Ideas for Leaders #086

Attracting, Developing and Retaining Millennials

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Key Concept

The number of ‘Millennials’ entering the workforce is peaking, and there is now global interest in understanding how best to manage them. By some estimates, nearly 80 million Millennials (young adults born between the late 1970s to early 2000s) make up today’s global workforce. There is also evidence that they are fundamentally changing how business is conducted. Here are some steps to maximizing their effectiveness in your organization. 

Idea Summary

It is no secret that Millennials (also known as Generation Y) are unlike previous generations; their careers have been affected by different factors to their predecessors, such as the recent financial crisis — which left high levels of unemployment in young adults — and more widespread use of the latest technology than ever before. So, understanding how to keep this generation of employees engaged and how to leverage their strengths is key for firms of all sizes; this is what Jessica Brack explores in this white paper.

Program Director at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, Brack reaches out to employers that want to prepare Millennials to be their organization’s next generation of top-level leaders. “The nearly 80 million Millennials who are about to enter, or who are already in the workforce will fundamentally change how business is conducted in the future,” she says. “HR practices and policies designed to attract, develop and retain this vast cohort must change to reflect this generation’s work — and life — expectations.”

The challenge of managing Millennials can be described as a clash between ‘cowboys’ and ‘collaborators’. The former term refers to the generations before Millennials — Generation X (mid-1960s – mid-1970s) or the Baby Boomers (1946 – early-1960s ) — and the latter term encompasses the optimistic, socially-conscious and achievement-oriented nature of Millennials. The aspects of work that cowboys and collaborators value as important differ, and as result of such different job expectations conflicts are bound to arise.

Some firms have already introduced measures to maximize the effectiveness of Millenials in their organizations, such as Johnson & Johnson, which formed a generational affinity group to help raise understanding of the generation and to encourage inclusion across all generations. Similarly, General Electric (GE) formed a team of 21 Millennials from various GE businesses and functions with a goal to identify ways to attract, develop and retain Millennial talent. They named this team ‘Global New Directions’.

Business Application

HR executives in particular have an important role to play in attracting, developing and retaining Millennials. They can do this through the following steps:

  1. Attract them: follow the example of companies like Google and Deloitte, who use technology to deliver information about your organization’s culture, open communication policy, flexible work schedules, training and-development opportunities, etc.
  2. Develop them: there are a number of ways to do this, including offering soft-skills training like how to assimilate into a new workplace culture, how to work with team members assertively and diplomatically, how to process feedback, how to approach a supervisor for coaching and mentoring, and how to set long-term career goals.
  3. Retain them: the key word here seems to be ‘flexibility’. Create an organizational culture that is flexible and relaxed, has open communication, encourages sharing and innovation and offers flexibility. This is a good step to keeping Millennials engaged.
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Idea conceived

  • 2012

Idea posted

  • February 2013

DOI number



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