SMEs and Millennials: A match made in heaven?

SMEs and Millennials: A match made in heaven?

As the number of millennials in the jobs market continues to increase, Iain McMath of Sodexo Engage suggests SMEs could benefit hugely from their skills.

SMEs now make up an incredible 99.5% of all businesses in the UK, so if someone’s hiring, it’s likely to be one of these mid-sized companies. But who’s applying? Well, chances are, it’s a millennial.

For SMEs, this is great news. Employees in this generation love modern ways of working and want to work for a company with a vision. What’s more, they’re not just staff – they’re also customers. Millennials have overtaken baby boomers as the largest group of consumers both here and in the US, so it makes sense to tap into their mindset by bringing more of them on board.

With so much in common, SMEs and millennials are obviously a match made in heaven – and we’ve the data to prove it. We recently did some research which found that 47% of millennials think SMEs are the perfect size of employer, while only 19% feel the same about larger companies. This doesn’t mean that SMEs can sit back and put their feet up though; there’s still a lot to do to get these talented employees into the business.

Why SMEs are the perfect fit

First of all, the numbers don’t lie: nearly three-quarters of millennials (72%) say they’d prefer to work for a small business. But that's just part of the story. Millennials also said that they wanted more than just money from their job. Flexible working, career progression and company culture were all things they really value – and our research showed that millennials associate all of these benefits with SMEs.

But it’s not all good news for SMEs. We already know that this generation are notorious job-hoppers, but our research also found that they get especially itchy feet in a small business. Very few are staying with an SME for more than four years, whilst those in a larger corporation tend to stay there well past the five-year mark. This is obviously an issue that needs to be resolved, but the first step is getting millennials to apply in the first place.

Getting them through the doorSMEs have a lot to offer millennials, but to seal the deal, smaller businesses need to act fast. Even though millennials prefer SMEs, there is tough competition to get new talent through the door. Small businesses everywhere are fighting for the best talent and there is always the chance a bigger company will steal millennials away.

The truth is that this generation still expects some of the advantages that come with working in a larger corporation – so SMEs need to deliver the goods in this respect. If an SME offers even just a few of these exciting benefits, millennials will be more likely to choose them over a competitor – it’s that simple. It can’t be the standard package though: only 34% of millennials are interested in traditional perks like a pension. They’re looking for something new and different.

Fortunately, these benefits don’t need to break the bank. Six out of 10 millennials (60%) actually see flexible working as the most important perk of the job, so it doesn’t take much to include a benefit that can attract this generation to the business.

It’s the small things that count

Attracting millennials isn’t enough though – SMEs need to keep hold of them too. Regular rewards can work wonders here – but forget about the traditional fountain pen; experiences are what millennials want. With this generation spending a massive £420 million a month on live events alone, mini-breaks, day trips and nights out are much more suited to their tastes.

One more thing to keep in mind: millennials are ambitious and they value training and one-to-one contact with their managers. External and on the job training is provided by most SMEs, but they need to make sure it’s clearly signposted so millennials know their needs will be catered for. Time with managers should also be presented as an opportunity to talk about opportunities for growth and development. This way, millennials will feel that the company is still investing in them.

It may sound like a lot of work to take on, but it’s worth it. SMEs already have an advantage as most millennials have a positive view of this kind of company. Giving them opportunities that they won’t get in larger companies, along with a few benefits normally found in big corporations, will keep them part of the business for years.


Iain McMath is CEO of Sodexo Engage, specialists in employee and consumer engagement