How to convince millennials to work for you

In the final article of our series, we look at why attracting millennials to community banking is about more than beanbag chairs and foosball tables. For them, rapid advancement and a sense of purpose is the name of the game.

By Kelly Pike

There’s plenty to recommend a community banking career to millennials. From a sense of purpose to easy access to top brass, community banks offer a lot of what these employees want—if banks can provide other in-demand benefits, including a clear path for career development, plenty of feedback and a work-life balance.

Millennials, defined by Pew Research as the more than 76 million Americans between the ages of 20 and 36, surpassed baby boomers as the largest segment of the US workforce in 2015. Today, they make up more than a third of it.

Some have villainized this demographic as entitled job hoppers who expect a corner office the first day, while others praise them for their enthusiasm, digital prowess and work ethic. But in the end, when it comes to employment, millennials want the same things as everyone else. They just have higher expectations and often ask instead of wish, experts say. “Because of their inherent individualism, they are not content to be a cog in the wheel,” says Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University and author of Generation Me. “They want to know what impact they will have personally and be recognized and rewarded for it.”

That includes expectations of moving up quickly through an organization and having a clearly outlined career path. They grew up in a fast-paced world, so they expect a similarly rapid career trajectory, Twenge notes.

It’s a pattern Kathy Wolfe, vice president and human resources manager of the $1.6 billion-asset Tompkins VIST Bank in Wyomissing, Pa., has observed in action, and one that often works to the bank’s advantage. Several of its millennial employees have clear career plans in mind, take the initiative to ask what it will take to get there and make strides to meet their goals.

“We are always looking at succession planning and who will fit into different roles over the years,” she says. “Knowing exactly where they stand with their ambitions and career desires is helpful to us when we think about the future and where people are landing.”

“They want managers to care about them [not just] as an employee but as a person.”
—Matt Dubin,
Why Millennials Matter

While community banks don’t necessarily have to put millennials on the fast track, they might consider changing the structure of entry-level employment so that promotions are smaller and come sooner, says Twenge. Instead of waiting two years to promote millennials, which feels like an eternity to them, make promotions and raises incremental starting at around the six-month mark. They’ll still end up in the same place after two years as a traditional employee would, but they’ll perceive it as quicker progress.

Regular feedback is also part of the formula. “For millennials, feedback is much more an expectation than a hope,” says Lauren Stiller Rikleen, who is president of the Rikleen Institute for Strategic Leadership, author of You Raised Us, Now Work With Us: Millennials, Career Success and Building Workplace Teams and trustee at Middlesex Savings Bank in Natick, Mass. “When they come into a work environment with no or limited feedback, it’s a real concern in terms of impacting how they view their potential for growth or development in that workplace.”

It’s also crucial to show them both their current role and their potential future at the bank, including a career path that explains the typical trajectory of someone in that position and how it will be personally fulfilling, says demographer Neil Howe, who coined the term “millennial” along with William Strauss in 1991.

Social responsibility is another big attraction. “Instead of borrowing, sell [your bank] more as an institution that’s an active agent in helping people save and prepare for their future,” says Howe. “Millennials are much more likely to believe that and take it more seriously than Gen Xers.”

Make it easy to find articles and blog posts about your bank’s work in the community, highlight it in job ads and keep posts authentic to the bank’s voice, avoiding hashtags and “cool” language the bank thinks will appeal to millennials, says Matt Dubin, the 28-year-old head of research for the Why Millennials Matter consultancy.

The whole package

So authenticity is all—but beware a backward-looking attitude focused on the good old days when banking was simpler, which could discourage millennials from entering community banking, says J.R. Llewellyn, senior vice president of Compensation Advisors, a consultancy based in Gulf Breeze, Fla. However, one thing he does recommend bringing back is higher compensation packages, particularly in rural areas.

“Banks have to learn to identify what is valued by individuals and build compensation strategies to address their life stage, within reason,” says Llewellyn. “For millennials with their fast-tracked expectations, long-term incentives [three to five years] are key to keep them engaged in the company.”

For example, if another bank tries to lure away a rising star with a bigger salary, instead of matching that salary, give them an immediate bonus and then match the raise with a long-term incentive, Llewellyn says. For example, the bank might offer to set aside the difference as a bonus to give the employee after three to five years.

Just as important is the relationship between millennials and their managers, says Dubin. Millennials grew up having a close relationship with authority, including parents, coaches and teachers.

“Millennials want to have closer relationships with their boss than previous generations,” he says. “They want managers to care about them [not just] as an employee but as a person. They want you to know that you’re invested in their development and you’ll do what’s in your power to help them grow.”

Tompkins VIST Bank helps address this issue with a young professionals group that offers career development, team building and social opportunities, including a popular meet and greet with the bank’s president. The young professionals group brings in speakers on networking, building connections and personal branding that tie into the local chamber of commerce and a local young professionals group.

These opportunities not only bolster young employees but can give management and the board a new outlook. The $325 million-asset Centric Bank in Harrisburg, Pa., has a 16-member Millennial Advisory Board, made up of young professionals, including bank employees, who explore ways to attract millennial employees and customers, and CEO Patti Husic has seen their excitement rub off on her board of directors.

When it comes to the all-important issue of flexibility, where technology has limited the separation between work and life, community banks need to be open. Rikleen recommends conducting a department-by-department analysis of where flextime, remote working and other less rigid scheduling might work for your bank and then be open about these opportunities from the recruitment phase.

“We’re in a time when millennials will be more than half the workforce in a few years,” she says. “If you want to recruit and retain this generation, then you need to think about these critical issues.”

And while millennials might be the ones doing the asking, all these improvements can boost employee satisfaction across the board.

Any questions?

For this generation, it’s all about crafting stories that resonate. Sammie D. Dixon, Jr., president and CEO at the $303 million-asset Prime Meridian Bank in Tallahassee, Fla., has found success with one question: Why?

When Dixon formed the bank 10 years ago, experienced bankers were skittish about a startup, so he found himself recruiting smart individuals who could become bankers. Today, 50 percent of the bank’s workforce is age 37 or under, and the median age is 37. He’s had exceptional success attracting and retaining millennial employees—even considering his bank’s location in a college town—without catering much to what experts say millennials want. At Prime Meridian, men still wear suits and women wear pantyhose. And instead of giving the staff Presidents Day off, Dixon makes it an in-service learning day.

Yet he rarely hears complaints, he says, becausehe’s built a culture of transparency where employees are encouraged to ask “Why?” and answers and
analysis are always provided.

“I can show them what we are doing, show them the numbers and investor presentations,” says Dixon. “If you want a career, here is where you get in on the ground floor. I can’t give you experience—that takes time—but I can give you exposure, telling you what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.”

Most of his millennials start on the teller line and are promoted after six to 24 months. They buy into the bank’s culture, which combines numerical analysis with an openness to change, so much so that 42 percent of the bank’s employees have written a check to buy stock, Dixon says.

“What I like about millennials is that what they lack in experience, they make up for in tenacity,” he says.
—Kelly Pike

Kelly Pike is a freelance writer in Virginia.