Employee retention is a problem for most companies--especially startups that tend to hire millennials. After all, it's hard not to lose customers when your employee entrance is like a revolving door.

It's even harder to find a solution to that problem--no matter how well you treat your employees.

At GrowCo I talked to Slade Sundar, the COO of Forte Interactive, a software company that provides web solutions for non-profit and endurance event customers. What's his advice for retaining millennials?

Tell them to quit.

Here's what Slade had to say:

I know what you're thinking. You're trying to retain your millennial employees, not trying to force them out the door. But consider this:

Millennials expect to stay in a job for 2 years, compared to five years for Gen X and seven years for Baby Boomers, according to multiple surveys by Pay Scale/Millennial Branding and aMultiple Generations @Work survey. That means, regardless of your culture or retention efforts, you shouldn't fool yourself. Millennials will leave your organization.

But you can control how they leave your organization. The process is Millennial Transition--and, no, it's not a euphemism for firing someone. Millennial Transition is a process built on mutual understanding that ensures both parties keep their commitments.

Instead of an abrupt end to the relationship, it's the adult way for candidates to move on: a way to reduce the stress, stigma, and secrecy of an employee finding a new career--as well as a way to minimize the impact of the employee's departure.

Here are the steps:

1. Incorporate "transition" into your culture and hiring process. During candidate interviews we always ask this question:

"The average employee stays in one job for two years. Assuming that is the case, how will this position help you build the skills for your next career?"

The question is both surprising and eye opening for young potential employees. We clear the air by letting them know that the employment expectation is two years--and that allows for much more honest discussions about future career goals and plans.

But don't stop there. Once you hire an employee, meet regularly and ask about their career and personal plans. By discussing everything from salary needs to their desire to "find themselves" you can definitely impact when an employee may want to leave.

Bottom line: the more open your communication the better both of you can predict and plan for transition.

2. Create a realistic plan and timeline for transition. Once you know an employee needs to move on, create a plan to help them find a new job without stress--and to do so while your organization searches for their replacement. Make sure you:

  • Agree on an end date. Typically the end date should be within 2 to 3 months; the employee needs time to search for a job, and you need time to search for a replacement. Set a date that you both agree will be the last day. This protects you because their new employer may try to force an immediate start date once they make the job offer, and it also protects the employee because it lets them know how much time they have to find a job.
  • Don't offer extensions. If you haven't found a new candidate, or if the employee hasn't found a new job, commit to honoring the end date. Don't let the transition drag on.
  • Communicate to staff. Provide a review of the employee's contributions and make sure everyone knows the employee isn't leaving the rest of the staff in a state of panic, but is working with the organization to leave the right way. Remember, ex-employees are like alumni: always strive to start and maintain great alumni relationships.

The result? Often it's retention.

In a growing company like ours where the COO (me) also serves as the person in charge of recruiting and staffing, Millennial Transition has improved retention in two ways.

  • Short-term retention of the exiting employee for overlapping training, which reduces the stress and chaos... and culminates in a great farewell party. That boosts everyone's morale.
  • Long-term retention of other employees. Millennial Transition shows existing staff they can be open and honest about their careers. When millennials have a workplace they can trust they often reconsider leaving... and if they do leave they won't want to leave the organization hanging.

We've had three millennials transition in the past two years due to major life changes or seeking the right career fit. Each time that happened, many current employees told us they want to stay longer than the two-year average. And many already have.

We may not retain employees until retirement, but our employees want to beat the national average while they help our company grow--and that's a great place to be.