Attracting and Retaining Millennials at Your Agency

Does Your Agency Have a Plan for Hiring and Retaining Millennials?

According to LinkedIn’s 2015 Talent Trends Report, millennials will comprise 50% of the workforce by the time 2020 rolls around. In less than 10 years, millennials will make up 75% of the workforce. Yet many agencies, despite hiring and retention problems, have not considered the unique opportunities and problems of attracting and retaining this growing segment of the workforce. But who are millennials, and how do agencies make themselves more attractive places for millennials to work?

Who Are Millennials?

There are no precise dates for when the millennials cohort starts or ends. Demographers and researchers typically use the early 1980s as starting birth years and the mid-1990s to early 2000s as ending birth years.

In reality, there are strong similarities between millennials and the generations that have preceded them: they want security and variety in their career, they want to be stretched and challenged, they want to work for a company of which they can be proud, and they have every intention of being loyal.

But there are many ways in which this growing proportion of the workforce is different. They have strong beliefs and expectations that extend to the workplace.

Where Millennials Want to Work

Data suggests millennials are driving a shift towards the public service sector. In 2010, Myers and Sadaghiani published research in the Journal of Business and Psychology stating heightened participation in the Peace Corps and MeriCorps as a result of millennials, with volunteering being at all-time highs. Volunteer activity between 2007 and 2008 show the millennial age group experienced almost three-times the increase of the overall population, which is consistent with a survey of 130 college upperclassmen depicting an emphasis on altruism in their upbringing. This has led, according to a Harvard University Institute of Politics study, six out of ten millennials to consider a career in public service.

A 2014 Brookings publication shows a generational adherence to corporate social responsibility, with the National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS) 2013 survey and Universum’s 2011 survey, depicting a preference to work for companies engaged in the betterment of society. Millennials’ shift in attitudes has led to data depicting 64% of them would take a 60% pay cut to pursue a career path aligned with their passions, and financial institutions have fallen out of favor with banks comprising 40% of the generation’s least liked brands.

In 2008, author Ron Alsop called the millennials “Trophy Kids,” a term that reflects a trend in competitive sports, as well as many other aspects of life, where mere participation is frequently enough for a reward. It has been reported that this is an issue in corporate environments. Some employers are concerned that millennials have too great expectations from the workplace. Some studies predict they will switch jobs frequently, holding many more jobs than Gen Xers due to their great expectations. Psychologist Jean Twenge reports data suggests there are differences between older and younger millennials regarding workplace expectations, with younger millennials being “more practical” and “more attracted to industries with steady work and are more likely to say they are willing to work overtime” which Twenge attributes to younger millennials coming of age following the financial crisis of 2007-2008.

Political Views

Surveys of political attitudes among millennials have suggested increasingly social liberal views, as well as higher overall support for classical liberal economic policies than preceding generations. They are more likely to support same-sex marriage and the legalization of drugs. The Economist parallels this with millennials in the United States, whose attitudes are more supportive of social liberal policies and same-sex marriage relative to other demographics. They are also more likely to oppose animal testing for medical purposes than older generations.

Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed democratic socialist and democratic candidate in the 2016 United States presidential election, was the most popular candidate among millennial voters in the primary phase, having garnered more votes from people under 30 in 21 states than the major parties’ candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, did combined. In April 2016, The Washington Post viewed him as changing the way Millennials viewed politics, saying, “He’s not moving a party to the left. He’s moving a generation to the left.” Bernie Sanders referred to millennials as “the least prejudiced generation in the history of the United States”.[90]

Millennials are expected to make up approximately half of the U.S. workforce by 2020. Millennials are the most highly educated and culturally diverse group of all generations, and have been regarded as hard to please when it comes to employers. To address these new challenges, many large firms are currently studying the social and behavioral patterns of millennials and are trying to devise programs that decrease intergenerational estrangement, and increase relationships of reciprocal understanding between older employees and millennials. The UK’s Institute of Leadership & Management researched the gap in understanding between millennial recruits and their managers in collaboration with Ashridge Business School.[134] The findings included high expectations for advancement, salary and for a coaching relationship with their manager, and suggested that organizations will need to adapt to accommodate and make the best use of millennials. In an example of a company trying to do just this, Goldman Sachs conducted training programs that used actors to portray millennials who assertively sought more feedback, responsibility, and involvement in decision making. After the performance, employees discussed and debated the generational differences they saw played out.

