Why millennials quit and how companies can improve retention

Our clients often tell us retaining millennial employees is one of their biggest challenges. Why is this such an issue? Because, by the year 2025, millennials will comprise 75 percent of the workforce. So, it’s essential for organizations to determine how to make their workplace an environment where millennials want to come and stay awhile.

Millennial employees have turnover rates over three times higher than other generations because they are looking for better balance, strong leadership and development opportunities. In fact, CLG has found that the reasons why millennials quit their jobs generally fall into one or more of these categories:

  • Misalignment between work and personal values.
  • Missing leadership opportunities.
  • Company leaders who aren’t supportive, caring and fail to provide personal feedback.
  • Feeling underutilized.
  • Lack of flexibility in schedule and job opportunities.

Data shows that millennials demand flexibility in the hours they work, the place where they work and the variety of tasks they’re asked to perform. Our clients have experienced this firsthand, and the issues are often compounded in industries perceived as more traditional, such as manufacturing, oil and gas, transportation and mining. These industries rely on shift workers, overtime and make demands outside of “normal” work hours. Millennial retention rates are plummeting in these industries because, just by nature of the work, there are more stringent work schedules and hours.

So, the big question is: What can employers do to work best with a millennial-majority workforce?

With five different generations working side-by-side today, it’s even more critical to address the preferences and expectations of each generation. CLG has identified eight key generational differences. Here they are, with advice to ensure the desires of millennials are addressed fairly and reasonably.

1) Communication – One generation prefers face-to-face, another email, another text-messaging. To be effective, you need to address multiple communication styles and preferences. For millennials, this means getting to know each person’s preferences, so you can communicate in a way that engages and informs them. Don’t assume they’re all digital experts.

2) Change – Millennials like to provide input on new initiatives, and they have the energy to help drive change, so give them opportunities. Other generations tend to rely on what worked in the past. Younger employees can become frustrated with what they see as a slow pace for change. Keeping them informed of developments and milestones makes change progress more visible. So, involve them early and solicit their thoughts and ideas.

3) Development – Formal training works for some employees; others seek coaching, mentoring and individual programs. For millennial development, understand what each individual is looking for, since this generation grew up with customized learning options. For some, it may mean finding developmental assignments or special projects; for others, it may mean access to specific training. Millennials are on-demand learners, so providing several development options, when possible, allows them to take ownership. Although these employees are younger, they tend to have a long-term vision. They want development that will help their overall career progression or open potential avenues in the future, not just training that helps in their current role.

4) Decision-making – Some workers rely on data, while others go with their gut instinct. Learn about your millennial employees’ decision-making style. Understanding how they make decisions informs what you need to provide each employee. Millennials generally have more appetite for risk-taking, which can help teams seize new opportunities. Understanding how millennials (and everyone) on your team makes decisions can help avoid critical blind spots.

5) Feedback – Everyone agrees that different generations prefer different methods of feedback. Pay close attention when a millennial asks for feedback. They may be seeking more than reinforcement for a job well done. Many also look for constructive feedback that will help further their development. So, when giving constructive feedback, focus on specific actions and be clear on what you hope to see them do differently in the future.

6) Innovation – Do you brainstorm as a group? Is innovation encouraged by all? Is risk-taking rewarded? Millennials may have less experience but don’t overlook what they offer. Their fresh insights, application of digital tech and unique perspective may help solve age-old issues or surface new and better ways of working. Millennials often ask many questions. This is a good thing — they ask because they’re inquisitive, not because they want to undermine the process. Be visibly open-minded to new ideas and questions to engage them.

7) Organizational values – People want to work for organizations they are proud of and do work they believe in. Be upfront with millennial recruits about your organization’s values, so they can decide early if their personal values align with the company’s values, reputation and brand. Millennials, like all generations, want work that is meaningful. However, to millennials, this means work with a positive social impact.

8) Work/family balance – While structured hours are not a thing of the past, millennials demand more flexibility and work options to maintain a balance between work and family. This is an area where it’s imperative that companies get creative and think through all possible solutions. Consider how you can leverage simple, existing technologies to help give employees more flexibility in their scheduling. (This could be as simple as hosting a Facebook group where people can communicate to exchange work shifts).

Millennials will have an oversized impact on the workforce of the future. Changing the way your organization views and engages millennials will pay off with employees who are motivated to stay and contribute as well as grow, shape and lead your company into the future.


Kim Huggins is a partner at CLG.  She is a nationally recognized consultant, speaker and author in the areas of leadership and understanding the generations. Her book, “GENerate Performance! Unleashing the Power of a Multigenerational Workforce,” has been cited as an invaluable leadership tool for any business wanting to attract and retain talent. She has a passion for and experience in generational diversity, change execution, leadership development/coaching, organizational development, employee engagement, and cultures of innovation.

Michael Cannon, Ph.D., a senior associate consultant at CLG, utilizes evidence-based approaches and a keen strategic outlook to help organizations make real, sustainable change happen. His expertise in psychology and human behavior enables him to truly understand individual and team strengths and to pinpoint the best opportunities to improve performance. He has also trained hundreds of leaders across North America, helping them improve their leadership presence and to develop coaching and feedback skills to manage their teams’ performance more effectively.