Attracting and Retaining Millennial Professionals

June 1, 2017


On May 31st, BCCJ members and guests gathered at the ANA InterContinental Tokyo for lunch to learn from David Swan, Managing Director of Robert Walters Japan & Korea, how organisations can attract top talent, retain it, and engage Millennials/Generation Y to produce their full potential on the job. Robert Walters is a global, specialist professional recruitment consultancy and a BCCJ Platinum Member. 

Millennials is the term used to describe the generation born near the dawn of the 21st century between the late 1980s and the early 2000s. They are also known as Generation Y, because they follow on from Generation X (born 1965-1979).

David Swan opened his presentation by asking the audience how many people were struggling to attract, retain and develop skilled, bi-lingual young professionals. The majority of attendees raised their hands. Swan confirmed that there was a tendency for the knowledge and skills sought by companies when recruiting to differ from the knowledge and skills actually possessed by jobseekers. At the same time, said Swan, "more companies are searching for professionals with multiple skills as a consequence of the diversification of business needs."

Swan confirmed that is expected that competition between companies to acquire talent, primarily scarce human resources with enhanced skill sets such as bilingual specialists, will become more pronounced, and salary levels will continue to increase in many industries and job types.

So what can companies do to recruit and retain skilled young professionals?

1) Review your approach and be open to embrace and engage millennials

Swan highlighted the importance of adaptability. "Young people in the workforce bring change to your organisation. They have experienced alternative parenting styles, had different educational development, and have grown up with new technological advancements."

"Millennials are a generation marked by tech-savviness, creativity, and flexibility. They look for jobs through unconventional social media connections, and are driven by a strong sense of both local and global community. They are also much more focused on work-life balance and corporate philanthropy than previous generations."

Swan advised companies to embrace generational diversity and new perspectives in order to stay competitive and win talent. "While Generation X assumes that commitment, hard work, and respect for seniority are an integral part of business success, Generation Y can have a different take. Be prepared to change your approach!"

The speaker also recommended that different generational groups interact regularly, explaining their expectations and exchanging ideas. Improved communication, he said, results in increased understanding and motivation.

2) Consider salary package and benefits

Swan strongly advised that employers ensure that their remuneration strategy is in line with millennial expectations.

"A competitive salary is important for all generations, but particularly for ambitious Millennials, where salary reflects their status and success. 97% rate a competitive pay and bonus system as important, and 25% rank salary as the number one reason they would change jobs."

Looking at figures from Robert Walters' research in 2016, Swan highlighted some current salary trends:

"There were some significant variations between industries in the salary increases offered to job movers during 2016. In the retail and consumer sectors, for example, there were smaller increases, but in the healthcare and financial services sectors, salaries were at 5-10% - a trend that will continue. The highest rises, up to 20%, were observed in key engineering, sales and supply chain specialists in the industrial sector, as well as for the most in-demand security and data‑orientated IT talent."

"Millennial professionals know their worth. Be sure to respect that."

3) Talk about and promote your organisation's contribution to society and the world

"Find innovative ways to tell stories about people, society, the environment, and how your organisation contributes positively to the world," said Swan.

The speaker gave examples of successful initiatives in this area such as allowing employees one paid day's leave a year for volunteer work, participation in in-house community projects, and involvement in global sporting events. "This can give employees a great sense of empowerment and of contributing something to the world through their work - something very important to Millennials."

Swan added that over half of Millennials report that poor company culture was a source of disappointment in a new job. With the rise of social media, it is now quite common for job seekers to search on forums and platforms for inside information on the company atmosphere, staff morale, and overall values. They have the skills and the means to find everything out about your company in advance. "Creating an inclusive, social workplace culture from the start is therefore of considerable importance."

4) Create and provide opportunities to contribute

While they are primarily motivated by their own personal development and social stimulation at work, Millennial professionals are also socially motivated and socially aware. Globalisation, increased levels of participatory politics, as well as ease of internet access can highlight a lack of CSR initiatives within companies.

Swan highlighted that young professionals are keen to participate in altruistic volunteering and charity work when they join the workforce. Millennials regard authentic Corporate Social Responsibility as a must-do, not an optional extra. Their greater awareness of social issues means that they strive to find workplaces that reflect their own personal values and beliefs. For Millennials, what the organisation stands for, and how it acts in the international community, is a major decision factor in whether they choose to accept a job there.

"Give your employees the chance to identify with your company through the good that you do and have them actively participate in your CSR initiatives."


5) Be transparent about career progression throughout

69% of employers place a demand for rapid career progression by young workers as the leading cause of conflict between generations.

Swan reminded the audience of recent survey results which have revealed that the younger generation aren't familiar with deferred gratification as they are used to getting things immediately. In addition to this, in an increasingly cautious world of health and safety regulations, fear, and instability, children grow up in a highly protective environment with "helicopter parents" hovering over them, seldom criticising and often expressing praise for their uniquness and achievements. 

"Millennials at the beginning of their career ladder can be more impatient than previous generations. They want to move ahead fast and can have distorted images about the speed of career progression. If they don't get what they want quickly enough, they are more likely to blame the organisation than themselves," said Swan.

The speaker reminded the audience that Millennials are also less acquainted with the notion of company loyalty and that they "sometimes don't understand that basic skills must first be mastered, and there isn't a hack for hard work." Swan therefore emphasised the need for companies to ensure that they have strategies and policies in place to facilitate career progression for employees, and that they communicate this to potential employees not only during the recruitment process, but at regular intervals during employment in order to prevent misunderstandings and to provide employees with realistic goals.

6) Reduce the appraisal and present negative feedback as a development opportunity

Referring to a recent Robert Walters white paper, Swan pointed out that 38% of Millennials report that they only receive formal feedback from their manager once a year, despite the fact that 91% would prefer to receive formal feedback at least every six months, with 60% stating that they would like to receive formal feedback or appraisals every one to three months.

"Ambitious Millennials like to know that their hard work is recognised publicly as well. 32% of Millennials rate formal recognition of individual achievements (such as an employee of the month program) as one of the most important ways to keep them engaged."

Swan also warned about the delivery of feedback: "Millennials have little emotional resilience and can react badly to negative feedback. It is therefore more effective to present such feedback as an opportunity as opposed to criticism."

7) Offer varied work projects and interactive training sessions with a difference

Swan emphasised the importance of diversity of tasks and options: "If possible, giving Millennials the opportunity to move around different functions within the business can help to retain employees who would otherwise move elsewhere."

The speaker also highlighted the importance of varied and interactive training with a focus on in-person training. "Wherever possible, deliver your training in person. If you can't, keep it short and avoid lengthy full day courses," he advised. Swan recommended the implementation of mentoring programmes which offer new employees direct insights and individual attention.

According to statistics, only 15% of employers believe personalised training programs are a priority for engaging employees, despite the fact that nearly a third of Millennials rank them as one of the most important ways to keep employees engaged.

He added: "Flexible working hours, tele-work, and other work perks ranging from "cool" office design and standing desks, to an office cafe, snacks and drinks, can also be strong incentives for hiring and retaining Millennials, and should not be underestimated."

8) Sell, sell, sell - keep talking about the good things your organisation does

And last but not least, said Swan, "let the communication of your key messages be ongoing. Spread the word about your innovations, your adaptability, and the good you are doing. Stay on the ball, keep listening, and sell what you have!"


Photos of the event can be viewed on BCCJ Flickr HERE

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