Work-life balance and other supports needed to recruit and retain younger talent

Employers that provide more support to graduates at the start of their careers stand a better chance of retaining them, says expert

At one time the lure of a decent pay packet was enough to make school-leavers and young graduates snap up a job offer. Not anymore. Pay still matters, but if it doesn’t come as part of a wider employment package that includes employee wellbeing supports, work-life balance initiatives, career progression opportunities and alignment with personal values, then the under-30s, and the 20- to 25-year-olds in particular, will choose to work somewhere where it does.

This expectation of a more holistic approach to employment was accelerated by the pandemic and is particularly strong among younger workers who struggled with the isolation of remote working during the lockdown. The message coming out loud and clear from these post-Millennials since is that they want and need more support at the start of their careers. Employers that recognise this stand a better chance of bringing the next generation of workers on board and retaining them, says Siobhán Kelly, managing director of human capital solutions at professional services firm Aon Ireland.

Kelly’s comments come on the back of a new report prepared jointly by Aon and corporate training and professional development company HPC Global, which found that while organisations see early career programmes as crucial in attracting high-calibre talent and bringing new skills into a business, many are “not taking full advantage of their investment in early career individuals and may now need to revisit how they select and develop young talent”, Kelly says.

Unsurprisingly, retention was the top issue for employers who contributed to the report which also found that despite having good salary and development packages on offer for this age group, many employers were failing to communicate their merits strongly enough to potential recruits.


“It’s clear that business and HR leaders need to reassess how they present their organisation,” says Kevin Hannigan, client director with HPC Global. “With development offerings, programme structure and salary all known to be important to early career professionals, transparency around these elements will help to ensure that candidates do not rethink their decision at offer stage, or even after joining, all of which would have an impact on retention.”

The report acknowledges that recruiting and retaining the 20-something demographic is not without its challenges and having talked to companies across 15 sectors employing 150,000 people with a graduate intake of more than 1,500 a year, the report offers a number of recommendations to help organisations compete for young talent more effectively. These include having a clearly defined employee value proposition, identifying future skills needs within the business and aligning them with early career programmes and putting resources into employee development that will have the greatest impact for those in the early stages of their professional lives.

“Companies need to make better use of data-driven insights to understand what’s driving the career interests of Generation Z and match them to development opportunities,” Kelly says. “Old style ‘template’ and ‘best practice’ approaches to employee development may not work best because they don’t necessarily align with what a business needs right now. For example, if you want people to be innovative and curious, you need to put them into real situations where this can happen in a meaningful way, not into a two-day workshop on innovation.

“Our research shows that many companies are not integrating the KSA (knowledge, skills and attitudes) they consider important into their employee training and development programmes,” she adds. “This highlights significant opportunities for improvement and a clear way to accelerate the delivery of critical skills for the future. It’s also important to Integrate these KSA’s into company feedback and formal review processes so that programme participants are constantly nudged about their importance and have an opportunity to discuss them in practice.”

Asked where companies with hiring practices in need of a makeover should start, Kelly takes aim at two things: the sacred cow that is the CV and the failure of HR professionals to make better use of data.

Kelly’s view is that the legacy dependence on the CV that persists in many organisations does not serve the recruitment process in general very well and is actually detrimental when relied on too heavily to recruit young people with little or no work experience.

“We know that companies are trying to move away from an overemphasis on the CV but 90 per cent still use it to support decision making,” she says. “But when we think about CVs and their validity – validity meaning something that measures what it’s supposed to measure in a given context – then they score very low with early career level applicants where what you’re really looking for is potential.”

What also bothers Kelly about CVs is that interpreting them can be highly subjective and unintentionally biased and this has the potential to stymie workplace diversity. Psychometrics, she says, offer a much more objective means of measurement. With such a wide range of tests now available to assess everything from numeracy and verbal fluency to logic, behaviour, personality and risk, organisations should be linking assessments to the competencies they want and making more use of the insights they produce. One of the reasons this doesn’t happen is because many hiring managers don’t feel confident and competent to use them.

“We found that only a third of talent acquisition professionals feel comfortable using psychometric data to influence decision making within the business. That needs to change,” Kelly says.