Hiring—and keeping—the best millennial workers is a matter of Purpose

As a young adult born in the late 1980s, I was interested to learn in April that my demographic group—the infamous millennials—had outpaced Baby Boomers as the largest generation in America.

When Pew announced the news, it was received with some trepidation. One can picture Boomers in various ad agencies, newsrooms, and HR departments throughout the world, steeling themselves for some great onslaught of changing social mores, memes, and incomprehensible slang—wondering how they’ll get us to join them, and scared what will happen if we do.

But for as much endless talk, trend pieces, and hot takes on the fickle neediness of millennials, the data reveals only a few, common-sense realities: we are more diverse than generations preceding us; we generally tend towards being socially liberal; and we care more that our work has a positive impact on the world.

Whatever we are, we’re wanted by companies with an eye on growth—we’re young, educated, and necessarily the leaders of tomorrow. To hire the best of us, the competition is fierce.

As top brands attempt to cater specifically to our alleged whims with (admittedly) amazing perks—free-range catered lunches, “unlimited” time off, craft-beer kegerators, and the like, we’re left to wonder. Who they are really trying to hire: the millennial caricatures, or us real ones?

Putting purpose before perks

The perks are nice, but purpose goes further.

Purpose is the raison d’etre of an organization—the “why” beyond the profit. Whether it’s Unilever’s commitment to “make sustainable living commonplace,” or Whole Food’s stance that “values matter,” companies with a strong purpose have an appeal that goes beyond dollars and cents.

In this way, purpose is much more than just a brand vision or even a set of corporate values—it’s baked in, completely ingrained and integral to the way a company does business. An authentic and well-implemented purpose is invaluable to growing a business. According to a Havas Media Group study, brands with a purpose set on improving our quality of life outperform the stock market by 120 percent. And up to 17 percent of a company’s financial performance can be attributed to well-communicated purpose, according to a Burson-Marsteller study.

But what does this have to do with hiring and retaining millennials? Getting the best talent primes a company for growth. Keeping them happy and in place makes it happen.

It’s useful to think about the nonprofit sector in understanding the value of purpose in recruitment and retention. Nonprofits have always fought an uphill battle in getting and keeping the best minds of each generation. Yet despite often tiny budgets, nonprofits manage to get truly talented individuals to dedicate their lives to growing the organization—and looking at the numbers, this makes sense.

More than 50 percent of millennials say that they’d sacrifice higher pay for a company more aligned with their values. 56 percent would rule out a workplace simply because of its values. And over 90 percent say they want to use their skills for good.

A company with a true, well-articulated purpose has a lot of the same appeal of a nonprofit—giving us millennials a second thought about pursuing alternative career paths or foregoing the corporate world entirely.

But just as pressing in the minds of HR departments around the world is the task of keeping us on the job for more than a couple years. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, nearly 60 percent of human resource professionals believe this will be a top challenge over the next decade.

Purpose is one way to combat this perceived lack of loyalty among my cohort. In fact, a full 88 percent of millennials said they would be more likely to work at a company for more than five years if they were satisfied with its sense of purpose.

Looking at these numbers, a picture much different than that of the needy, fickle millennial emerges.

Boomers found purpose in stability and the promise that hard work pays off. We look around at the world we inherited and see a reality that’s fundamentally different than our parents’. Stability is hard to come by. It’s a time of few guarantees.

Can you blame us for wanting to feel good and make a difference along the way?


Associate Consultant, Verbal Indentity