Retain The New 'Rockstar' Generation Of Employees

Rock Star

Photo: fmgbain via flickr

Look around your office. Managers are struggling to keep their high-performing talent within the ranks, especially the up-and-coming young superstars from Generation Y. By 2020, these young hires will make up 50 per cent of the workforce.  They are rapidly climbing the corporate ladder, and much has been made of the supposedly needy mindset they bring to the workplace—and how their predecessors, the Baby Boomers, must change their approach if they want to accommodate these over-coddled upstarts.

Don’t believe everything you read. The reality is that Gen Ys want exactly the same things from work as the Boomers do: a dynamic, high-performing culture that keeps them engaged and lets them reach their full potential.

What’s changed is that social media and other new technologies have brought a higher degree of flexibility, interactivity, and immediacy to the workplace. Why wait six months to tell your employee she’s done a great job—or that she needs to improve—when you can do it right now, today.

The benefits of a more social, collaborative, and flexible workplace don’t stop with Gen Y; they extend to the rest of the workforce as well—particularly top performers who want to get better, faster.

Companies who are slow to adapt to a more modern, social and collaborative form of managing the best talent will continue to lose their future rock star employees until they learn how to engage them. Indeed, a 2011 study by Deloitte found that two out of three employees at large companies are looking at making their next job move. If you can help provide your people with some specific strategies for managing high performers, you will save yourself a lot of headaches down the road.

Here are seven proven ways managers can keep their high performers engaged:

1. Provide a clear career path and access to mentors

Millennials want a manager who will help them develop their careers. A recent analysis by the Harvard Business Review found that Gen Y’s rate six types of rewards at least as highly as compensation, including:

  • high-quality colleagues
  • prospects for advancement
  • steady rate of advancement and promotion

A strong manager will work to put these in place. And learning doesn’t have to be a one-way street. Gen Y’s have a lot to teach more experienced colleagues—particularly about how new social technologies are transforming interaction inside and outside the workplace.

2. Make their work meaningful

In her new book, “The Progress Principle,” Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile refers to meaningful work as “work where the person is contributing something of real value, something they care about.” Creating a work culture around the principles of frequent feedback, coaching, and recognition will instill a sense of purpose in your Gen Y employees — a feeling that their job is more than just… a job. A 2011 report on employee engagement by Blessing White found that the most productive and motivated employees are those whose values are aligned with the values of the organisation. No one likes coming into work each day unclear about how their individual duties connect to the larger goals of the organisation. So when the company executive releases new quarterly information, check in with your team and ask them if they understand how it connects to their own work.

3. Set goals and measure their progress

In “Managing Millennials,” executive coach Stephen Miles and his co-authors write that Gen Ys, “excel in environments that are low in ambiguity, with tasks that are well specified.” Focusing their work around achieving key objectives, and then measuring their results by how well they did, will help them improve—and provide the visibility they need to stay engaged. So in your next 1:1 meeting, ask them what measurable goals they should set — and check in on them frequently to see what actions they’ve taken to make progress against those goals.

4. Offer more than compensation incentives

Financial rewards historically have been at the heart of motivating employees, but that view is changing. In his book Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us, Dan Pink writes that the promise of more money does not influence workers to perform better. Instead, they look for autonomy, a sense of purpose, and a chance to improve. Instead of relying solely on checkbooks, companies should focus on inspiring loyalty – through things like team-building exercises.  And this doesn’t just apply to Gen Y; it’s true for all workers.

5. recognise them publicly 

Gen Y’s want to know their bosses are watching and paying attention when they do things right, which is why it means a lot to them if their achievements are broadcast to the rest of the team. The impact of public recognition may go further than you realise.  A 2010 study at the University of Michigan found that university students favoured compliments and a boost to self-esteem over junk food, alcohol, money, and even sex. Public recognition also has the benefit of inspiring imitation: when others see it they frequently follow suit. And what about the old chestnut that positive feedback makes employees lazy and swells their heads? It turns out the opposite is the case: employees are motivated to work harder and earn that recognition.

6. Offer them continuous feedback

Gen Y’s like to hear how they are doing in the company right now—not six months from now when performance review time comes around. Weekly 1:1’s with managers provide them with frequent check-ins about what they are doing well, where they need to improve, and where they should focus their efforts. Elevate these meetings beyond day-to-day work to find out how your employees are really doing. If there are any signs of boredom or disengagement, you’ll catch them early, before it’s too late.

7. Don’t forget to be a manager

It’s easy for managers to focus on their own work—and argue that their job description doesn’t involve spending hours mentoring their direct reports. But if you aren’t taking the time to coach the Gen Ys on your team, they are unlikely to stick around. “There’s no time allotted for me to spend time doing these things,” one senior manager admitted to the organisers of the Blessing White report,  “but I’ve come to recognise that if I don’t do them, the quality of my people and their engagement will suffer.”  And when the promising class of Gen Y’s that represent your company’s future walk out the door, that suffering will quickly extend to the company as a whole. 

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