Years ago, the world faced an energy crisis, forcing us to look at how we’ve always done things and consider alternatives: How does one harness the wind?  How do we turn sunlight into energy we can use?  How do we become less dependent on our old ways and be courageous enough to try something new?

Today, we in the mental and behavioral health field face a different crisis — a human resource crisis, with the solutions involving recruitment, engagement and retention of a new generation, known as millennials.

The generation born between 1980 and 2000 right now makes up roughly 36% of the work force; by 2020, millennials will be nearly half of all workers (Forbes, 2013).  But beyond their sheer numbers, millennials can bring significant advantages to organizations:

  • They contribute to efficiency through familiarity with technology
  • They are “big picture” thinkers and creative problem-solvers
  • They’re experts at multitasking
  • On the whole, they’re socially conscious – with a “Greener & Cleaner” philosophy
  • And they aren’t complacent — they’re change agents and opportunity makers, who are willing to find new ways to get things done, out of a desire to improve themselves and the world.

Millennials are the most technologically advanced, most educated, and most diverse generation to ever enter the workforce, and they have the power to make an amazing impact on your organization – IF you can recruit, engage and retain them.

Recruiting Millennials

LinkedIn, Indeed, Facebook, and Glassdoor are being utilized by more than 85% of millennials on a weekly basis, and they are looking for more than just a description of job duties, responsibilities, qualifications, and benefits.  They want to be linked to your website (which had better offer a mobile view!).  They want to read about your company’s commitment to social and environmental causes.  They want to know your mission and value statements.  They want to see a passion for the work you do and picture themselves as part of that mission.  And they want to know what other people think of your company.

So how can an organization get across their mission and purpose and use this as a recruiting tool?  The best way to convey this, according to millennials, is through video– for example, videos of employees talking about what it is like to work at this company, featuring staff who have been promoted through the ranks, talking about the opportunities within the company to be recognized and promoted.

If they apply and come in for an interview, you need to know what will entice them to accept an offer.  Let your excitement for your company shine, discuss the positive impact it has on the community, and explain the mission and values held by your agency.  Create a picture for them in which they can see themselves making a meaningful contribution.  Money matters, but not the way it did for Boomers and Generation X’ers.  Jim Clifton, chairman and CEO of Gallup, says, “Boomers didn’t necessarily need meaning in jobs.  For millennials, compensation is important and must be fair, but it’s no longer the driver.”

Top considerations for millennials are flexibility in where and when they do their work, meaningfulness of the work, and the opportunity to be coached and trained toward career advancement. Look at the structure of your organization; there should be mini-promotions available within a year or so, with a clear outline of how to get there.  Millennials have been labeled as job-hoppers with no loyalty; I prefer to describe them as opportunity seekers.  I believe (and have seen) millennials stay at an organization and work their way up when the path to get there was clear, continual feedback was given on their progress, and the promotion was delivered as promised.

Engaging Millennials

Engagement means getting your staff to emotionally and behaviorally connect to their work; employees who are not engaged under-produce, call-out, and ultimately leave.   But a recent Gallup poll showed millennials are the least engaged age group in the workplace, with only 28.9% considered “engaged.”

Millennials WILL connect, however, to an organization that values their strengths and their contributions.  Rather than focusing on how to improve their weaknesses, millennials want to continually develop their strengths.  As clinicians, we understand the value of a strengths-based approach in treatment and see how it encourages engagement in the therapeutic process; therefore, it should come as no surprise that the same approach will yield positive engagement results with staff.

In general, millennials value a healthy work/life balance.  But even more importantly, millennials desire to have their work seamlessly align with their own values and beliefs.  To have full engagement, they need to see how this new position can be integrated into their life in such a way that it enhances, not restricts, what they do outside of working hours.

Retaining Millennials

More than half of millennials believe staying at a job for less than one year is completely acceptable.  But if a company can figure out what motivates, incentivizes, and makes this generation feel valued, they will stay.  To retain them, you need to help them see how they fit into the big picture.  This is a generation that spent their influential years sharing everything on social media, so transparency is in their nature.  Daily tasks, special projects, and added responsibility need to be explained and given a context so there is a sense of purpose to everything they do.

Millennial staff almost always will choose a “coach/mentor” relationship over the traditional “subordinate employee/employer” relationship.  They thrive in a more egalitarian environment and, when it is created for them, they will stay and invest themselves.  But take away their belief that they make a difference, are valued, and contribute in a meaningful way to the mission of the agency, and they will look for a place that does provide that reinforcement.

Finally, an informal survey to millennials both at my organization as well as on Facebook showed that feedback was a vital component to staff feeling valued, appreciated, and invested.  Their seemingly constant desire for feedback, reviews, suggestions, and validation speaks to their eagerness to improve, develop, grow, and advance in their personal and professional development. If you’re a supervisor who struggles to hear feedback from your younger staff, you’re going to have a real problem retaining this resource.  The first step toward motivating millennials is to listen to them.  Suggestion: form a millennial task force.  Pull together a group within your company and put this resource to work; have them answer questions about motivation; and then implement their findings!

Millennial workers have a lot to offer your organization. You can capture those benefits – and ease your staffing crisis — if you understand their motivations and use that understanding to engage them fully.


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Julie Dees

Julie Dees

Julie Dees, MA, is the Director of Behavioral Health Services at MCC Warwick Family Services, and has more than 15 years of clinical and leadership experience, with a passion for fostering staff and program connectedness. Julie is a State Trainer with the Keystone Pride Recovery Initiative, providing training and education to mental health professionals to address issues of access to/inclusion in behavioral health services for LGBTQI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning and Intersex) clients. Julie also is a member of the Schuylkill Dragon Boating Team in Philadelphia, an RRCA Certified Running Coach and owner of Rave Run, LLC.