By 2020, about half of the U.S. workforce will be part of the generation that values helping people in need over a huge salary; that actually do care about a company’s mission; that praise and deeply appreciate flexibility.

At first blush, this seemingly major shift in how an individual’s values are expressed at work, it can feel daunting to connect with this generation. Here are five things to think about that can help you attract, and actually retain, these incredibly powerful people.


More than many generations before them, millennials have high expectations when it comes to doing what you say you’re going to do, and won’t take it well if you don’t walk your talk. Though it seemed a few years back that millennials might be known in posterity as lazy, disengaged non-workers, it’s clearer now more than ever that this major workforce constituent is hard-working, intelligent, creative and informed. Use this to your advantage by clearly stating your vision, and allowing millennial employees to help you get there.


I think one of the most unique things about the millennial generation is the sudden absence of reliance on an existing value structure. Sure, many of these individuals grew up in homes with strong moral compasses, varied spiritual or religious structures, and the benefit of their parents’ experiences.

But this generation is the first to have total unfettered access to the world’s information. They are more empowered than any modern generation before them to become informed on their own terms, to go find what makes sense to them in the world, and to pursue whatever meaningful acts that call to them. If they are going to be willing to show up to an interview, or keep showing up to work, you’d best be ready to let them see the impact they make.


Creative, flexible, and often multi-talented, millennials (and many other young people before them) are powerhouses of innovation, fresh ideas, and elegant solutions. Cultivate a workspace that invites collaboration that visibly values contributions of both ideas and work. Put a strong, solid mission in place, but listen to their input.


Let’s face it: lots of bureaucracy is pretty suspicious looking from the outside. It doesn’t foster fealty, it doesn’t improve productivity, and it’s unnecessarily confusing. It’s a cargo carrier in a world of speed boats.

I’m not suggesting that you abandon structure of all kinds, and ban regular work hours or encourage your employees to come in their pajamas. But does that form really need to be hand-filled in triplicate?

If you run into bureaucratic structures you just can’t get rid of, take the time to explain why the structure exists, what value it brings or what problems it helps to avoid. Trim all of the unnecessary form filling and eye-crossing procedures you’re able to. Bonus: doing this will likely increase overall productivity, save costs, and contribute to an overall mood lift for your company.


It’s not just about personal growth. Some experts claim that it’s very important to millennials to feel they are progressing in their careers, and though I find that kind of generalization a little arbitrary, I do think that it’s important for individuals in any company to feel like they aren’t stuck.

Find out what matters to each employee. If they want to be vice president of a company one day, give them opportunities to learn valuable skills that make them more prepared for that position. Consider promoting in smaller steps than traditional company structures, but don’t make those distinctions arbitrary and functionally meaningless. Make each transition mean something: give them a bit more responsibility; charge them with learning a new skill that also adds value to your company’s bottom line.


Be careful with words like “potential” when you’re talking about young professionals. Remember that American millennials have had essentially the world’s knowledge at their fingertips their whole lives.

Here’s an example: They may not have had two years of trade school to learn how to refinish furniture, but they had YouTube. Though sometimes this learning on the go model leads to holes in knowledge, where they know that they need to perform a task a certain way, but not why, in the bulk of potential situations their skills are real. Their experiences are valuable. They might not have any sales experience, but if they’re passionate, well researched, approachable and dauntless, their age shouldn’t be the thing that keeps them out.

When you consider attracting and keeping millennials, there’s one sure-fire way you will retain them: ask them. A little bit of collaboration will go a long way.

Smartt Principles: Business Acumen for Great Results (NorthBayBusinessJournal.com/SmarttPrinciples) is a monthly column by Nicole Smartt. She is co-owner of Petaluma-based Star Staffing (starhr.com), ranked as one of the fastest-growing companies in America by Inc. magazine. As a business and career advice expert, Smartt has been featured in Forbes, The Washington Post, Fox Business and Wall Street Journal.