Research Paper: Why Coaching Is A Better Strategy For Engaging And Retaining Millennial Employees

Kathrine Anne Minzlaff_Research_PaperResearch Paper By Kathrine Anne Minzlaff
(Young Professionals Coach, AUSTRIA)


Today’s labor market is dynamic with a diversity of generations comprising the workforce. Born between 1981 and 1997 (Dimock, 2019), the millennial generation, also known as Generation Y, is the most recent and potentially largest generation to enter the workforce (Lancaster and Stillman, 2002). They represent a unique generation with different work values, beliefs, and career attitudes than previous generations (Campione, 2015). Millennials are technologically savvy and socially conscious(Brack and Kelly, 2012) as they have grown up in an era characterized by rapid technological advancements and increased globalization (Friedell et al., 2011).

With this background, they bring high achievements and even higher expectations to the workplace. Some of their attitudes, expectations, and preferences, which are vastly different from other generations, have sometimes been perceived negatively and caused a generational conflict in the workplace (Ng, 2012) and, consequently, decreased job satisfaction and increased turn over amongst these younger employees (Campione, 2015). This seemingly ongoing trend poses significant challenges for organizations as high millennial turnover rates mean enormous losses for them (Bogosian and Rousseau, 2017), both in financial terms and loss of talents, and potential gaps in leadership (Brack and Kelly, 2012).

Given these high turnover costs, many companies have focused on developing, packaging, and branding themselves in various ways to retain millennials (Campione, 2015). Despite these efforts, however, millennials have still emerged as the job-hopping generation (Friedell et al., 2011). Therefore, to address this issue more effectively, it has become necessary for organizational leaders to direct their attention on understanding how to motivate and interact with this population(Canedo et al., 2017) by learning more about their mindset, worldview, and satisfaction drivers (Bogosian and Rousseau, 2017). The underlying assumption is that by understanding the perceived motivational factors for millennials, organizations will increase workforce commitment, reduce turnover, and fill the leadership void (Calk and Patrick, 2017).

Joining the question of resolving this problem with high millennials turnovers, researchers have also focused their attention on investigating millennials’ motivations and expectations surrounding the nature of their jobs or careers. Based on their studies, many researchers suggest making organizational changes to adapt to millennial’s workplace motivations (Lancaster and Stillman, 2002) and desired work attributes (Overjijk, 2017). The alternative approach, which is recommended only by a few (e.g., Ng, 2012; Solomon and van Coller-Peter, 2019), is to use coaching as a tool for developing and retaining millennials. Though empirical research on coaching millennial professionals is scarce, this paper, drawing on the literature on millennials, coaching, and self-management aims to explain why coaching is the more effective strategy for engaging and retaining millennial professionals.

Millennials in the Workforce

Millennials are the fastest-growing workforce segment and the least understood (Calk and Patrick, 2017). This generation of new employees, who grew up during the emergence of the Digital age (Bolser and Gosciej, 2015), is defined and influenced by their acute relationships with technology. Often referred to as ‘digital natives’, they easily integrate technology into their daily lives and use it to solve problems, interact with others, and interpret the world (Calk and Patrick, 2017).

According to Brant and Castro (2019), the defining social influences of technology, communication, and globalization made it possible for millennials worldwide to share similar characteristics. It is also the main factor that has given rise to and shaped millennials’ work attitudes (Ng, 2012).

Millennials are described as open-minded, confident, self-expressive, liberal, upbeat, and receptive to new ideas and living practices(Appel-Muelenbroek et al., 2019). They are highly educated and well-skilled, which is crucial in the current global knowledge economy. The way millennials use communication networks and quickly gain knowledge also brings various innovative opportunities for companies (Brackand Kelly, 2012).

Aware of this generation’s unique competencies and perspective, businesses worldwide are continually looking for ways to harness their strengths and keep them engaged (e.g., Franco and Lyapina, 2016). Despite their efforts, however, they still struggle to retain them as these young individuals continue to leave their jobs whenever better opportunities arise elsewhere. For this reason, millennials have become known as”notorious job-hoppers” (Roebuck et al., 2013 as cited in Franco and Lyapina, 2016).