Average incomes for millennials have fallen at twice the general adult population’s total drop and are likely to be on a path toward lower incomes for at least another decade. A Bloomberg L.P. article wrote that “Three and a half years after the worst recession since the Great Depression, the earnings and employment gap between those in the under-35 population and their parents and grandparents threatens to unravel the American dream of each generation doing better than the last. The nation’s younger workers have benefited least from an economic recovery that has been the most uneven in recent history.”

In 2014, millennials were entering an increasingly multi-generational workplace. Even though research has shown that millennials are joining the workforce during a tough economic time, they still have remained optimistic. About nine out of ten millennials surveyed by the Pew Research Center said that they currently have enough money or that they will eventually reach their long-term financial goals.

Use of Technology

In their 2007 book, authors Junco and Mastrodicasa expanded on the work of William Strauss and Neil Howe to include research-based information about the personality profiles of millennials, especially as it relates to higher education. They conducted a large-sample (7,705) research study of college students. They found that Next Generation college students, born between 1983–1992, were frequently in touch with their parents and they used technology at higher rates than people from other generations. In their survey, they found that 97% of these students owned a computer, 94% owned a mobile phone, and 56% owned an MP3 player. They also found that students spoke with their parents an average of 1.5 times a day about a wide range of topics. Other findings in the Junco and Mastrodicasa survey revealed 76% of students used instant messaging, 92% of those reported multitasking while instant messaging, 40% of them used television to get most of their news, and 34% of students surveyed used the Internet as their primary news source.

One of the most popular forms of media use by millennials is social networking. In 2010, research was published in the Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research which claimed that students who used social media and decided to quit showed the same withdrawal symptoms of a drug addict who quit their stimulant. Marc Prensky coined the term “digital native” to describe “K through college” students in 2001, explaining they “represent the first generations to grow up with this new technology.” 

Millennials use social networking sites, such as Facebook, to create a different sense of belonging, make acquaintances, and to remain connected with friends. In the Frontline episode “Generation Like”, there is discussion about millennials, their dependence on technology, and the ways the social media sphere is commoditized.[164]

Along with being educated, millennials are also very upbeat. As stated above, about 9 out of 10 millennials feel as though they have enough money or that they will reach their long-term financial goals, even during tough economic times. They are also more optimistic about the future of the U.S. in general. Additionally, millennials are also more open to change than older generations. According to a Pew Research Center 2008 survey titled Millennials in Adulthood, millennials are the most likely of any generation to self-identify as liberals and are also more supportive of progressive domestic social agenda than older generations. Finally, millennials are less overtly religious than the older generations. About one in four millennials are unaffiliated with any religion, which is much more than the older generations when they were the ages of millennials.

12 Tips to Attract Millennials to Your Agency

There are a number of key steps employers can take to address the needs and preferences of millennials. Consider these 12 tips to ensure your agency is millennial-friendly:

