You have young employee that you wish to incentivize and reward. You’ve handed out raises. Is that enough? According to Jeremy Boudinet’s article “How to Recognize and Reward Millennial Employees”, more money, while still very important to this generation, is not their top priority.
“The ultimate performance incentive for your millennials isn’t a raise, bonus or hefty commission check,” Boudinet surmises. “It’s a promotion.” He goes on to site the PwC study, “Millennials at Work,” which states: “Career progression is the top priority for millennials who expect to rise rapidly through the organization. Fifty-two percent said this was the main attraction in an employer, coming ahead of competitive salaries in second place (44 percent).”
If you manage a major business or corporation with multiple departments and expansion opportunities, offering a career ladder to your employees is expected and there are systems in place which allow you to provide that. But what about when you are a small business? Or a seasonal business? What about when there are no other “steps up” other than your own job? What can you offer that young employee you don’t want to lose?
Small businesses already have to think creatively about every aspect of their company and this area is no exception. Standard job title definitions are not going to apply to your business model the same strict way they apply to big companies. That’s why we often joke about “wearing multiple hats” at a small business. Your own job probably includes many unconventional roles that are outside the norm for what a typical manager or owner does. Can you apply this principle to your employees and offer them roles that may be outside their title as well? Can they run some of your errands, manage a couple accounts, order certain supplies? By increasing their responsibility, you tell them you identify this talent in them and trust them with this new role. You also give them added skills to help bulk up their resume.
Another possibility is to provide a track for them to start their own small business. This is always a touchy subject as no one wants to train their competition, but I’ve seen several places do this with success. A greenhouse owner I know received training on how to start his own nursery from a local grower who was considering retirement. When it came time for the employee to branch out on his own, he began a very small startup several towns over, providing service to an area of the region that his mentor had never been able to reach before. The change was in phases so the employee continued to work under his mentor’s tutelage for a few years as his own business grew. I wouldn’t be too concerned about your employee becoming competition. Very few Millennials are staying in their home towns — the generation is known for their restlessness and wanderlust. The chances of your employee sticking around to open a permanent business is rare. But perhaps you want them to. Maybe you, too, are looking to retire and want your business to continue to provide service in your area. What better way to incentivize that employee to stay local than to prepare him or her to continue the work you have begun?
Sharing an employee is starting to become more utilized as well, especially in small towns where one business can’t afford the role they would like to have represented on staff. This is especially common in fields like marketing, advertising or social media managing, as well as accounting or other jobs you typically hire freelance. But if you and your neighbor (or two) share one employee with these skills, it provides you a valuable service at a small wage and it provides a career track for that employee. You probably won’t want to share this position with a business that is your competition.
Instead, find one that provides a completely different service and approach your employee about splitting his or her time between your operations.
It’s important to remember that merely increasing an employee’s role or job title should come with appropriate compensation. If your employee is putting in more work, he or she deserves to be paid accordingly. To increase responsibility without any financial benefits would not be a reward for this person; it would be a punishment. The entire purpose of trying to encourage him or her would be for naught. Adding burdens will only make your employee want to leave. But adding a promotion will be the best reward you can provide.
Emily Enger is a millennial farm kid turned farm journalist. She also works in marketing, serving as Communications Director for a nonprofit that covers nine rural counties in northern Minnesota. These opinions are her own and should not take the place of legal or professional advice. To comment or pitch future topics, email her at For reprint permission, email editor Joan Kark-Wren at