Attracting and retaining top talent today

  When it comes to staffing, Canadian companies currently face unique workforce challenges. With Canada’s unemployment rate at 5.4% - a nearly forty-year low - employers are struggling to attract, recruit and retain top talent. Moreover, for the first time in contemporary history, four generations of employees - Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y (Millennials), and the first crop of Generation Z – are now working side-by-side.

Given this diverse workforce, what strategies and approaches should HR professionals adopt to successfully attract and retain top young talent?

Varying motivations and values

To build effective strategies, understanding each generation’s specific skills and workplace expectations – even in broad, generalized terms – can be helpful.

GenerationAttributes / skillsMost valued benefits / expectations

Baby Boomers

Ambitious, loyal, work-centric, competitive, with strong interpersonal skillsStability; retirement-related benefits (RRSPs, pensions, etc.)

Generation X

Prefer working independently with minimal supervision; seek balance – “work to live” rather than “live to work”; comfortable with technologyPromotions based on competence rather than rank or seniority


Believe in working smarter, not harder; technology gurusFlexibility, workplace culture, development opportunities

Generation Z

Highly entrepreneurial; technology-reliant; more competitive and less money-driven than MillennialsOpen communication; flexibility in the workplace; security

Attracting the younger generations

Generationally, the power dynamic of the hiring process has shifted. Most Millennial and GenZ job seekers feel they ultimately choose their employer, whereas previous generations believed the hiring power resided with the employer.

In addition to compensation and benefits, Millennial and GenZ employees strongly value flexibility, company culture, and career development. Moreover, given their familiarity with technology and the Internet, young candidates will extensively research a company before they apply for or accept a position.

Therefore, recruiters must adjust their traditional approaches and methods to appeal to these generations. Experts believe that employers should:

  1. Develop a strong employer brand. The lines between marketing and recruitment continue to blur. The best employer brands are bold, authentic, and accurately depict the employee experience, often by transforming engaged employees into brand ambassadors.

  2. Streamline and digitize your hiring process. Online job applications are now ubiquitous, so a simplified, candidate-focused experience is crucial. Recruiters should strive to communicate in a timely, personalized way, reduce hurdles to the application process, and seek candidates’ feedback so messaging remains streamlined and on-brand.

    Optimizing job listings for mobile recruiting is also a must, since more than 31.5 million Canadians are connected to a wireless device, and over 70% of all job seekers search for employment opportunities on mobile devices.

  3. Engage on social media. All marketers know that you must go where your target audience is. Social media offers economical, effective opportunities to speak directly to top talent while reinforcing your employer brand.

    Recruiters should develop an accessible, creative presence on these generations’ preferred social media platforms – established sites such as Twitter and Facebook, or innovative recruitment channels like Snapchat or Instagram. LinkedIn is particularly useful for posting open positions, targeting passive candidates, promoting your employer brand by participating in groups, and connecting (or reconnecting) with members of your network.

Additional tactics include establishing partnerships with educational institutions to build a future candidate pipeline; leveraging technology to track recruiting metrics; and using workforce analytics to support well-informed, timely hiring decisions and develop responsive workforce plans.  

You’ve hired a promising candidate. Now what?

Once hired, Millennial and GenZ employees want to feel engaged with their work and company. Key retention factors include opportunities for pay raises and advancement, the chance to do meaningful work, and an extensive benefits package.

Given these factors, here are five tips to retain and engage your new young talent:

  1. Design and implement a strong, structured onboarding process. Supporting and integrating new hires are vital aspects of retention and engagement. Consider making your onboarding process more playful by incorporating elements of gamification, virtual reality and videoconferencing. Ideally, this process is also assisted by technology; younger workers expect technology to be incorporated into the most routine activities. Ultimately, onboarding should bolster your employer brand, familiarize employees before their first day of work, and help forge a bond with the organization.

  2. Personalize and humanize the “first day” experience. Every generation values relationships; therefore, technology should reinforce, not replace, the human factor. Employers can designate a mentor, greeting team, or go-to resource to ease new hires into their work environment. Adding creativity and fun (first-day lunches, gift baskets, virtual meet-and-greets, etc.) also quickly builds connections and helps dispel the “first day” jitters.

  3. Introduce/enhance work-life balance programs. Younger workers expect work-life balance at the very outset of their careers; they want to immediately be able to work from home (or a satellite office) or have a flexible schedule. They thrive under work-life balance programs like TELUS’ Work Styles, which have been shown to increase employee retention and engagement, and deliver consistent productivity.

  4. Prioritize career development. This aspect is crucial given the current skills and labour gaps, and the specific expectations of Millennial and GenZ employees. They seek meaning in their work, and expect employers to deliver continual investments and opportunities to develop their skillsets and personal interests.

  5. Offer (and seek) constant feedback. Younger workers value mentoring, and their reliance on technology has accustomed them to near-constant feedback and communication. Thus, these generations value frequent, ongoing performance conversations (rather than annual reviews) with supervisors who are relatable and accessible. They also appreciate regular engagement surveys, where they have a voice in creating action plans leading to concrete, positive changes in the workplace.  

Money and benefits still matter

Despite variations in specific expectations, compensation and benefits still account for 59% of key retention factors across all generations, and 60% of people report that employment perks remain a major factor when considering a job offer.

As a result, employee retention and engagement strategies should remain forward-thinking with regard to financial motivators. These include (but are not limited to) valued wellness and work-life balance perks like extended health coverage, additional vacation time, mental health/wellness initiatives, loan/tuition assistance, paid top-ups for parental leaves, and onsite daycare or other childcare support.

It’s imperative that HR professionals understand the changing values, expectations and needs of Millennial and GenZ job seekers. This understanding will serve as the foundation of finely-tuned recruitment strategies, and ensure a high-performance, harmonious workplace.