The trick to retain and enable young employees

Mr. Sandeep Punjabi, a middle aged entrepreneur, is a worried man. In spite of having a stable business model in IT Integration space and multiple corporate customers, his company has been losing young employees. Since his friends (owning similar businesses) corroborated the same, Mr. Punjabi attributed this as characteristics of workforce in his sector.

Retain-young-employeesAs we looked deeper into his company, we found that a lot of dissatisfaction in younger employees stemmed from non-monetary points such as lack of flexibility in work hours, hard check-in times for attendance or blocking social network/email sites at workplace. Further, we observed that not being part of any decision making had made interactions between younger employees and management transactional. This made these employees feel that they were dispensable.

When we reported this to Mr. Punjabi, he found these expectations quite unreasonable and detrimental to the productivity.

It’s a difference in expectations & outlook

As Mr. Punjabi, most business owners or managers tend to be middle aged or older folks. The expectations of this age group from their work place include certain amount of discipline (such as fixed office hours, dress code), few restrictions (in pretext of preventing distractions) and provisioning of basic facilities. They value stability and despise wastefulness. Since people in older age group majorly hold decision making powers, most companies tend to incorporate these expectations into their rules and policies.

Expectations of younger generation contrast these. Many younger employees, having grown up in age of internet, embrace an independent approach to work. Restrictions at workplace such as arriving at a specific time, specific dress code or blocking internet access don’t make a lot of sense to them.

Their differences in outlook go much deeper. Many younger people have seen abundance and affluence early in life. Most are aware of global lifestyles and opportunities. As a result, they tend to be ‘hyper-aspirational’. Majority are involved by their parents in making important decisions for the family. So, their expectations are similar from the workplace. To be motivated to deliver, younger employees need assertion that they are making a difference as well as have a say in the direction of the organization.

‘One size fits all’ doesn’t work and yet…

Once you start noticing differences between expectations/motivations of the younger folks and the older generation, it is easy to conclude that a uniform retention strategy for all employees won’t work.

Most business owners have already reached this conclusion and yet only few companies have separate retention polices in practice. I think there is a reason for that.

Balancing expectations with employee output

Expectations such as flex timings, unrestricted internet access, tax friendly compensation or dress code are easy to meet. The main worry is that is that flexible policies will be taken advantage of and the employee output will decrease.

The missing piece here is managing performance. I have seen that if the employees have adequate clarity (of what is expected from them) and there are robust performance mechanisms in place then flexible policies can be sustained.

Actively involving younger employees in management and decision making of the company is a different ball game. It is easy to favor experience and age in decision making roles, but the flip side is that the company lags in catching up with new trends, embracing fresh ideas or understanding how younger people think. This is especially crucial if your company’s product or services touch younger customers.

Involving young employees in company’s management requires more fundamental changes in culture and day-to-day working of the company. I have some practical suggestions below that can get you started.

1. Give employees a clear sight on how their careers will shape

Expose young employees to the top-level management in the company. In fact, this can be done as early as during induction training.

Many larger companies have new employees shadow management to observe how they work and make decisions. I understand that majority of business owners may not have the freedom, time or money for such an exercise. But then, small businesses have smaller or no hierarchy and hence more interaction between management and entry-level employees. Business owners can use these opportunities instead of spending dedicated time.

As such, keep the communication open, so that younger employees have an idea of what’s going on throughout the entire company.

2. Open up new opportunities

To keep younger employees engaged, create new opportunities for them to grow professionally well as to satisfy their curiosity. These opportunities could come in the form of small projects such as writing occasional articles for a company blog or researching new technology / industry trends.

3. Give their work a purpose

Help your employees find meaning in their work. Explain them the philosophy behind company’s vision, mission & values. Any events or stories in which your company remained uncompromising to its values would be especially helpful. If your company has visible contributions to the society, then explaining the purpose in work is even easier.

4. Encourage “reverse mentoring”

Provide avenues to young employees to share their knowledge and skills with rest of the company. This could help your company update its technology skills or even question age-old processes. I bet that you will be surprised at the amount of value and skills younger folks have to offer when given a chance.

I have seen these strategies work in not just retaining but enabling younger employees to add new dimensions at my client companies. With sustained implementation, I feel you should realize substantial benefits too.

So then, the way to retain & enable young employees is embracing their different set of expectations as well as their need for constant novelty, clarity and deeper meaning in work.

You might think “That’s too much work!”

But, aren’t you already embracing these qualities? When they are displayed by your customers!

Once you start treating younger employees with the same measure as your customers, your organization will automatically start nourishing them and in turn get full value of what they have to offer. This, I believe is the trick.

What have been your experiences about retaining & enabling young employees in your organization? I am looking forward to hear about them. Please use this link to write to me.



Note 1:

The article, ‘The trick to retain and enable young employees’, is written based on my professional experience at Pinnacle and other companies.

Pinnacle specializes in working with the management of family-owned companies to craft & implement HR Strategies to accomplish their business vision & goals.


  • Really a very good & useful article sir.

    Vandana TripathiMarch 26, 2014
  • Dear deepak ji,

    there is only choice with OLD FOLKS: either to embrace the new concept of managing young team or perish. reverse mentoring must be used to encourage young talent in vertical participation in management process. learning has no boundary, it can come from anyone from any side. A very well written article. regards.

    keep sharing please.

    ashok jainMarch 26, 2014
  • Excellent ! Truly a great insight and must do action for all senior businessmen

    sunil harlalkaaMarch 26, 2014
  • Very wise words. The world is changing and is work ethic and oergormance metrics.

    Its surprising that even people in the forward looking software industry still manage on older paradimes.

    Glad your fresh perspectice made a difference.

    Viraaf PochaMarch 27, 2014
  • A very pertinent article indeed, Deepakji.

    In today’s fast changing times, collaboration amongst the young and the experienced makes a lot of difference to any enterprise and you have highlighted it very aptly.

    Best wishes

    Deepak Prahlad

    Deepak Prahlad AgarwalMarch 27, 2014
  • Sir,
    Every word in your article was so revealing that i am eager to impliment it at earliest .
    Fortunately i have most employees working with us for 15 to24 years . Thus they are between age group of 35 to50 .

    The younger age group of designers is between 20 to 30 which is dynamic and need to be groomed . While reading your article i realised that we the seniors need to be groomed for new ideas and thinking as much as they need the value system of seniors .
    This will strike the critical balance of understanding of new visions ,aspirations and older values ,experience and wisdom .

    i am really feeling energised to experience the change in the attitude of seniors in my organisation including myself ! Thanks for your wonderful article which has ability to change perceptions of all seniors or those in management of organisations .

    I look forward to more from you which will create happiness in different organisations .

    My best regards .
    Ar.Vishwas Paranjape

    Vishwas ParanjapeMarch 28, 2014

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