How to Work with and Lead Millennials
Born between 1981 and 2002, this highly computer-oriented group is characterized by hope about the future, social activism, family-centricity, and the desire for diversity. Before the recession of 2008–2009, the average tenure of Millennial, or Generation Y, workers at any given job was a mere 20 months — significantly shorter than their older cohorts. Experts predict this behavior will likely recur as the economy picks back up.
Millennial workers — which will soon be the largest workforce demographic (if they aren’t already) — require a continuous flow of positive feedback. Keep in mind that members of this generation were somewhat pampered by their Baby Boomer parents. For this generation, trophies were awarded to both winning and losing teams; seat belts and car seats were required car accessories; and in some cases, the traditional A through F school grades were replaced by the gentler “below/meeting/exceeding expectations” metric.
How to attract and hire Millennials
Gen Y in particular wants to work for a “company that cares” — one that donates to charity, is concerned about the environment, and supports volunteerism. That means that if you’re looking to recruit the best of the best among Millennials, you really need to crystallize your company’s “why” as part of your company’s employee value proposition (EVP).
Your company’s EVP is who you are and why people should work for you. Think of this as your “employment brand.” An EVP consists of a clear and compelling story that describes, among other things, why people want to work for your firm, key points that differentiate your firm from its competitors, and a message that resonates with and engages staff. If your firm has an engaging, healthy culture, developing an enticing EVP is a breeze.
Every firm should crystallize and document its EVP. An effective EVP includes the following:
- A clear and compelling story that describes why people want to work for you.
- Key points that differentiate your firm from its competitors.
- A theme that prompts candidates to self-select in or out. (A strong EVP helps to ensure the “right” people seek out your firm and helps to discourage those who simply aren’t a fit from applying. Let’s face it, the Marines aren’t for everyone — which is why their EVP is all about being one of “the few.”)
- A message that resonates with and engages existing staff.
That last point is key. It’s how you know your EVP is accurate. That said, the EVP doesn’t have to be based strictly in reality. It can be equal parts reality, aspiration, and inspiration.
Millennials are also quite receptive to branding, and they’re willing to work for a cool brand for lower pay. If you don’t believe this, walk into any Apple Store. You’ll see the highest engagement with the lowest pay anywhere. These store associates are willing to accept low wages for an opportunity to work for one of the coolest brands and cultures around.
How to train Millennials
As the youngest members of the workforce, Generation Y is perhaps most in need of training. When training Millennials, keep these points in mind:
- Use technology and lots of variety in teaching methods. If you’re speaking to Millennials in a class setting, don’t even think about using bulleted PowerPoint slides as your mode of delivery. Today’s training professionals understand the importance of incorporating videos, movie clips, video blogs (vlogs for short), music, and other media into their presentations. For example, when training on team development and cohesion, you may show the movie Miracle, about the U.S. men’s hockey team, which won the gold medal in the 1980 Olympics, followed by a highly interactive debrief. Your Millennial attendees will respond far more favorably than the standard (and oh-so-Boomer) data-intensive PowerPoint slides.
- Don’t have just one solution to case studies. Millennials, like their Gen X predecessors, feel they have lots to offer (no doubt due in part to the fact that their parents have been telling them how wonderful they are since birth). And in reality, they do. They’ll push you to include in your case studies solutions that are rich in technology, mobile applications, cloud computing, social media, gamification (the use of game mechanics and rewards in a non-game setting to increase user engagement and drive desired user behaviors), and other key trends that Boomers may just be reading about.
- Align training with the company’s values and positive image. Millennials want to work for a purpose-driven organization. Linking training to your firm’s values and brand will have longer-term leverage.
- Allow participants to provide feedback during the training session. Be aware that participants will expect praise for providing this feedback. Consider leveraging the many real-time feedback tools available to enable your employees to be active participants in the training event.
How to engage Millennials
Are you tasked with engaging Millennials? If so, here are a few ideas:
- Harness technology for communication. Where Gen Xers are technologically savvy, Millennials are technologically dependent. Having grown up well after the advent of computers, the Internet, and mobile phones, Gen Y is accustomed to enjoying instant communication and having information at their fingertips. Note, however, that they increasingly eschew both phones and email in favor of text messaging — important to consider if your company’s communication protocol involves lengthy missives from the CEO.
- Allow for mobility and flexibility. Millennials are attracted to new technologies, especially those that grant them increased mobility. If your Gen X workers looked at the desktop computer as a dinosaur, preferring a laptop computer in its stead, don’t be surprised to see your Millennial employees take things a step further and request tablets to get their jobs done. You’ll recoup the cost by capturing their discretionary effort during non-work hours. And if telecommuting and/or flextime is an option, all the better.
- Allow for job rotation. Earlier generations saw job rotation as nice to have. For Millennials, however, job rotation is a must. Unlike some older employees, Millennials aren’t particularly concerned with permanence or security. Instead, many view abruptly changing career directions to be perfectly acceptable solutions if they’re dissatisfied with their jobs. If you want your Millennials to stick around, you must allow them to take on different jobs or do the same jobs differently.
- Give frequent feedback. Boomers may happily go years between performance appraisals. But recognition, praise, and constructive criticism are not only welcomed by both younger groups, but are means to motivate them. Gen Xers require a little more attention in this area, but will likely be satisfied with mid-year performance feedback in addition to their annual performance review. Millennials, however, are likely to ask, “How am I doing today?” When you have Millennials on staff, be prepared to offer constant feedback!
- Don’t restrict Internet or social media use. Many organizations restrict employees’ use of the Internet and social media, citing employees who “waste time” using these technologies. But if your employees are downloading the latest video off YouTube or socializing on Facebook four hours a day, you have a performance problem, not an Internet or social media problem. Too many IT departments look at the Internet and social media as a hardware issue (“They’ll shut down our server!”) and block the use of these invaluable communications tools. The Internet, along with social media, can be amazing research, communication, branding, and engagement enablers. Plus, if you restrict their use, employees — particularly Millennials — will simply obtain access via their own mobile devices during work hours. Trust your employees to do the right thing, and more often than not, they will!
- Invite Millennials to serve on social committees. If Gen X brought work-life balance to the workplace, Gen Y is bringing work-life blending. Millennials are a social and networked generation, accustomed to connecting with a wide universe. For them, the walls between work and play are porous. They’re hungry to bring their work colleagues into their social sphere. Engage them to participate and perhaps even lead your social committees, CSR initiatives, and so on. They’re a ready and able committee waiting to be asked to help socialize your business.
Looking to attract and engage more Millennials to your firm? Refer to the sheet in the figure and note what you do now in terms of CSR, workforce flexibility, innovation, rotation of assignments, and branding, and what you could do in each of those categories.
How to reward Millennials
The following serve as excellent rewards for Millennials:
- Professional development opportunities: According to a 2011 PricewaterhouseCooper study, training and development is the most highly valued employee benefit among Millennials. In fact, the number of Millennials who cited this as their most prized benefit was three times higher than those who chose cash bonuses.
Regular feedback: As far as Gen Y is concerned, your annual performance appraisal process is, like, so yesterday. Instead, they need — indeed, they require — frequent feedback. They expect to be told they’ve done a terrific job, time and time again. In fact, some experts say that to truly engage members of this generation, they need to be recognized eight times a day.