  1. Emphasize your mission! 64% of millennials want to make the world a better place. This is a great opportunity for agencies who communicate their mission. A purpose-driven organization should be more attractive to purpose-driven people like millennials. This should give agencies a hiring and retention advantage with millennials over retail and other competing employers. Get these employees connected to your agency’s higher purpose and prove you’re ready to help them achieve their bigger-picture ambitions, too. Most millennials would rather make a difference than make a ton of money. Encourage them to see the agency as an opportunity to give back to the community. Invite millennials to fundraisers and offer volunteering opportunities. Show them that they can have a positive impact on the world at your agency.
  2. Focus job postings on the greater good. Millennials are particularly keen on societal mission and contribution to the global good, so putting their work in this context inspires them. Job postings should focus on the value of work and importance to the organization and society.
  3. Keeping in touch with millennials is key, whether it’s during the recruiting process or while they’re employed with your organization. Be helpful and maintain open communication. Millennials enjoy using communication systems, media, and technology. Avoid using paper forms with them, and instead use email and texts to follow up with applicants. Provide post-interview feedback opportunities. According to LinkedIn’s Talent Trends Report, 95% of millennials want to hear what you thought about them after the interview.
  4. Use technology! While older employees may be more comfortable with paper timesheets, schedules, and documentation, millennials definitely will not. They are the generation identified with the smartphone, texting, and online internet activity. If it’s not online, millennials will find it hard to take seriously. Millennials enjoy automated digital alert systems like next shift reminders, review notifications, birthday and anniversary greetings, etc. Make sure your timesheets, schedules, documentation, PTO, training, and everything else you can think of is online and accessible. Millennials will want the ability to check their schedule or look for an open shift online, preferring organizations that use technology effectively to achieve their mission. Agencies that appear backward or unwilling to adapt will not be attractive places for millennials to work.
  5. Be a mentor. Offering help and guidance is a way to create trust and loyalty with millennials. Send updates every three days from the hiring manager to applicants in the application process to court millennial workers. If your agency has a mentorship program, call attention to that during the interview process.
  6. Get organized and document your procedures! For some, part of the learning process is to learn by doing — to figure out a process that others in the organization already know. But millennials have a different approach to problem solving. They don’t want to “go figure it out” (why do I want to spend two hours figuring out what you already know? Send it to me, and I can spend that two hours moving forward.) Set aside the perception that 10 minutes of downloading information is laziness. Allowing them to take it forward will challenge and excite them.
  7. Make work fun, challenging, and exciting! For millennials, work is supposed to be fun. For this generation, there’s a free-flowing intersection between work and life. Keep millennials engaged and challenged by giving them additional responsibilities, especially when offering a pay raise isn’t an option. Millennials want to feel they’re moving somewhere, being challenged. Millennials love change, so mix it up for them. Also keep in mind that a millennial’s timeframe for accomplishing goals is 18 months or less – anything beyond that is incomprehensible.
  8. Provide frequent feedback. Millennials have a need for instant gratification, which means they’re always on point to deliver rapidly. As a manager, provide frequent feedback to fill this need.
  9. Facilitate collaboration and creativity. Create an environment — both through location and culture — for collaboration. On the culture side, managers should encourage staff members to propose alternatives and new ways of doing things. From a physical standpoint, agencies should create smaller interaction spaces (a cozy conference room versus a 20-person boardroom).
  10. Offer individual recognition. While collaborative approaches are meaningful, millennials still expect and want individual attribution. They will embrace the challenge of an individual task that is an essential part of a larger team-oriented project. When they are successful, call them out for a job well done. This is very important.
  11. Create a work environment that is conducive to work-life balance. This is one of the things this young generation desires most. Emphasize benefits like PTO. Improving the quality of life both in and out of the office — with social events, benefits, and flexible schedules — will appeal to people looking for more than just a salary. It’s what many progressive companies are doing.
  12. Avoid an excessively rigorous hiring process. Millennials are informal. Your agency may be weeding out high-potential millennials on a regular basis. It might be a good idea to loosen things up a bit. In place of the usual two-or three-round interviews, you can hold informal professional development classes, conduct informational sessions, or show potential candidates around the facilities. Host open days. Through these, you can let the candidates decide for themselves whether they fit your company’s culture or not.

Agency Staffing Survey Reveals Acute Labor Shortage

MITC recently conducted a staffing survey in which 137 agencies employing nearly 40,000 staff from across the USA participated. The majority of agencies have reviewed hiring, retention, and scheduling to try and manage the situation better.

Across the board, from smaller agencies with less than 50 staff to the largest providers with over 2,800 employees, agencies reported an excessive number of open positions, primarily for direct support professionals. The average agency employed 320 staff when fully staffed and had 25 open positions, or nearly 8% of all positions open. The total number of open positions was over 3,000.

Struggling to deliver vital services to a vulnerable population, agencies have responded by authorizing, or at least paying, more overtime. Of the agencies who participated in the survey, 65% reported overtime was higher than they wanted.

Turnover rates varied quite a bit, indicating that some agencies may be doing a better job with retention practices than others. Some agencies in South Carolina, North Carolina, Indiana, and Illinois reported turnover rates for direct support professionals as high as 80%. Turnover carries both direct and indirect costs. Turnover costs include:

  • Additional overtime for other staff to cover vacant positions
  • Lost billing if services cannot be delivered
  • Management and HR time to interview, hire, and on-board replacements
  • Training time and costs

Direct costs related to HR issues, such as off-boarding administration, recruitment and replacement hire activities, and fill-in staffing. Less obvious, but no less costly, are the negative impacts to staff morale, productivity, and performance, which can lead to the potential for adverse client outcomes and diminished quality of client care.

