How Workday Became One of the Best Places to Work for Millennials

June 26, 2018, 3:35 PM UTC

Erin Yang did not plan to stay long at Workday.

In keeping with other millennials’ career paths, the 33-year old software developer imagined spending a few years at the company and then moving onto her next challenge. But Yang has been at Workday for nearly seven years and says she has no plans to leave the Pleasanton, Calif.-based maker of HR and financial management software.

What’s kept her around? More than anything else, it boils down to Workday offering her a steady stream of new challenges, resulting in three different job titles since she started working there when she was 27 years old. Within a year and a half, Yang rose from product manager to team leader. That role expanded from overseeing a group of 10 product managers to more than 70 over the course of five years. And last fall, she took on a new role as vice president of Workday’s platform-as-a-service offering.

See 100 Best Workplaces for Millennials list.

“What I’ve been able to get at Workday is continuous learning and new opportunities,” Yang says. “I’ve never felt that I wasn’t learning something new.”

This is no accident. Workday has made concerted efforts to serve and retain talent from every generation of its workforce. This includes millennials, who make up a striking 53 percent of Workday’s 8,600 employees.

The company has anchored its culture in research on generational differences, says Greg Pryor, Workday’s senior vice president and “People and Performance Evangelist.” Pryor says Workday accounts for millennials’ “psychological narrative” that they must constantly expand their skills and social ties or they might lose their competitiveness and fail in life. The company also takes note of Gen Y’s “gameful mindset”—of seeking to acquire experiences so they can “level up” to the next opportunity as they might in a video game.

These principles served as a backdrop to Workday’s new performance review process, Pryor says, which was rolled out this year. Called “Performance Enablement,” it is less an annual, backwards-looking ritual than a mechanism for giving continuous feedback and arranging “career sprints” of a few months at a time that lead to new skills and relationships.

“This generation is collecting—almost like you would collect in a backpack—different capabilities, different connections,” Pryor says. “Capabilities are the new career currency given the mindset and narrative of millennials.”

All this work on millennials is paying off for Workday. Fully 96 percent of millennial employees at Workday say it is a great place to work, according to Great Place to Work’s employee survey. Workday’s new hire program for recent college graduates has a retention rate of 80 percent. And the focus on keeping employees happy is translating into stellar business results– Workday has posted annual revenue growth of at least 35 percent each of its past three fiscal years. It also reports a customer satisfaction rate of 98 percent.

Not surprisingly, Workday has been named one of the 100 Best Workplaces for Millennials for 2018, compiled by Great Place to Work in partnership with FORTUNE. Earning a spot on this ranking is a good sign for companies, given that millennials surpassed Gen Xers as the single largest generation in the labor force in 2016. Some 56 million millennials are active in the U.S. labor force, and represent 35 percent of all working Americans, according to the Pew Research Center.

And yet the 100 Best Workplaces for Millennials aren’t just good for just the youngest generation. The criteria for the list includes both special attention to how young people rate their workforce as well as a consistently great experience for employees across all demographic groups. The 100 Best Workplaces for Millennials are also what we call Great Places to Work For All.

Our research demonstrates that Great Places to Work For All are better for business results, better for the people who work there, and better for the world. Indeed, in compiling the list, we found that when members of the millennial generation experience a high-trust culture, they are 22 times more likely to plan a long-term future with their firm than millennials who do not feel they’re at a great workplace.

This finding defies the oft-repeated claim that millennials are inveterate job hoppers. While other research indicates 6 in 10 millennials are actively seeking new jobs, at the Best Workplaces for Millennials, 88% of younger employees say they plan to stay long-term.

And that’s not the only surprising discovery we made about Gen Y in analyzing 434,000 employee survey responses from Great Place to Work-Certified organizations. Our study took into account 171,876 responses from millennials in particular. Members of this generation are famously outspoken in their desire for more responsibility and career development.

