How One Small Company is Retaining Millennials by Focusing on their Parents

Amber Johnson Care for people, Innovation, Leadership, Values

Gibson collage

Photo: Gibson’s young workforce brings enthusiasm and humor to the team, and remains highly engaged thanks to innovative and playful programming. 

As Millennials (people born between the early 80s and the early 90s) enter the workforce and begin to take on leadership roles, companies are faced with a growing question of how to retain young talent. Millennials are anticipated to change jobs 15-20 times over the course of their careers, with an average tenure of just 3 years, compared to the national median of 4.6 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

While job-hopping may help an employee develop professionally and progress in salary and responsbility, it’s expensive for employers who make significant investments in employee training. How do you keep millennials longer?

Tim Leman, CEO and chairman of Gibson, a company that helps businesses understand their insurance needs and reduce risk, began asking this question a few years ago. Headquartered in South Bend , Indiana, home of the University of Notre Dame, Gibson often hired recent college graduates.

“Our workforce is one-third millennials,” says Shelly Smith, director of human resources at Gibson.

The company works with these young employees to help them understand the insurance industry and their specific roles, as well as Gibson’s strong, values-based culture. With so much invested in each new employee, Leman wants to make sure he keeps each one as long as possible. “They can have a full, challenging career here. They don’t have to leave in order to grow,” he says.

Millennials and Mom & Dad

Pew Research Center and others have studied the strong relationship between millennials and their parents. Almost half of millennials report talking with their parents each day. With that in mind, Leman decided to strengthen ties to his millennial employees by connecting with their families.

Gibson hosted their first Family Weekend in 2014, with 12 employees and almost 50 family members participating. “Even though they’d already been working for us for a while, we wanted to introduce ourselves to their parents so their families are more comfortable with what they’re doing,” says Smith.

Leman, Smith and their colleagues invited the family members to the company’s offices for a tour and presentation on Gibson’s business model, core values and mission. “We also discussed benefits, like ownership [Gibson is an ESOP company] and 401ks,” says Smith. “The parents understand the value of these benefits, sometimes better than their children.”

The group then moved on to a pizza dinner, cocktails with the millennials’ team members, and a Notre Dame basketball game. Gibson paid for the parents’ hotel rooms as well.

“The parents loved it,” says Smith. “One even asked, jokingly, if we had any jobs for him.”

Smith and Leman believe that parental support for the company will help millennials see the benefit of a long-term career with Gibson, helping the organization maintain its strong track record of retention.

Growing Retention with Strong, Positive Cultures

While parent weekends are common at undergraduate universities, they are becoming more frequent among companies with young and marketable workforces. Dropbox and Facebook offer parent weekends for their interns, for example. Outside the tech field, however, few companies have adopted the strategy. Gibson may be one of the first, but if their family weekend generates the results they anticipate it will, they will not be the last.

“We think it will help with retention. The parents understand what a unique opportunity Gibson is for their children,” says Leman. In the months since the event, no one from the family weekend cohort has left the company. Not that they expected it to be any different.

Smith says the family weekend is only one piece of their overall retention strategy. “We don’t seem to have the standard turnover that you hear about with millennials,” she says. “Our employees feel good working for us because we have our values figured out. They get to be involved very early on with our clients, which keeps them engaged; and we make sure they are connected to the community in many ways.  These things are important to them and we’re happy to provide opportunities to be involved internally and externally.

Smith feels the family weekend event reflects Gibson’s core values of integrity; fostering collaboration; and commitment for the long-haul. The values-driven culture this creates is paying dividends to Gibson and its employees: they’ll soon announce another stock price increase, and the company made the Best Places to Work in Indiana for the third year in a row, in 2014.

“Our employees expect more from us, because we recruited them and told them how great it was here,” says Smith. Through their family weekend initiative, Gibson is helping both millennials and their parents build loyalty to the company. “We make it clear, you can build a long career here.


Amber Johnson is the Center’s Chief Communications Officer and Senior Research Associate.

Photos provided by Gibson. 

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