, Ganahl launched SheFactor, a book, mobile application, a national lifestyle brand —and movement—dedicated to empowering women to empower women.