8 Tips For Awesome Onboarding Of Millennials

June 27, 2017 by

onboarding millennialsLet’s face it: Millennials are different. As such, the process for onboarding Millennials should be different and very unlike the onboarding process experienced by Gen Xrs and Boomers. In fact, the very first weeks of a Millennial’s employment will largely determine their career trajectory within your organization.

A 2014 Bentley University Study revealed that the majority of Millennial graduates gave themselves a C- when it came to their level of preparedness to enter the workforce. Thus, when they arrive at your company’s door, the importance of your onboarding process takes on a whole new meaning. This statistic really underscores the importance of onboarding Millennials properly, especially considering that as of last year, they became the largest single generation in the workforce.

Inspired by a recent keynote presentation I gave on the subject, here are the eight sure-fire ways to properly onboard Millennials such that they are not only retained, but also are fully engaged members of your team:

Tip #1: Hire The Right Millennial
Whether hiring Millennials or candidates from other generations, hiring the wrong people is the single greatest mistake made by organizations vis-a-vis engagement. With regard to Millennials, hiring right is even more important as they have a propensity to move on to new jobs in a quicker timeframe. Here are some proven tips for hiring right:
– Evaluate Millennial candidates’ predisposition to be engaged during the interview process.

– Interview for attitude and cultural fit rather than for technical skills.

– Seek new hires’ feedback early to increase engagement immediately. Solicit input from Millennials on the first day, at the end of the first week, and continue to check in once a week during the first 90 days.

– Utilize a “Non-negotiable List” – these are things you may see during the interview process that should be red flags preventing the hire or the issuance of an offer. One example includes the fact that 33% of Millennials think it is ok to either send or field a text during the job interview.1 Personally, I would consider that a deal breaker, but you might have other red flags on your list. A full list of 20 recommended Non-Negotiables can be found here. (Pay special attention to Non-Negotiable #9 as it has proven to be the most important.)

– Look for adaptability and emotional maturity in your Millennial candidates.

Tip #2: Pre-board As A Pre-cursor To Awesome Onboarding
Get all of the “boring stuff” out of the way well in advance of the Millennial’s first day. This includes company and government paperwork, which very few people find engaging. Most of these documents are self-explanatory or could be easily completed by the employee after a short call with HR.

Tip #3: Make An Impression
Largely due to the Internet, Millennials grew up in an age where they customized and personalized nearly everything. From shoes, shirts, and backpacks, to playlists and social media profiles, Millennials grew up personalizing. As such, your onboarding process should attempt to play into this desire for customization, allowing your new hire Millennials to personalize their devices, workspace, and apps. For instance, let them personalize their computer screen on day one. Also, make sure that have their pre-printed business cards ready to go before their first day.

Focus on having fun, collaboration, and levity. It is so important that onboarding Millennials be a creative, authentic, and enjoyable process. Use the classroom sparingly. The last thing a Millennial wants is to be locked in a classroom, drinking from the proverbial firehouse of boring information, or being lectured at. Instead, think about including other hands-on activities like job shadowing, connecting with peers and mentors, and learn-as-you go experiential opportunities. Real-time learning, whether it is face-to-face or online, appeals to Millennials because they are community-driven and yearn to be surrounded by people who can help them.

In addition, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is another key driver of engagement for Millennials—they want to work for organizations that are giving back to the community. In fact, 75% of Millennials think businesses are far too focused on their own agenda, versus helping to improve society.2

One great way to address this Millennial desire for CSR is to establish a volunteer PTO day, which you announce on the first day as another employee benefit. Also, consider conducting team volunteer activities for local charities. Again, share this great employee benefit with Millennials on day one. While it’s tempting to share all employee benefits upfront before hiring, it’s helpful to keep a few surprises up your sleeve. New hires assume they know everything good about their new employer before they accept an offer, so when you surprise them with even more benefits, it helps deepen the relationship. Some companies collect photos from team volunteer days and post them around the office. It can be a fun thing to point out during an office tour on day one.

There are so many other ways to make this first day impressionable and a true celebration for the Millennial. In fact, there are way too many great ideas to address in this blog. If you want to gain access to these unique Onboarding ideas, including Zappos’ “Scavenger Hunt” and name-remembering software program called “Face Time,” feel free to tap into a recent highly-rated webinar I did on the subject.

Tip #4: Leverage The Most Critical Diver Of Engagement
Countless research studies have concluded that the number one driver of engagement for any employee, including Millennials, is the relationship between direct managers and employees. In summary, Millennial employees are looking for managers that:

– Treat them as human beings rather than “corporate assets.”

– Take an interest in their personal life outside of work.

– Are authentic and caring.

– Set and communicate clear expectations.

– Give them consistent feedback and recognition.

– Help with, and accelerate, their career path.

– They can trust, and vice versa.

– Adapt to their preferred sources and means of communication.

And regarding trust, it is imperative that you provide workplace flexibility and not be the old school manager who demands that employees be present during set and rigid business hours. To Millennials, that is their definition of a workplace prison. The Millennial generation values freedom because they want to be in control of their own experience. The Virtual Manager, my second book, has an entire chapter dedicated to the importance of trust. The secret is hiring the right people so you can trust them and let go. Track their outcomes, not their time in the office. Millennial employees want and appreciate being “free range” and working in an open and flexible environment. Remember, Millennials are not living to work, as Boomers like myself were taught, but rather working to live.