Yet analysis by Great Place to Work found millennials’ workplace experience increases only modestly when they assume their first management role and does not improve as they rise in rank, even to executive level positions. This stands in contrast to the experience of other generations; whose experiences generally far exceed that of individual contributors by the time they rise to senior level positions.

This generational gap has its pros and cons. The challenge is that millennial managers pose twice the flight risk of Boomer managers. This means leaders can’t assume millennials’ needs are being met just because they are being promoted. The good news is the data suggests millennial leaders are more in touch with the broader employee experience at their companies than leaders of other generations. High-ranking millennials can prevent senior management teams from becoming isolated from their people. They can offer valuable ongoing insights to improve workplaces for all.

Workday works to keep millennial managers thriving on the job in part through frequent check-ins. Erin Yang, for example, started getting hungry for a new post after close to 5 years in her previous job leading a technology product team. As soon as she mentioned she was ready for a new challenge, her supervisor jumped to identify the platform-as-a-service job as head of the Workday Cloud Platform offering. Yang now has a smaller team under her—about 20 people—but she has new challenges such as price-setting and managing a sales team. Yang says she’s grateful for the trust placed in her to run a strategically important product—which competes with Oracle’s and SAP’s cloud platforms.

“One of the things that I appreciate a lot about Workday is they don’t just look for the traditional experiences to put you in a role,” Yang says. “There’s this philosophy that ‘if you do well with what you’re given, we’ll give you more and we’ll give you the support and any training you need to succeed in that new role.’”

Another piece of the millennial puzzle at Workday is extensive data analysis. Each week, the company polls all employees with questions drawn in part from Great Place to Work’s Trust Index Employee Survey. Taken together, the responses from “Feedback Friday” provide a near-real-time pulse of how employees of different geographies, genders, generations and other demographics are experiencing the company.

If Pryor and his team see any dips in employee sentiment, they then have a variety of information to share with employees and leaders to protect the culture.

“We’re able to curate content that says, in the following area, the following generation may not be feeling as empowered or is not having as powerful an experience,” he says. “That’s crazy powerful for us.”

It wasn’t entirely smooth sailing for Workday to arrive at such an effective culture system. About two years ago, some older members of the company’s leadership harbored stereotypes of millennials as entitled and needing excessive amounts of feedback. But as they explored research on various generations’ psychological profiles from Tammy Erickson of the London Business School, Workday’s executives came to reframe the matter as a value-neutral set of differences. Pryor recalls explaining how not getting frequent feedback amounts to a threat to millennials, and how his comment prompted a revealing exchange.

“One of our senior leaders, a Gen Xer said, ‘If I don’t get feedback, that’s a good thing. If I get feedback, you’re telling me to get ready to get laid-off.’ That’s the narrative from that generation.” Pryor says. “This woman, who happened to be about 24 or 25, who was on our team raised her hand. She said, ‘I just left a job because I didn’t get feedback. Because I thought they didn’t care about me.’”

Not only does Erin Yang feel cared for at Workday, she feels inspired. And this is a final way Workday speaks to the needs of the millennial generation—which places a high priority on a sense of purpose.

Yang says her best day at Workday was an event where she and other product team leaders gave presentations to the company’s sales professionals. Yang’s boss was a woman, as were five of the six people on stage. And by chance, all the women wore dresses in colors that together made up a rainbow. Yang and her teammates didn’t call attention to this strong showing of women in technology or to their uplifting outfits. But the symbolism wasn’t lost on anyone. People later told Yang how powerful their presence and eloquent presentations were.

“I just felt like I was part of something bigger than myself,” she says. “I felt proud.”

Yet another reason this millennial has stuck around Workday—and has no plans to leave.

To learn more about how to win over millennials and to create a meaningful work experience for your colleagues and company, read A Great Place to Work For All, a new book by CEO Michael C. Bush and our research team.


Ed Frauenheim is senior director of content at Great Place to Work, FORTUNE’s longtime research partner for Best Workplace lists, including the Best Workplaces for Millennials. Ed also is co-author of A Great Place to Work For All.