Five Keys to Attracting and Retaining High-Potential Millennial Talent

Understanding Millennials’ motivations and priorities is a good start to becoming the employer of choice for this increasingly powerful segment of the workforce.

Millennials—people born between early 1980’s and 2000—are the target of much research and speculation regarding how they think, behave, consume, learn and work.  Their vision for the future,  as well as their concerns and challenges and how they plan to face them are under the spotlight. 

Why this focus?

The US Census Bureau1 reported around 83 million Millennials made up the American population in 2015—the largest cohort, well surpassing both Generation X and the Baby Boomers. Millennials are about to move into their “prime spending years,” positioning them as the ones who will reshape economies, marketing strategies and consumer behavior principles2. Millennials are also redefining the world of work, forcing businesses to reconsider how they attract, develop and retain talent for decades to come.

Substantial research shows that, compared to other generations, Millennials are likely to work longer (12% stated they will never retire)3.  One reason is that Millennials will have less money and fewer employment opportunities as the global economy struggles to thrive. Not surprisingly, these factors contribute to a shift in priorities for work and career. 

Millennials are also planning for the long term and want work that increases their life-long employability. Indeed, a global survey3 reveals that 92% give top priority to financial incentives when looking for a job, followed by job security (87%). Security is perceived very differently when compared to the ‘job for life’ mentality of Baby Boomers. Security means having relevant skills and capabilities and being given enough challenges and development opportunities to remain current—both now and for the long term.  

What do companies need to demonstrate in order to become (and remain) an employer of choice for this powerful demographic cohort? Understanding Millennials’ motivations and priorities is a good start:

  1. Stimulation - Millennials are known for their appetite for new opportunities and variety and understand the need for continuous skill development to remain employable. Providing sufficient internal mobility and stimulation is a good recipe to avoid losing them to opportunities elsewhere.
  2. Recognition - Who doesn’t like to be recognized? Millennials are particularly keen to feel appreciated and to know where they stand in terms of potential and development opportunities. Providing a culture that supports open feedback and investment in career development opportunities is key. Having meaningful career conversations is also critical; however, only 16% of employees report having enough of these discussions at work—definitely an area that can be improved.
  3. Flexible Work Arrangements - Holidays/time off and flexible working are also top priorities for Millennials. They are dedicated to wellness, carving out time for their personal lives and well-being. While they are taking longer to get married and leave their parents’ household2, they see the “work-and-life balance” concept as crucial to career longevity.  However, in contrast to older workers who favor a clear delineation between work and life, Millennials prefer a “work-life continuum,” in which organizational flexibility allows them to achieve a balance that works for them (e.g. personal commitments) as well as their employer. 
  4. Development Opportunities - For most Millennials, career progression is not becoming the next CEO of a multimillion dollar company. Millennials look for roles that maximize their satisfaction and their contribution, rather than simply trying to climb the corporate ladder as fast as possible. Lateral movement and visibility into possible career moves emerge as strong needs for Millennials as they navigate their career lattice. Again, having ongoing and open career conversations that go far beyond the classic performance review discussion allows them to focus on career objectives and implement career development plans to achieve them.
  5. Defined Culture - Do your employees know what your organisation stands for? What's it like to work there?  Because Millennials are inclined to work longer and harder, they prefer an organisation with a strong culture. The last of the top five priorities—working relationships—is an important factor in attracting and retaining talent. 
How well do the talent management practices in your organizations align to the above factors? The more meaningfully your employment brand addresses the needs and objectives of high-potential Millennial talent, the more successful you will be in attracting, engaging, and retaining tomorrow’s leaders.
Related Articles About Developing Millennial Talent: 
To Motivate Millennials, Go High-Touch for the High-Tech Crowd
Developing Millennial Leaders: Catching the Shooting Stars
Millennials: A Generation of Natural Leaders?


  1. US Census Bureau – 2015.
  2. Millennials: Coming of Age – Goldman Sachs 2015
  3. Millennial Careers: 2020 Vision Global – 2016. Right Management 
  4. Global Career Conversation Study 2016. Right Management