Are You Afraid of the Millennials?
Millennials, or people born between 1981 and 1997, have since taken over the Baby Boomer generation as the largest generation in the U.S. Managing millennials has remained a popular topic for at least the past 15 years. Around then, early in my graduate school career, I started to notice the many popular and scholarly articles about the challenges the millennial generation was bringing to the workplace (yes, I am a millennial myself). As a psychology grad student, I was alarmed by the tendency to categorize generations of people with sweeping generalizations. Values and behaviors assigned to millennials were frequently negative and didn’t describe me or my experience. For example, I kept reading how millennials place a high premium on the quality of their personal lives over career advancement. While I value my family and non-work passions, I’m highly ambitious in my career and believe the most significant impact I will have will be through my work. That frequent generalization did not ring true with my own goals, nor those of my millennial friends.
Generational discussion and debate continued over the years. You may remember this “educational video” for managing millennials at work, and the sarcastic response that followed. Clearly managing multiple generations at work, whether in satire, on CNBC, or the Wall Street Journal, resonated with many working adults. Millennials are often described as entitled (think Lena Dunham’s character in HBO’s Girls) and have a high-maintenance reputation.
However, most of the traits, preferences, and research-supported advice for managing millennials are quickly becoming industry-leading practices and are linked to improved performance, retention, and bench strength. Here are some proven strategies for retention and performance that the new largest generation has helped move forward. Keep in mind just as I mentioned earlier with my own reaction to blanket statements about millennials, these are simply trends – or areas that millennials value more on average than other generational groups.
- Vision. While everyone benefits from a shared definition of success and path for getting there, millennials have drawn attention to the need for a compelling vision that is clearly lived by what we do day-to-day. Crafting a powerful vision and vision-supportive culture, and consistently executing core values across all levels and actions is a pivotal topic in business. Companies that live their vision and have a strong and healthy intended culture are more likely to retain quality hires across all generations.
- Brand Attraction. Related to vision, businesses are increasingly focused on the impact of their consumer brand on their employment brand. On average, millennials are especially sensitive to branding and how a company’s brand matches their own identity and personality. A strong and consistent consumer brand can help attract and retain talent across generations. Again, branding is an area of growing importance that applies to all age groups and demographics, but is especially salient to millennials. Corporate social responsibility, or how a company can make a positive impact on the world, is also linked to greater retention and performance.
- Feedback. Millennials expect about 50 percent more feedback than non-millennials. But everyone can benefit from consistent and actionable feedback. Growing your bench strength and reputation as the best place to work is challenging at best without it. Millennials, and employees of all ages, are helping create supportive, improvement-focused workplaces by placing importance on mentoring, development programs, and formal feedback opportunities like 360’s and engagement surveys. These efforts reduce bias, increase learning, and create remarkable workplaces where people want to stay and grow.
- Positive Work Environment. Millennials expect the best from their employers. On average, millennials are more likely to leave because a poor work experience, lackluster management, benefits, or undesirable work assignments. Millennials insistence on a positive work experience helps create better places to work for everyone.
- Learning and advancement. Although millennials expect the best, on average they are ready to bring it in return. Millennials put markedly more emphasis on professional development and advancement opportunities than other age groups, and are willing to leave if these opportunities are not available.
- Flexibility. The importance of flexibility has increased for all generations, but millennials place more emphasis on working in thriving, innovative environments that adapt to change and allow for flexibility in managing work and personal demands. While early research and discussion of millennials suggested they are less ambitious on average, the truth is most want the flexibility to integrate their work and personal lives with minimal conflict. Make this happen and many millennials are eager to be rock stars.
Disengaged Millennials? As If!
Millennials are projected to comprise more than half the workforce this year! Although we hear a lot about millennial demands and expectations, companies can successfully recruit, retain, and inspire remarkable performance by embracing much of what this generation desires. Surveys that allow you to examine generation or age-related differences in satisfaction, perceptions of the work environment, engagement, and key drivers of performance and retention can help you ensure your millennial population, as well as every generational group, is engaged and likely to stay.
To engage all generations and become the best place to work in your industry – check out whitepaper to learn the roots and fruits of a remarkable employee experience.Resources.