Millennials expect frequent communication from their manager, but their mediums of choice do not always involve talking. Texts and social media are integrated into their lives much like voicemail and email were for the preceding generations. Millennials are “Digital Natives,” often preferring to communicate via hangouts, chats, and instant messaging, rather than through email, voicemail, or even live conversations. The iPhone has long been, and will continue to be, Millennials’ portal to the world. In fact, Millennials are so attached to their iPhones that 58% would rather lose their wallet or purse than their phone.3

Finally, and very much related to culture, in order establish your organization as relevant to your Millennial employees, you must find new ways to communicate organizational values and outline behavioral expectations in a way that resonates with these younger employees. Managers should check in with employees one on one to ensure they understand how they fit into the company’s mission and goals.

Tip #5: Recognize, Recognize, Recognize
It may come as a surprise to Boomers and Xrs, but the average Millennial would like to be recognized seven times a day.4 More importantly, they are not looking for long conversations of praise but rather want what I dub a “recognition tweet,” like:

“Nice job.”
“Good work today.”
“Keep up the great work.”

As stated earlier, Millennials want customized and personalized approaches to the job at hand, especially recognition. Millennials grew up getting more praise from parents and teachers than past generations, and much of this praise was highly personalized. As such, the recognition you give them should be equally special and tailored. One great example of such memorable customization comes from an Ashley Park, North Carolina Elementary School Teacher named Barry White Jr. (no relation to the singer). A couple of years ago, he started a ritual with a fourth-grade girl who was in need of a regular emotional uplift during her days at school. Mr. White said of the little girl, “We came up with our own little handshake that we’d do consistently every day. I saw how much it affected her, and how important it was to her, and I wanted to do that for all of my students.”

Before long, Mr. White had created a personalized handshake for each one of his 60 students. What they created was nothing short of specular.

“It’s a personalized moment; it’s only me and you,” he said. “They know, ‘Mr. White respects and cares for me enough to remember our handshake.’”

Wow. Why not try to do the same personalization when recognizing your Millennials?

Tip #6: Establish A Sense Of Purpose
According to research by Deloitte, 6 in 10 Millennials say “a sense of purpose” is a key reason they chose a new job. In addition, the top reason Millennials leave an organization is the lack of real, or perceived, career opportunities. Therefore, the selection of job content and clear career pathing are of paramount importance for Millennials.

Tip #7: Have Fun
Millennials do not want to view work as work. (Ugh!) Rather, they want to see work as fun and collaborative. When you can meet this need, they will repay you ten-fold in engagement. Needless to say, Mr. White’s story above illuminates the importance and power of FUN. Follow his example.

Tip #8: Empower The Millennial
Empowering Millennials means encouraging them to take personal ownership for their own job engagement. One great means of doing so is to have them take a completely free self-assessment that will not only tell them how engaged they are, but also give them sage advice on what steps they can take on their own to advance their job engagement. Such a cost-free assessment can be located here.

Likewise, managers and senior leaders should plan regular open leadership meetings or brown bag lunches, and encourage employees to regularly attend. Millennial employees should also be encouraged to seek out senior leaders and get to know them personally and professionally. Likewise, senior leaders should be encouraged to do the same with all of the employees of the company.

Lastly, reflection is a powerful source of change and recalibration. As such, share the link to this list of reflective statements/questions with your Millennial employees, such that they can make their own fine-tuning adjustments toward full job engagement.

Yes, Millennials are both different and special. So it’s about time managers and organizations began treating, and valuing them as such. When it comes to onboarding Millennials, this is especially important to keep in mind!

1 – 2016 ICIMIS, Inc. Study
2 – Tiny Pulse
3 – 2016 ICIMIS, Inc. Study
4 – 2014 Cisco Study


Kevin Sheridan is an internationally-recognized Keynote Speaker, a New York Times Best Selling Author, and one of the most sought-after voices in the world on the topic of Employee Engagement. For five years running, he has been honored on Inc. Magazine’s top 100 Leadership Speakers in the world, as well as Inc.’s top 100 experts on Employee Engagement. He was also honored to be named to The Employee Engagement Award’s Top 101 Global Influencers on Employee Engagement of 2017.

Having spent thirty years as a high-level Human Capital Management consultant, Kevin has helped some of the world’s largest corporations rebuild a culture that fosters productive engagement, earning him several distinctive awards and honors. Kevin’s premier creation, PEER®, has been consistently recognized as a long-overdue, industry-changing innovation in the field of Employee Engagement. His first book, Building a Magnetic Culture, made six of the best seller lists including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. He is also the author of The Virtual Manager, which explores how to most effectively manage remote workers.

Kevin received a Master of Business Administration from the Harvard Business School in 1988, concentrating his degree in Strategy, Human Resources Management, and Organizational Behavior. He is also a serial entrepreneur, having founded and sold three different companies.

Email: kevin@kevinsheridanllc.com