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December 4, 2017

Getting the most from millennials

In the war for millennial talent, how can tech firms attract and retain the best performers? Roland Emmans from HSBC outlines the winning strategies.

By James Nunns

As our society becomes increasingly connected, there are now very few businesses that can make products or deliver services without technology. Consequently, the demand for tech talent is growing fast. In fact, according to recruitment company Indeed, more than 10 per cent of all jobs created in the UK in the first half of 2017 were technology-related.

Roland Emmans, Head of Technology Sector for HSBC

With demand potentially outstripping supply, the task of finding and retaining talent is becoming increasingly difficult, especially for businesses which aren’t traditionally regarded as technology firms but where tech is increasingly important. Often these business have built their work cultures in fundamentally different ways to the new breed of tech firms famed for their exciting and creative work environments.

The problem is magnified by the fact that the majority of businesses will be targeting millennials – those born between 1980 and 1999. As the first truly digitally savvy age group, millennials have become vitally important to the tech sector. According to analysis by US salary research business PayScale, the average employee at the world’s top tech firms is aged between 28 and 31, while Deloitte predicts millennials will make up 75 per cent of the global workforce by 2025. As a cohort, millennials have become renowned for being motivated by softer factors, such as sense of purpose and work life balance, rather than the financial and security factors that have tended to drive previous generations.

As a result, tech companies – more than any other sector – need clear strategies to attract and retain the best and brightest talent. The issue of what attracts and retains millennial talent comes up frequently in our discussions with senior tech executives. While it’s difficult to generalise for such a varied group of people there are some common themes.


Attracting millennials

When it comes to attracting millennial talent in the first place, there are some obvious factors – better health insurance, flexible working and holiday allowances – which can make a significant difference in grabbing people’s attention. Indeed, recent research from HSBC has shown that 89 per cent of employees consider flexible working to be a key motivator to their productivity levels within the workplace and more so than financial incentives. I believe that trust is big part of this and it’s very important to millennials. Importantly, flexible working isn’t just what you might call ‘lip service trust’, it’s ‘true trust’ to be able to do your job on your terms.

For example, while I’m sadly not a millennial, I view work as something I do and not somewhere I go. I work from different locations and during different parts of the day. Without this flexibility my employer would get much less out of me in the average week.

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However, for the tech sector, there are some more surprising factors which business leaders should pay careful attention to – all of which link to not only trust but also purpose and culture.

For many businesses the ultimate indicators of success are share price or profit – but for millennials it’s all about the difference they can make. They care about the work they are doing, how they fit into the big picture and the value they perceive they add.  Ensuring your organisation has a clearly defined purpose that staff can relate to at a personal level can be more engaging than simply offering more money. It follows that millennials want to be surrounded by colleagues who also care about the work they do and are passionate about their role in achieving the organisation’s goals.

Millennials also crave an enjoyable working culture. But this is more fundamental than the stereotypical view of the slides or ping pong tables often associated with ‘wacky’ tech companies. It’s about having fun in the workplace and enjoying your job. In practical terms this means giving staff the ability to choose to work on projects which they’re naturally interested in or providing regular opportunities to get out of the office and work in a range of environments. I recently heard of a large programming business that was losing staff to start-up firms. In response, they created a start-up mentality around projects, giving people delivery-focused work, flexibility and time off post-delivery. Retention and staff satisfaction went up as did productivity.

Millennials want and expect an open and transparent approach. They want to have their say and they want their views to be listened to and acted on so they feel they are contributing to the organisation’s future.  This even extends to the way in which poor performers are managed. Millennials tend to be brutally honest with each other and will quickly voice their concerns if low standards are tolerated. They expect the same from their employer.


Retaining millennials

Getting millennials through the door is only half the battle. They have a reputation for job-hopping so retaining them is a continuous challenge. However, we have seen first-hand how our tech customers have benefitted from the following strategies.

Like many industries, tech has traditionally seen people enter the business in a particular area and then work their way up, gaining increasing amounts of knowledge and experience about a specific skill. However, in today’s ‘agile working’ world, savvy tech companies are breaking this model by rotating high performers between different specialisms.

This works particularly well with millennials and tech workers who crave an appreciation of the bigger picture. They are ‘knowledge workers’ in the truest sense and mostly want to be lifelong learners facing fresh challenges within their current employer or elsewhere. The variety also helps to keep them fresh, engaged and challenged, and can help senior management identify the potential leaders of the future.

A natural extension of this is to provide millennials with mentoring. While they may be known for having clear views on what they want from their career, their raw energy needs direction. Access to senior management within an organisation not only provides the opportunity to learn but importantly reassures millennials that their opinion matters and their insights are contributing to the development of the company. This can also be fruitful in creating a culture of innovation and interaction across the business.

Finally, remember that doing things that make a difference is very important to millennials. Where possible, seek to support their passions in the workplace. This might be through events like hackathons which are a great way to engage and excite talent. You should also consider work-life balance by offering initiatives like early-finish Fridays or allocating time to pursue personal interests during the working day.  But crucially this needs to be sustained. It’s the day-to-day actions of the business that sets the tone rather than one off events.

With technology cutting across so many sectors, harnessing the expertise of the right people in the right way is vital to the economy. As older generations move into more senior roles or even look towards retirement, it is the millennials who are delivering work and projects on a day-to-day basis. The challenge facing businesses today is potentially not enough qualified staff, more firms chasing their skills and millennial employees looking for more than the traditional remuneration package in return for their labour and engagement. Understanding and responding to their needs and ambitions is central to winning the war for tech talent.

Trust, purpose and culture are all crucial but success is more than just words – it’s the actions behind them that really matter. Get it wrong and your most valuable and mobile assets will let you know!


About the author

Roland Emmans is Head of Technology Sector for HSBC. Roland uses his 20 years of banking experience to get under the skin of tech firms and help them prosper. He has supported the growth of a wide range of tech businesses, which has given Roland unique insight into the sector, its challenges and opportunities.

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