How to Engage Your Millennial Workforce

Plant the Seeds Now to Grow Millennial Leaders for the Future

With more Baby Boomers retiring every day, succession planning is becoming a top priority for many businesses today. Exact breakpoints between the generations vary a bit but suffice it to say that in the next 15 years or so, every Baby Boomer in the U.S. will have reached the age of 65. If they haven’t left already, most will be heading out the doors of companies all across the country leaving corporate leaders to ask — who will lead their organizations into the future?

What about Generation X? Many of those born 1965-1980 will indeed be ready to assume leadership roles in their organizations. They are stepping up every day to fill positions left vacant by retiring Boomers right now.

But, if you’re a senior executive, don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet – the numbers just don’t add up. Generation X simply will not provide a large enough pool of workers to fill the need for leadership in the coming years. And, just as the last Baby Boomers are retiring, Generation Xers will be reaching retirement age themselves, leaving you with the same quandary – where will the future leaders of your organization come from?

Millennials will undoubtedly be the ones to fill those roles – but will they be ready?

Many managers don’t think so. It’s easy to see why, with all the negative hype about Millennials, but with a dearth of organizational leaders looming on the horizon, it’s time to look at what Millennials have to offer.   

Five Things Organizations Can Do to Develop Their Millennial Workforce

As future leaders, Millennials bring a lot of potential to the table if you know how to cultivate it. Attracting and retaining Millennials will require appealing to their values and building professional development programs with their unique needs in mind – giving them what they need to succeed and lead.

In its executive briefing on the expanding roles of Millennials in the workplace, Boston College’s Center for Work & Family identified a number of best practices organizations can use to attract, retain and groom future leaders in the Millennial workforce. Some of those practices are presented here, along with recommendations from DeVry University’s Career Advisory Board on how to help managers better prepare Millennials for leadership roles.

A word of warning, though. According to the Center for Aging and Work, generational age is but one of a number of age-related factors that can influence employee behaviors. Thus, viewing workers strictly within the generational context can fail to recognize other, potentially important factors in the leadership equation. Many of the recommendations here can be considered applicable to any young person in the early stages of his or her career.  

Use Technology to Engage Your Millennial Workers

You’ve heard it before — Millennials are plugged in. They are the first generation to have been immersed in technology their entire lives. While some managers view this as a problem, it’s actually an advantage in disguise. This generation’s affinity for and understanding of technology are attributes that organizations can leverage to keep up with the constantly changing technologies upon which their business relies.

Savvy executives will look for ways to implement technology to their advantage in the workplace, using software solutions to engage and retain Millennial workers.

For example, being “digital natives”, younger workers often have a need for constant connection. Online collaboration software can help fulfill this need by connecting young workers from different business areas, which in turn fosters teamwork and the innovation that can arise from young minds working in collaboration.

Millennials also want quantitative ways to measure their success. Gamification solutions provide engaging metrics and improve productivity for a generation of workers craving more frequent feedback and recognition.

Develop Or Expand Existing Volunteer Opportunities Through Work

Millennial workers are civic-minded. More than half of those polled for a Pew Research Center study said they had volunteered in the past 12 months. Organizations that promote volunteerism through work will reap significant benefits.

Aside from the obvious public relations benefits that corporate volunteerism provides, encouraging workers in the early stages of their careers to take the lead in volunteer events not only increases their job satisfaction but also helps to develop their leadership skills.

Implement Rotational Assignments in Different Business Areas

Millennials recognize that they might not have all the experience they need to succeed in their careers. While they are among the most educated workforce in history, 57% of those surveyed for the DeVry study ranked transferrable skills as one of the three top factors necessary to success in their careers.  

Implementing rotational assignments in different business areas helps younger workers develop and expand their skills and gives and appeals to their need to explore multiple career options. Rotations also expand their professional networks, which contributes to their success and satisfaction.

Expand Opportunities for Younger Workers to Interact with Senior Leaders

Younger workers need career management training – guidance on how to navigate their career and prepare for promotion. But, they may not know how to ask for it.

Providing frequent opportunities for interaction with senior leaders can help Millennial workers understand different career paths within their organization. In addition to making them feel more valued, these younger workers who are often in the early stages of their careers can benefit from the insights managers can provide on how to achieve their career goals.

There is a benefit for management, too. Senior leaders can use these opportunities to better understand how they can foster internal mobility, mitigate turnover, manage employee performance and identify and develop future leaders.  

Provide Training in “Soft” Skills

Job-specific skills are important, but communication skills may be even more important in preparing Millennials for leadership roles.

Training in communication can help younger workers assimilate into a multigenerational workplace more easily and reduce conflict created by generational differences and foster mutual support and understanding. Teaching Millennials how to receive and process feedback can mitigate performance issues and improve productivity.

In addition, training that also emphasizes assertiveness and diplomacy can make Millennials more willing to offer new ideas and older workers more willing to consider them. Combined with good communication skills, this type of training sets the stage for intergenerational collaboration that leads to innovation.

Planting the Seeds for Future Leaders

There is no doubt about it – the Millennial generation is a fertile field in which to cultivate future leaders. But, it will take mindful tending to ensure the best crop. Organizations that employ creative approaches to engaging these young workers will ultimately enjoy a greater harvest of leaders – the best and the brightest this generation has to offer.

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