Based on the notion that millennials’ job dissatisfaction is the main trigger for their desire to change jobs, many academics have recommended various changes to the organizations to adapt to millennial worker’s wants and needs. Such changes include modifications to work practices (Bartz et al., 2017), policies (Brack and Kelly, 2012), and even the physical environment (Canedo et al., 2017). In line with Lazarus’strategiesfor addressing challenges (as cited in Cottrell, 2003), these suggested solutions are problem-focused because they solve the external aspect of the problem, thus its symptoms.

Additionally, as they are solely dependent on the companies to action, they are also out of the millennials’ realm of control. In contrast, coaching is an emotion-focused solution because it addresses the root cause of the problem by proposing to look inward at the millennials’ attitudes and emotions that impact their reactions to the situation. It presumes that this young group can create an environment that supports what they want to achieve. Examples of areas where coaching can help engage and retain millennials in organizations are depicted in the next section.

Where coaching can help

Millennial workers want their jobs to be meaningful and challenging, and its absence could impact their satisfaction in and intention to stay at their current position(Overdijk, 2017). Having this job criterion assumes that millennial workers already know what is meaningful or challenging for them. Nonetheless, because describing one’s work as “meaningful and challenging” is subjective, it raises the question “Do they all know what meaningful and challenging work is for them?”Surveys (e.g., Clark, 2018; Kalogeropoulos, 2020) show that millennials increasingly use social media, known for its strong influence and questionable credibility, as their primary source information.

Therefore, it is possible that what they think is meaningful and challenging work are ideas that they have picked up from this medium rather than that that align with their true selves. By bringing individuals on a self-discovery journey and retrospection through coaching, a coach can help them uncover their real values, interests, and strengths, and link them to work that they would personally find meaningful and challenging (Bogasian and Rousseau, 2017; Ng, 2012).

Furthermore, Friedell, Puskala, and Villa (2015) identified millennials’ lack of patience and perseverance as another plausible reason for their constant job change. They posit that instead of waiting for opportunities in their current employment, millennials prefer to fast-track their career advancement and salary raises through job-hopping. Ng (2012) attributes the impatience and impulsiveness of millennials to their desire for instant gratification. Since millennials are so accustomed to technology, which provides instantaneous feedback, they need to experience instant gratification. Interpreted by their managers and colleagues as an entitlement, this aversion to delayed gratification also affects their short-term work processes. They struggle with long projects, bureaucratic inefficiencies, and attention to detail and accuracy.

Unaware that they are inherently ill-equipped to deal with delayed gratification, the absence of instant reward can become extraordinarily frustrating for millennials. This frustration has a significant impact on job performance and job satisfaction, leading to low retention in some cases. It may also eventually lead to turnovers because the inability to delay gratification has significant consequences that result in poor decision-making and planning habits (Cheng et al., 2011). Having a possible negative impact on their long-term success and overall well-being (Mischel et al., 1989), it is, therefore, necessary for millennials to address this issue. Fortunately, delaying gratification is a skill that one can learn, and coaching can also support millennials acquire this skill.

Another crucial skill that millennial professionals could work on in coaching is communication. According to Calk and Patrick (2017), growing up in the world of social media has negatively impacted the way millennials communicate with others. They argue that though millennials are well educated, they have substandard communication skills that have contributed to the misunderstandings and miscommunications in the workplace.

Supporting this argument, Holmberg-Write, Hribar, and Tsegai (2017) also point out that having learned to communicate using technology, often millennials are unaware of their nonverbal cues which have often contributed to miscommunication between them and their coworkers and managers. Bolser and Gosciej (2015) therefore suggest that, as much as millennials want to be understood, it is necessary that they also learn how to understand and communicate with different generations. Coaching can facilitate this learning too. Additionally, millennials could take advantage of coaching to support them in learning how to better articulate and successfully negotiate their work goals and expectations with their employers (Campione, 2015).