On the other hand, agencies in Maryland, New York, and Pennsylvania reported turnover rates under 10%. Not surprisingly, the agencies with the lower turnover rates were in states where paying around 20% higher pay rates for direct support professionals is feasible, but pay is probably not the only difference between agencies.

Ways to Improve Retention and Hiring Rates

Almost all agencies participating in the survey have taken steps to improve retention and hiring. Steps taken included:

  • Better applicant screening to concentrate resources on those most likely to stay
  • Emphasizing total compensation value, rather than hourly rate
  • Improved, more organized on-board training
  • Referral hiring bonuses
  • New hire bonus on completion of training
  • Mentoring programs
  • Buddy programs
  • Annual review of retention and on-boarding process
  • Awards, award trips
  • Employee appreciation days and events
  • Contests
  • Gift cards
  • Monthly staff newsletter
  • Graduated pay scales with incremental increases
  • Shift differentials
  • Early access to benefits
  • Creating new positions to focus on hiring direct support staff
  • Working with local colleges, such as nursing schools
  • Developing career ladders and career paths
  • Profit sharing

Using small bonuses to thank employees is common. For example, one agency with a large number of group homes has a monthly attendance competition. The group home with the best attendance record gets a pizza party at their location.

Providing adequate training makes sense. Inadequately trained staff members are more likely to leave. We recommend agencies provide opportunities for people to improve their skills via training sessions, presentations, and team assignments. Employees like to share what they know; the act of teaching others ensures the employees own learning.

Apart from pay, agencies reported problems with the quality of applicants among those who are available. Common problems were:

  • Applicant can’t pass drug and background checks
  • No-shows for interviews and training
  • No relevant skill sets
  • Failure to complete training successfully
  • Poor concepts of attendance responsibilities

How Scheduling Can Help Retention

Of all the agencies participating in the survey, 42% are considering new scheduling systems. This makes sense. With more open positions, agencies are forced to move staff around more. As well as minimizing overtime, improved scheduling practices can also help with retention.

Unfortunately, one of the biggest complaints employees have is lack of advance notification and planning for schedules. Poor scheduling or last minute schedule changes can cause conflicts with employee’s home lives and cause them to seek alternative employment, even at a lower pay rate. Frequent rescheduling leads to a culture of frustration and uncertainty in your workforce, and encourages absenteeism and turnover. A DSP will be much less motivated to show up if they are constantly being rescheduled, especially at short notice, even if they get overtime.

When scheduling employees, it is important to track employee preferences and restrictions to maximize employee satisfaction with their shifts, and to avoid calling employees to fill an open position they can’t take. MITC recommends integrating capturing schedule preferences and restrictions into the new hire procedures. Allowing sufficient time between shifts for employees to go home and rest helps as well. Try to avoid calling employees who have just finished a shift back in.

Using text/email reminders to notify employees of their next shift with instructions of what they are meant to do can also reduce absenteeism and helps motivate employees. Using task scheduling to assign employees specific duties creates a check list for them to tick off. People like to know what they are meant to do.

Planning for holidays well in advance can minimize overtime and avoid disruption. Even though DSP’s get extra pay for working on a holiday, few want to work on a holiday. Planning holiday schedules well in advance will lead to greater satisfaction and better attendance.

Using scheduling and time & attendance to monitor frequent offenders helps identify employees who regularly show up late, leave early, or call in sick, and set a bad example to other employees. This in turn, causes lower productivity and overtime.

As well as working on the hiring and retention process, agencies reported that they had changed some of their scheduling practices by:

  • Investing in new scheduling software
  • Allowing different sites greater flexibility in how they schedule staff
  • Introducing rotating weekend shifts (one on, one off)
  • Creating more full-time positions
  • Increasing the number of part-time staff
  • Creating dedicated scheduler position(s)
  • Monitoring hours to ensure employees get a break to avoid burn out
  • Implementing longer shifts on fewer days
  • Using salaried staff to cover open shifts

Empower Employees Through Self-Service

Improved employee self-service can also help with retention and improve productivity.

