How to Turn Millennial Staffers Into a Competitive Advantage

Ask a baby boomer entrepreneur about hiring a millennial employee and the reply might be a polite but rapid, “thanks, but no thanks.”

Joanne Sujansky and Jan Ferri-Reed described “an invasion quietly taking place in organizations around the world," in their book Keeping the Millennials. "It’s a revolution with the potential to forever change the way most workplaces function.”

They warned, however, “It also brings with it prospects for new conflicts, as the members of one generation begin to work alongside the members of three older generations.”

Millennials are the 20-somethings running around who have managed in short order to create a fairly adverse reputation for themselves, winning labels like lazy, unproductive, egocentric, unfocused, unappreciative and undeserving.  

But this cadre of what less than sympathetic observers have called “spoiled brats” cannot be ignored. As Nick Shore of MTV Insights wrote for Viacom's blog, “Around 10,000 millennials turn 21 every day in America right now, and by some estimates there are already 40 million millennials in the workforce.” 

Rather than being ruled by fear or hype, entrepreneurs should instead perhaps rejoice.

During a recent Money Talk radio interview on KCAA, Emily He, chief marketing officer at Saba Software, encouraged employers to adjust their expectations. Drawing from her company's experience she said millennials' greatest assets are their large social networks, being part of their communities, their ability to become excited about products and the fact that they make ideal candidates as brand advocates -- characteristics an entrepreneur should be pleased to have in a workforce.

Sujansky and Ferri-Reed also believe in millennials' potential:  “The millennials are coming. They’re well educated, skilled in technology, and very self-confident.They bring with them to the workplace high accomplishments and even higher expectations.” 

But entrepreneurs might take heed of the following trend: “It costs employers between $15,000 and $25,000 to replace each millennial employee they lose,”a report by Millennial Branding and “With current data showing more than 60% of millennials leaving their company in less than three years, employers are facing a very expensive revolving door.”

Millennials challenge traditional organizational thinking, He of Saba Software said, and so this might require adjustment on the part of employers. Entrepreneurs might be wise to consider these tips when hiring millennials and trying to keep them engaged:

Related: Millennial Misconceptions: How You're Totally Wrong About This Generation 

Blur the lines between home and work.

“Millennials foster social environments in the workplace, integrating their work lives with their personal lives in an even bigger way than boomers have,” Shore's colleague, Alison Hillhouse, wrote upon releasing MTV's 2012 study of millennial work habits.

“Think of all the distinctions you can between work life and nonwork life ... from the clothes you wear, to the behaviors you exhibit, to the mind-set you bring to it," said Shore. "Now put all that into a blender. That’s the work-life smoothie. The boxes and all turned into one big box, called living.”

Entrepreneurs who want to take advantage of millennials' strengths should adapt their workplaces to allow for the blurring of home and work boundaries. This might mean allowing flexibility in hours and dress code and providing the creature comforts of a millennial living room. Entrepreneurs can take a page from the Silicon Valley playbook and provide mental distractions such as ping-pong and video games and relaxed meeting spaces. 

Related: Don't Ignore the Cultural Perks Millennials Crave on the Job

Give work true meaning. 

Millennials care about the cause or mission of a company, said He of Saba Software. Indeed “what could be misinterpreted as ‘career pickiness’ is an expression of a need to connect deeply with the work,” Shore has observed.

"Millennials have such a great sense of passion," Saba's He added. "They are looking for a sense of purpose. They want to connect to the cause of the company,” she added. “They are looking for something other than just money and a job.”

Thus entrepreneurs desiring millennial workers should ensure their business has a mission. While entrepreneurs need not run social enterprises with altruistic goals, the company’s mission, vision and direction should be transparent. Plus, entrepreneurs should seek millennials' input at all levels of their organization. Get them “excited about the product so they can become a brand advocate on social media,” Saba's He advised. 

The Millennial Branding and study found that millennial workers left a company in 27 percent of cases because their career goals were not aligned with their company but consider staying with an organization “if there is a good ‘cultural’ fit.”   

Related: Why Entrepreneurs Should Take a Gamble on Young People