What coaching is

Coaching is a problem solving, a solution-focused, and goal-setting structure designed to equip individuals with the tools and knowledge they need to develop and reach their desired professional and personal goals (Minzlaff, 2019). The role of coaching is to create for the client the conditions for learning and growing. A coach acts as a catalyst to facilitate the clients’ progress towards the defined goals by using skilled listening and questioning techniques.

Coaching is a partnership between a coach and a client and typically consists of a series of one-on-one sessions (Ng, 2012). A coaching session is a conversation focused on helping the client discover answers for themselves, which is critical because people are much more likely to engage with solutions that they generate themselves rather than those imposed on them. The coaching model that coaches apply to structure the sessions vary. Generally, however, most coaching adheres to the following process: discovery, creating awareness, designing actions, planning, and goal setting, and managing progress.

During the session, the coach employs a guided discovery technique, where the coach asks the client a series of questions that enable the individuals to become aware of their thinking (Minzlaff, 2019). The assumption is that by promoting awareness, coaching will help allow a more realistic and rational decision-making process to occur as it moves an individual from a self-limiting mode of thinking to a more adaptable system of identifying several problem-solving strategies.

How coaching can help

One of the first steps in successfully managing any situation is taking responsibility for oneself as an active, thinking, and creative agent within the process (Cottrell, 2003). This step means moving beyond the “blame” to find the most constructive outcome possible. In coaching, millennials learn to take responsibility for their work situation and the career they want to pursue by understanding their intrinsic motivations. Intrinsic motivation, which Ayodogmus (2018) describes as the positively valued experiences that individuals get directly from their tasks, is the key psychological component of employee empowerment. Through this lens, Ng (2012) believes that millennials would be able to make connections that would help broaden their focus and find meaning at work and enable them to become self-managing (Ayodogmus, 2018).

Self-managing vital because it helps enhance personal skills (such as delaying gratification and communication skills), work engagement, and self-goal setting (Ghali et al., 2018). By developing self-management skills, initially through coaching, millennials learn to oversee and screen their conduct and manage the choices they make. Once they possess these skills, they can consistently set their goals independently and take the initiative to achieve them. With this purposeful self-management, young professionals can direct their career trajectory and ensure they seek opportunities that get them closer to their goals.

Finally, another significant advantage of coaching for both the millennial employees and their employers is that it is based on a solution-focused approach (Minzlaff, 2019). The solution-focused model holds that focusing only on problems is not an effective way of solving them(Cottrell, 2003). Instead, this approach targets clients’ default solution patterns, evaluates them for efficacy, and modifies or replaces them with problem-solving techniques that work. Because this type of approach is often expected of those in managerial roles, millennials who aspire to enter jobs with managerial responsibilities can start developing this method through coaching.


With a workforce comprised of multiple generations of employees, organizations today struggle to motivate and retain talents from the millennial generation. The way millennials interact and communicate with other generations and the expectations they bring to their employment diverge from those of previous generations. In some cases, this has led to misunderstandings and conflicts among the different generations co-existing in the workplace and consequently decreased job satisfaction and increased turnovers among this young generation.

High millennial turnover for companies means knowledge and productivity loss, higher recruiting and training costs, and potential leadership voids. Therefore, given the unique nature of millennials’ workplace motivations, organizations are expected to shape and sustain a culture that attracts, engages, and successfully interacts with this population. While many researchers suggest various organizational changes to achieve this goal, only a few recommend coaching as a developmental and retention strategy. This paper advocate coaching as the more effective approach in engaging and retaining millennial professionals.

Unlike organizational changes, which focus on the external aspect or symptom of the problem, coaching addresses its root cause by focusing inward on the millennials’ attitudes and emotions that impact their reactions to the situation. Through coaching, millennials can acquire a higher level of self-knowledge and personal responsibility concerning a self-directed personal plan, which can be applied not only to their professional lives but also to their personal lives. Organizations, as a result, gain an engaged and committed pool of young and talented employees.


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