Michael Belfer
Michael Belfer

Not so long ago, companies that wanted to attract the best and brightest college graduates shed their “corporate” image with foosball or ping pong tables in the break room, free snacks and exotic coffee and liberal dress codes.

These days, as we absorb a workforce increasingly described as “empowered” and “entitled,” employers who want to offer careers rather than jobs have to work harder and think deeper.

Recent polls show Millennial workers — born between the early 80s and the turn of the 21st century — are far less likely than their forebears to put down permanent roots at a company. A Gallup poll found that 55 percent of Millennials said they weren’t fully engaged at work, and just 29 percent described themselves as “actively engaged.”

One in five of Millennials in the same poll said they’ve changed jobs within the past year, more than three times the number of non-Millennials.

Job churn isn’t without its advantages in terms of the influx of new talent and fresh perspectives, but it can be disruptive on three levels: overall morale, client interaction and lost investment in training time and resources.

In our work advising several dozen PR and advertising firms, offering top-to-bottom efficiency reviews, we increasingly hear about the fine line between creating a pathway to success for Millennial hires and throwing many costly benefits at people who have no intention of sticking around. These companies cite Millennials as 65-70 percent of their overall workforce.

A good 401(k) plan (with employee match) is a natural place to start in building a long-term relationship. Here are eight other areas small to midsize PR firms should carefully consider when developing career-friendly policies:

Office culture. The dotcom startups of the ’90s were famous for jeans and hoodies and working out of coffee shops rather than being “chained” to a desk from nine to five. Beyond tech firms, other professional services providers, particularly ad agencies, have long been known to loosen up the environment. (Remember the bar carts and hallway lawnmower rides on “Mad Men”?)

While many firms today allow or encourage common, non-fixed workstations, beware of both sides of the coin. Increased collaboration is one upside, but the downside is more distraction and socialization. And when no one has a desk, it’s hard to measure how much time an employee spends working. If employees take your company and its policies less seriously, there’s less chance they’ll want to stick around.

Social engagement. Perhaps more than their elders, Millennials, to their credit, want to feel they are attached to causes and making a difference. A sense that the firm’s leadership shares that commitment goes a long way toward increasing connection. Consider fundraising events, following employee suggestions, but steer clear of potentially divisive political or religious issues. Helping the homeless, adopting a public-school class and buying supplies — as Anchin does — or funding disaster relief are causes that unite and build teams. One New York PR firm recently combined a social event, a night of bowling, with charity, with the firm donating to each of four teams’ causes based on final scores.

Health benefits. As we learned in the debate on the Affordable Care Act, Millennials without major medical conditions tend to self-insure, preferring to pay out of pocket for visits and treatments rather than pay monthly premiums, especially those living from gig to gig. But full-time employees expect health benefits at little or no cost as a basic perk. Consider a range of plans that let employees pick what suits themselves and their families best, and keep any additional payments minimal. The good news is that the lower the average age of your covered employees, the more likely you’ll get a better overall rate per person, since you’ll be covering less chronic care and medication.

State of the art tech. Nothing will make your company look out of touch more than legacy systems that do not allow workers to maximize their efficiency or are embarrassing for them to use. Tech is a big part of the reason Millennials feel so empowered: they’ve never known (or can’t remember) life without the ability to get quick information or communicate at their fingertips. Don’t send employees to search records or work the phones when you can subscribe to a database and don’t squeeze the life out of Macs from the early Obama era instead of upgrading. If you have company phones, ditch the BlackBerrys for iPhones or Galaxys.

Be reasonable on expensing. Cracking down on Uber use or black cars instead of taxis or subway for business travel is another turnoff. Accept that reasonable premiums are an investment in your firm’s reputation. That doesn’t necessarily mean business class instead of coach or the Waldorf instead of the Hilton, but it does mean not questioning a couple of beers or a show with the client your employee is working hard to retain. If you don’t provide phones and other personal devices for work use, look into subsidizing them or covering the cost of a data plan.

Work-life balance. Starting a family, therapy appointments, religious observance, pursuing a graduate degree or elder care issues are among situations that demand flexibility in the work week.

Many firms now allow unconventional scheduling allowing employees to start later in the morning and make up the time working later in the day. “Banking” extra hours Monday to Thursday can also allow Fridays off. Video conferencing and enterprise collaborative tools make it easier than ever to be “present” at work while remote. Remote workdays on a monthly basis are now often cooked into the time-off request system alongside personal and sick days.

Make sure remote work policies are uniform and not arbitrary to ensure equal treatment.

Be vigilant against abuse of these privileges and develop metrics to ensure productivity, and that clients get all the work they’re being billed for.

Also, make sure you have strict and frequently updated cybersecurity policies in place when employees may be logging in from public computers, such as hotel business centers, public Wi-Fi or home-based devices with inferior controls.

Leave policy is another matter. Many states, including New York, now require companies with more than 50 employees to provide paid parental leave, which can be used for birth or adoption as well as family care. Complying with these requirements and additional policies your firm may have requires careful planning and budgeting to ensure you have the resources to handle the displaced workload during the leave period and may require outside consulting.

Be a “listening” firm. Make sure there’s a system in place to ensure concerns across the spectrum, from the most serious — harassment or abuse allegations — down to insufficient supplies or broken equipment, are heard and responded to quickly. Even if you don’t have an immediate answer, it’s important to acknowledge the communication promptly and give a timeframe for next steps. Our experience evaluating organizations shows that employees want very much to be heard and are comfortable sharing critiques in a constructive fashion, especially when focused on resolution, not blame.

The best way to send Millennial employees searching on Indeed is to make them feel isolated and that C-suite communication is one-way. Look at each employee as your eyes and ears to potential weaknesses in all areas of operations and reward their initiative.

Fun. Don’t underestimate the value of Thursday night Happy Hour, a Yankees outing, or bowling night. Visiting a relevant museum exhibit or participating in an Escape the Room-type of activity adds the benefit of team-and knowledge building while providing some light, out-of-office interaction. Company picnics on the Fourth of July or other holidays, including significant others, are a great idea to build interpersonal connections.

After a 40+ hour work week, many people will have spent more of their awake time with coworkers than with family. They might as well do so with people whose company they enjoy.


Michael Belfer, CPA, CGMA, leads the public relations and advertising industry group at accounting firm Anchin, Block & Anchin.