Here’s why small businesses need to attract and retain loyal millennials. (iStock image)

It’s no secret that building and maintaining stable employee relationships saves money in the short term and increases company performance in the long term. But what does appear to be a mystery is how to build those relationships.

Many small business owners haven’t found a way to take advantage of this insight because they struggle to build attractive benefits packages and cultures that appeal not only to the best employees, but also to the most dedicated employees.

Fortunately, there’s new information available that points to a surprising solution to this problem: Small businesses need to hire more underrated (and underrepresented) long-haul millennials.

“Dedicated” and “loyal” might not be terms that you usually associate with millennials, but new research indicates that you might want to reconsider your outlook. Although you wouldn’t want to focus your entire hiring strategy on one demographic, there are two facts about millennials that you need to consider before dismissing this approach.

To start, this will be the first year that millennials will surpass baby boomers as the nation’s largest living generation. Millennials will number 75.3 million by the end of the year, according a study by the Pew Research Center. And second, a recent report from the U.S. Census Bureau indicates that millennials are staying put in jobs longer. Between 2002 and 2012, the median length of job tenure increased from 2.7 years to 3.2 years.

Small business owners now have a huge opportunity to engage and retain millennials and reap the benefits that come with long-term employee engagement and satisfaction.

Engaging and retaining millennials

Millennials don’t need special treatment to do a good job, but there are things you can do to make it more likely that a younger employee will stick around for the long haul. Here are a few ideas:

Build a development program. In-house development programs help young employees become mature, functional team members, and they can foster deep bonds between these employees and company leaders. These programs also boost employee retention. Connect with your leadership team to build your own development program that will allow you to effectively train, engage, and manage millennials.

Teach your managers to do more coaching. Seventy-two percent of millennials would like to be their own boss, but if they can’t, then 79 percent would prefer a boss that serves as a coach or mentor. Teaching your managers and employees to participate in a more collaborative, supportive environment will go a long way toward making a millennial employee feel at home at your company.

Help them help you. Millennials aren’t as interested in old-fashioned workplace incentives — such as cash — as employees from older generations. They want to build their skills to create a meaningful career. Satisfy this desire for self-improvement by beefing up your company-sponsored professional development and volunteer opportunities. Doing so will help millennials build the long-term life (and skills) they desire.

Loosen up the schedule. Millennials love having flexibility in their work. Consider offering flexible hours, days where employees can work remotely, or both. This not only opens up more time for your younger employees to achieve work-life balance, but it also sends a clear message that you trust them. This will help develop lasting relationships.

Set clear expectations. Just because millennials crave flexibility in how they perform a job doesn’t mean they like ambiguity in the job itself. Help millennials perform at the highest level and maintain long-term satisfaction by setting clear expectations. Ambiguous job descriptions and unclear edicts will frustrate employees who value transparency and honesty.

Are you ready to realize the benefits of building long-term employee relationships? Consider making a few simple tweaks to tap into the large pool of engaged and motivated millennials.

Zvi Band is the founder and chief executive of Contactually, a Washington, D.C.-based relationship-marketing platform.