Millennials (ages 22 to 37 in 2018) now outnumber Gen Xers in the workplace. And, among these energetic go getters are our next generation of leaders. This makes Millennials critically important to companies both today as well as in the future.

Yet, as a group, Millennials are highly disloyal to employers. According to the 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey, a full 66 percent of millennials go into a new job expecting to leave in three years.

So, what's going on here? Are all companies destined to have high turnover of Millennials for the next 30 years?

The writing's not quite on the wall just yet. It is possible to retain Millennials. For all of us non-Millennials in the workplace, it's our job to learn what makes this generation tick.

In doing so, we can mentor and coach them in a way that makes sense both for them and for the company they work for. And then, and only then, do we stand a chance of having them stick around.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect

In order to learn how to retain Millennials, we first have to understand the Dunning-Kruger effect. It's a cognitive bias, and we all have it.

Essentially The Dunning-Kruger Effect is false confidence. Specifically, we mistakenly think we are better at something than we are. And, we are most confident in our ability at the time when we actually know the least about a thing. 

Think back on the first time you learned a new sport. You likely had no idea what you were doing, yet still said to yourself, "I got this!" Eventually, you realized that you actually had a lot to learn and weren't an expert after all. In fact, you were pretty terrible at the sport and you admitted to yourself that you were a novice.

Over time, you practiced and increased your ability and confidence--but you never regained that initial level of absurdly high confidence. That's Dunning-Kruger effect.

Applying it to Millennials

From what I've seen first-hand with Millennials, the Dunning-Kruger effect happens twice with them. That is, there seems to be a second spike of confidence in their belief in their ability to master a task shortly after the first spike.

Many of the Millennials I've worked with are at their highest confidence on the job on day one. Then their confidence in their ability dips, as I expect it would. But then, instead of then steadily declining and then slowly climbing back up, as the Dunning-Kruger effect says it should, there is a second spike of confidence, about six months after the first spike.

And only then, after that second spike in confidence, the long, slow and steady dip and climb back up in confidence occurs.

Millennials Feel Underutilized at Work

This second spike could explain the high tendency of Millennials to feel underused at work. This matches the results from the 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey, which found that 63 percent of Millennials feel their leadership skills aren't being developed.

Many Millennials I've worked with have expressed to me that they've felt underused on the job. This feeling usually occurs around 6-9 months in--right around when they become confident that they've mastered their craft after working at it for those 6-9 months.

Once that second spike in confidence passes, if I can get them to stick around and stay at the company, their feeling of underuse subsides.

Retain Millennials By Doing These Two Things

So, the secret to successfully retaining Millennials is to work closely with them throughout both their first and second spikes in confidence. Here's how:

  1. Have performance reviews constantly by giving real time feedback in weekly one-on-ones. Annual performance reviews don't work. By the time you get to the first annual review, they're already checked out. Instead, meet weekly with them. Give them constant feedback on what they're doing well, and what they can do to improve. Instead of giving one performance review per year, give 52 mini-performance reviews.

  2. Create a clear path to promotion. A Millennial with six months on the job probably feels ready to be promoted. At my company, Stride Consulting, we allow promotions at any time, 365 days per year. We set clear expectations on what's needed for advancement, and then use the weekly one-on-ones to provide constant feedback. Our data tells us that the average time to promotion from level one to level two is 263 days, or about 9 months. 90 percent of our level one employees get promoted to level two between six and 15 months. So, it's not a guarantee. But, there is a large degree of control.

More than one in three Americans in the workforce are Millennials. The sooner the rest of us figure out the best way to work with them, the better off we'll all be.