IT talent: 7 ways to attract and keep Gen X and Millennials

These two age groups will be an important part of IT teams for the foreseeable future. New Mercer data shows how to recruit and retain both
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IT leaders today have the distinct challenge of recruiting and retaining a multigenerational workforce, with Baby Boomers at one end and – for some organizations – the newest workers from Generation Z at the other. There are some things professionals across age groups agree on, according to Mercer’s 2019 Global Talent Trends report. They all value the ability to balance their work and personal lives, for example, and compensation issues are the top reason they leave.

Beyond those, though, there are some clear differences among the motivations and expectations of different workforce generations – distinctions that can help IT leaders better attract and keep top talent.

Of particular interest are the two cohorts right in the middle—the Gen Xers and Millennials who will make up an important subset of the technology team for the foreseeable future.

Results of the Mercer study offer some insight into how best to attract and keep IT professionals from these middle generations.

[ Read also: How to future-proof your workforce for the digital era. ]

1. Make it easy for Millennials to spot new experiences

Millennials (also known as Gen Y) are more likely than older generations to take on a new project without extra pay or benefits (54 percent versus 50 percent of Gen X and 43 percent of Baby Boomers). They’re also more likely to exchange vacation days for experiences in other departments in order to build their portfolio (34 percent of Gen Y versus 28 percent of Gen X and 20 percent of Baby Boomers).

CIOs who want to appeal to this group can provide “transparency into secondments and project-based opportunities [as] a means to clarify to Gen Y recruits and employees the chance to develop themselves beyond the role for which they are interviewing or are currently in,” says John Roberts, global lead of strategic research for Mercer. “Equipping interested employees to navigate the range of opportunities within their functions, companies, or externally is fast becoming a major area of focus.”

Some companies are putting technological platforms in place to help employees identify and enroll in such opportunities, according to Mercer.

2. Give Millennials personalized career paths

If you want to win over a Gen X or Baby Boomer candidate, the promise of job security is a pretty good bet (cited as the number-one reason both groups join a company). Gen Y, however, is attracted to long-term career potential above all else, according to the Mercer survey. Talent mobility is the name of the game.

IT leaders should make the potential career matrix visible to employees across the enterprise, Roberts says. “Communicating the range of lateral enrichment roles for employees as well the ‘step-back’ roles that offer a chance to develop in a completely different space before moving forward clarifies for employees that the career ladder has been replaced by a more individualized path through the company – one owned by the employee,” he explains. Millennials will appreciate a more dynamic career framework.

3. Offer loyalty to Millenials and they will reciprocate

One in three Gen Y employees say they worry that AI and automation will replace their job in the next three years.

When it comes to the reason Gen Y workers stay with an organization, however, job security does top the list, according to Mercer. They’re also more concerned about their career prospects in an increasingly automated world. One in three Gen Y employees said they are worried that AI and automation will replace their job in the next three years – more than the older generations surveyed. Reassuring Gen Y workers about their longevity in the organization is key.

4. Involve Gen X in decision-making and connect their roles to outcomes

Members of Gen X are stuck in the middle in terms of experience, and often, seniority. They tend to be hard workers (only two in five Gen Xers complained about their workload versus more than half of other generations). However, many are struggling to find their place.

“Breaking the muddle in the middle entails first being aware of the challenge and proactively engaging with the group to activate their strengths for the organization’s benefit and theirs,” Roberts says. “Like the middle child in a family, Gen X has been lost between the hyperbolic Boomer generation and the transformative Millennial generation, and is now seeing the emergence of the digital natives in the workplace with skills that are well aligned with technological and economic drivers of change.”

CIOs can help their Gen X employees by implementing inclusive decision-making processes, helping them connect the dots between their roles and the greater objectives of the company, and offering more one-on-one coaching, according to Roberts.

5. Help Gen X find meaning

Gen X was the only age group to say that working on meaningful projects was one of the top five things that would help them succeed in their roles.

Millennials have a reputation for valuing work with a purpose. However, Gen X was the only age group to say that working on meaningful projects was one of the top five things that would help them succeed in their roles, just behind managing work/life balance and being recognized for their contributions.

“Employees want autonomy and some degree of control over their daily work lives, and when they have it, they make the connections between their work and the meaning they seek for themselves,” Roberts says. “What we have found is that employees are overwhelmingly asking for ethics, equity, and empathy in their work environments. And when they are recognized for having contributed to meaningful work and are allowed some degree of freedom in managing their work/life balance, they thrive.”

6. Implement agile performance management for Gen X

These professionals were more likely to say that more aggressive management of under-performance and better alignment of individual goals with business goals would boost performance. That suggests a shift from calendar-based performance management to more frequent and flexible discussions and an evolution from managers who act as controllers to those who serve as coaches.

“The idea is to spot under-performance sooner and then shift the dialogue toward future-focused actions and behaviors that are more likely to drive successful achievement of goals,” Roberts explains. “Companies are attempting to align personal and organizational goals more tightly by embracing radical transparency with regard to goals. Platforms that offer transparency into goals across the enterprise so workers can visualize the interdependencies between their roles and that of others can help.”

7. Make flexible work a priority – for everyone

Mercer found that nearly all workforce segments agreed on the growing importance of adaptive work schedules. More than half (54 percent) of respondents said managing their work/life balance is one of the top five things their company can do to help them thrive at work, up from 40 percent last year and 26 percent in 2017. In addition, 82 percent of employees said they would be willing to consider working on a freelance basis, which may tie back to their desire for personal-professional equilibrium.

Above all: Customize approaches

Ultimately, says Roberts, the greatest lever IT leaders have in recruiting and retaining workers of any age is the offer of a more customized employee experience developed with their input.

While generational trends are extremely helpful, these cohorts are not monolithic but are made up of individual employees with their own desires. Technology advances may help on that front.

“Armed with data, [organizations] can craft configurable solutions and approaches to once-standardized talent activities in the employee lifecycle that now feel customized to an audience of one,” Roberts says. “The potentially most effective strategy for recruiting and retaining employees these days is to identify the moments that matter to them and then co-create approaches that solve the challenges they face as they onboard, develop, and grow in their roles and in the company.”

[ Want additional ideas on IT talent retention? Read also: 4 ways to retain IT talent in 2019. ]

Stephanie Overby is an award-winning reporter and editor with more than twenty years of professional journalism experience. For the last decade, her work has focused on the intersection of business and technology. She lives in Boston, Mass.