Try publishing schedules on the internet. Allow employees see their schedule for the week and who they are working with, open positions, check their timesheets, view PTO balances, and more. This saves time for you and your staff. Empower employees to request PTO online. This avoids employees getting frustrated if they end up playing telephone or email tag with their manager and saves everyone time. Once employees are used to looking at your website, use the website to make organization-wide announcements and engage your employees in your projects.

Use automated text or email alerts to remind employees about license expirations, upcoming training, reviews, and more. Sending automated happy birthday and anniversary greetings all help. An HR email blast can keep different groups of employees updated about changes that affect them. Simple emails of praise at the completion of a project, monthly memos outlining achievements of a team to the wider division, and peer-recognition programs are all ways to inject positive feedback into a workforce. Also, consider reporting accomplishments up the chain. A thank you note to the employee is good, but copying higher-ups makes that note even more effective.

Employee Recognition Can Make All the Difference

Make sure your agency is on top of review dates and provide career paths for DSP’s. Employees want to know where they could be headed and how they can get there. Annual reviews or mid-year check-ins are one obvious venue for these discussions, but also encourage workers to come to HR with career questions and wishes throughout the year. Employees like to feel like their hard work is being rewarded. Part of making sure your employees feel this way is giving DSP’s the opportunity to achieve the non-tangible benefits of recognition and advancement. Reward exceptionally smart, resourceful, and hard-working DSP’s by gradually increasing their responsibilities and giving them more important titles. A DSP who’s advanced from an entry-level position to a manager role is much more likely to be loyal than one who’s done the same job for years.

It’s not enough to simply offer the potential for advancement — it’s also important to make sure that DSP’s understand how they can advance in your agency. Provide DSP’s with written guidelines on what factors will help them advance, such as good attendance records.

Try to promote from within your agency workforce, rather than recruiting outsiders. While this may sometimes be unavoidable, hiring an outsider to fill a vacancy when there are qualified employees with years of experience who could conceivably do the job can give the impression that you don’t care about your employees’ accomplishments.

Lastly, conduct exit interviews. If they don’t yield enough information to help solve a retention problem, consider asking longer-tenured employees why they stay. Ask questions such as: Why did you come to work here? Why have you stayed? What would make you leave? And what are your nonnegotiable issues? What about your managers? What would you change or improve?

While there are no quick fixes for turnover, making a few key changes can increase caregiver retention and help alleviate the challenges agencies face by caregiver shortages.

Four Tips for a Strong Job Posting

As the economy improves, organizations are growing more concerned with attracting and retaining talent. In a 2015 study, Travelers created a Business Risk Index Summary. This study found that organizations were more concerned with talent acquisition then they had been the previous year. 53% of businesses surveyed said they worried about attracting talent. Additionally, 14% of organizations felt that organizations were not prepared to cope with the challenges presented by employee acquisition and retention.

Attracting the right employees takes planning, but is something any organization can do. Here are three tips for more effective job postings.

1. Make Sure the Job Title is Descriptive

Indeed.com found that job titles that were descriptive, such as “Marketing and Events Coordinator”, got significantly more traffic than those with less descriptive names, such as “Marketing II”. Make sure the job title both accurately represents the position and avoids generic labels.

2. Have a Realistic and Thorough Job Description

Make sure the job description is clear about what is expected in a strong applicant, including any qualifications, certifications, or availability. The description should include the tasks that will be performed while on the job.

If you’re looking to hire a person who can lift 200 lbs, be aware that some organizations often use “feminine” language when creating certain job postings. Words like “nurturing” and “caregiving” are often at the forefront, which may not be the image you’re looking to project.

Similarly, avoid emphasizing education or experience requirements unless they are necessary to the position.

3. Make the Online Submission Process Simple

Be clear about materials needed, including information on resume format, any references, or if salary requirements need to be included. Make it as easy as possible to submit (ex. allow attachments instead of requiring employees to fill out an online form with information redundant to their resume).

4. Mention Any Non-Pay-Related Perks of the Job

Make sure your organization is presented in a favorable light, and give the applicant a good idea of company culture.

Pay is not the only factor for employees when considering a job (or changing jobs). If your organization allows flexible schedules, the ability for employees to apply for opens shifts internally, or a strong benefits package, be sure to emphasize those facts in the job posting.