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Edmund Lawler Dec 20, 2017

The generation of passion: How to entice and excite millennial hires

At a recruiting open house at ESL Federal Credit Union’s  Rochester, N.Y. headquarters, Maureen Wolfe discovered—much to her delight—that members of the recently formed young professionals organization ranked as her institution’s most passionate brand ambassadors.

“We drew upon our young professionals at the event, and I was amazed at how well they did,” says Wolfe, ESL’s senior vice president and director of human resources and community relations. “The younger people who attended the fair were very drawn to them. Our young professionals were their peers and they enthusiastically answered such questions as: ‘What’s it like to work at ESL?’ ‘What do you do?’ ‘What is your career path?’ and ‘How did you get hired?’”

No wonder Wolfe contends that the stereotype of the job-hopping millennial with little loyalty to employers (if not overt hostility) “is a bit much.” In fact, it’s a myth. In an industry riven by double-digit employee turnover, ESL’s workforce boasts extraordinary loyalty: Annual voluntary full-time employee turnover is only 3 percent.

In the banking industry, the drive to build and maintain such loyalty takes place on numerous fronts. Besides ESL, institutions such as U.S. Bank and BBVA Compass have revealed two salient truths. First, efforts to engage millennials must be proactive—bank culture or compensation alone won’t do it—and second, millennials have values and priorities that set them apart from other generations.

Recognizing those truths and acting on them produces palpable rewards. A 2017 report by the Pew Research Center, based on government data, concludes that millennials show as much loyalty to their employers as Generation X employees were at the same age.

Similar to ESL’s young professional group is U.S. Bank’s Dynamic Dozen initiative. “The program is a millennial think tank where each year, our management team nominates up-and-coming millennial employees to represent their business line,” says Pat Swanson, assistant vice president for public affairs and communications for the Minneapolis-based bank with $446 billion in assets.

“Throughout the year, the Dynamic Dozen work together on a collective capstone project of their choosing and present it to our management team at year’s end,” Swanson says. “Since we founded it in 2009, the program has influenced our consumer banking strategy, financial education programs, social media activity and more.”

Millennials at U.S. Bank who value a higher purpose rather the role of bank employee are also encouraged to get involved in their communities. “We provide 16 hours of paid time off a year to spend volunteering,” Swanson says.

Recruit without rigidity, engage with eagerness

Byron Marshall, director of the research team that produces BAI’s annual Talent Management Benchmarking report, says financial institutions need to think more holistically and less rigidly about recruiting and retaining millennial employees.

At BAI Beacon 2017 in Atlanta, Marshall helped facilitate a “huddle” session on talent management where bankers said that to attract millennials, they must offer more than just a compelling employee experience and clear path to advancement. The package needs to include more holistic benefits such as employee financial planning, and financial institutions must take the risk of investing in younger employees who may not stay with the bank for the long run.

“It’s also important for banks to make the case to millennials that they can be a part of an organization with a larger purpose than just its products and services,” Marshall says. “But that’s hard to do, of course, because banking is still a retail business where you have to cover all the branches and all the hours.”

At BBVA Compass, employee engagement is the key to sustained loyalty, says Rosilyn Houston, chief talent and culture executive: “We work to nurture employee loyalty by committing to a positive work environment where employees can count on honesty and transparency from leadership, a clear strategic direction, a culture of collaboration and teamwork.”

The Birmingham, Ala.-based bank, with $87 billion in U.S. assets, constantly evaluates its employee value proposition to ensure it’s competitive in total compensation. “We make sure our employees have access to continuous learning platforms, career mobility, mentoring and job shadowing opportunities,” Houston says. “In addition, we keep a constant pulse on employee sentiment.”

Lauren Finch, BBVA Compass’s career foundation programs manager, finds “that when millennials feel like a company is invested in their work, growth, and community, they in turn invest in the company. They actively seek out companies that give back to the community and have strong corporate values.”

When selecting an employer, millennials look for the same things older employees seek, Finch says. “They’re just more comfortable asking for it early on. Millennial employees know they have options when it comes to where and who they’ll work for and they value honesty and transparency during the recruiting process.”

She adds: “Many Millennials do not want to commit to an employer without a complete experience. It’s not enough to tell them where they will work: It’s important to also show them.”

BBVA does that, she says, with its LEAP Program—short for Learning, Evaluation, Application and Placement. It’s a six- to nine-month training opportunity for college graduates across different disciplines to gain professional experience as they explore various business lines and immerse themselves in the BBVA Compass culture.

To further engage employees of any generation, U.S. Bank has “business resource groups” that bring together employees who have similar backgrounds, experiences or interests and their allies, he adds.

“They provide employees with opportunities to network, learn, develop leadership skills and contribute powerfully to our company and the community,” Swanson notes, adding that the groups cover a wide variety: “African American, Alumni, Asian Heritage, Development Network, Disability, Native American, Nostros Latino, Proud to Serve, Spectrum LGBT and U.S. Bank Women.”

Create compelling culture

For her own part, Wolfe knows a lot about millennial employees. At nearly 40 percent of ESL’s work force millennials represent the largest generational cohort at the financial institution (which has $6.2 billion in assets and 750 employees at its headquarters and 20 branches).

It turns out they’re also the most enthusiastic.

“I plan to invite the young professionals to future events because they made a huge contribution to the success of our open house,” Wolfe says. “They were our best brand ambassadors and proud they were invited to play that role.”

ESL’s young professionals group was created to let twenty- and thirtysomethings at Rochester’s largest locally owned financial institution enjoy regular off-site social activities, to network among themselves and meet senior managers—all the way up to president and CEO Faheem Masood.

Every new employee is assigned a mentor and can meet with the credit union’s internal career counselor/coach. “They talk about their career aspirations and where they see themselves in several years. We provide them practical advice on how they may want to achieve their goal,” Wolfe says. More than 80 percent of ESL’s jobs are filled from within their employee ranks.

In the end, Wolfe believes the key to keeping a millennial loyal—or any employee, for that matter—is “to make them feel good about their employer.

She concludes: “It should be more than just a job. Here, they have the opportunity to improve a customer’s life.”

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A former senior journalism instructor and communications manager at DePaul University, Edmund Lawler is a BAI Banking Strategies contributing writer who lives in New Buffalo, Michigan.

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