Alan Hart
May 26, 2015

How to attract and retain employees today?

The millennials are coming, but are employers ready? While the generation born between 1981 and 1996 now makes up a majority of the U.S. workforce, more than half of hiring managers say they’re having a difficult time finding and retaining millennial talent.

Part of the blame falls on a disconnect between what those managers think millennial employees want and what those employees actually want. In fact, while a majority of job-seeking millennials prioritize things like mentorship, who they’ll work with, or how exciting the work is over earnings potential, 75 percent of hiring managers think it’s the other way around.

So how can managers buck the trend and become more in tune with what the youngest generation of workers wants? For starters, they’ll need to learn how to motivate and attract more mission-driven personality types—six in 10 millennials chose their current employers because of a “sense of purpose.”

“Young people today want to work for companies whose values align with theirs,” says Mark Tercek, CEO of The Nature Conservancy.

Tercek knows firsthand just how different managing these more purpose-minded employees can be—he left his private-sector role of managing director at Goldman Sachs to head the environmental nonprofit in 2008.

“Business people can learn from nonprofits and environmentalists because we’re very different,” Tercek says. “I thought I was a good manager when I worked at Goldman Sachs. In hindsight, it seemed so easy—we had very clear metrics by which to measure people and we had great reward systems.”

But more traditional incentives don’t always work to motivate millennial employees who increasingly view employers as representative of their own ideas and beliefs. The key to retention and development of these younger employees lies in how that organization presents its mission.

“They could make a living easier through the private sector, but they choose to be mission-dedicated. They forgo some salary opportunities,” Tercek says. “To motivate them, a leader needs to make sure that the work they’re doing every day is fulfilling and aligned with our mission.”

Tercek writes extensively about how business leaders can assign a real, monetary value to environmentally responsible decision making in “Nature’s Fortune.” While the book focuses on how investing in “natural capital” can make companies more money in the long run, those decisions can have a favorable impact on a company’s human capital, too.

Though today’s young people shy away from being labeled as environmentalists, their behaviors and choices overwhelmingly support the notion that they care about sustainability and the environment.

“More and more business leaders understand—for a variety of reasons—they’ve got to try hard to do the right thing,” Tercek says.

A special thanks to UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School for hosting the interview with Mark Tercek: