Quit Chasing Millennials — Engage Them

Every generation has its unique features. When it comes to millennials, those who were born between 1980 and 1997, one crucial thing we need to understand is that they have grown up in a very different, fast-paced environment compared to their managers and executives. Millennials are tech-savvy, versatile and cope well with changes. In fact, they are led by changes. Millennials even want to make changes.

According to a Gallup report, 21% of millennials changed their job in the past year. Moreover, 60% of millennial workers say they are ready to change their current job position now. Another 36% say they will change their job within the next 12 months.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that 3,000,000 Americans quit their job in 2015. This is the highest number since 2006, and this number includes more than just millennial workers. What is going on? Does this mean that working for one company for a long time tells us there’s something wrong with an employee’s skills or ambitions? Is switching jobs more frequently specific to millennials only?

Why do companies fail to attract and retain Millennials?

  • Lack of engagement

Gallup research has found that only three in 10 millennial workers feel engaged in their work. Another 16% are actively disengaged, meaning that they cause some kind of damage to the companies they work for.

I spent Sunday thinking about how I can make a difference to our customers. Now it’s Monday morning, what do I hear? Stock price. Billing. ROI. Suddenly, my Monday power playlist seems useless. I’m sitting in a conference room listening to you drag on about cash flow. I was making more money bartending in college than I am at this entry-level job. You say I’ll get a raise in a year if the company hits a certain number? So what? I need something to care about today. Talk to me about how we make a difference, not your ROI report.

This extract from Forbes’ “An Open Letter to Management” perfectly illustrates an easy way to make your millennial workers lose their sense of engagement with your company.

  • Lack of personalization

Don’t neglect personalized learning and development. Free snacks, foosball tables, and board games don’t inspire millennial workers. This generation cares about professional development. Their job satisfaction comes from being treated as individuals, and from meeting their professional goals through the work they do. Here’s another extract from “An Open Letter to Management” from a millennial employee:

Treat me like a number? I’ll return the favor. This job will quickly become nothing more than my rent payment. I’ll start living for Friday and counting down the minutes until 5. Then I’ll prove your assumptions right. 8 months in, I’ll quit and leave. Here’s what you need to know: I was raised to believe I could change the world. I’m desperate for you to show me that the work we do here matters, even just a little bit. I’ll give you everything I’ve got, but I need to know it makes a difference to something bigger than your bottom line.

  • No dream-team

The number one reason for quitting, according to “An Open Letter to Management,” is unmotivated people. “It’s downright debilitating to a high achiever. I’m working my heart out and every time I look up Donna-Do-Nothing is contemplating how long is too long to take for lunch. I start wondering why leadership tolerates this. Is that the standard here? No thanks.” A study shows that 88% of millennials prefer a collaborative culture over a competitive one. Millennials want to work with people who share their viewpoints, who are passionate about what they do, who want to contribute and make a difference.

  • Violated work-life balance

A FlexJobs survey shows that an overwhelming number of millennial employees — 84% — state that work-life balance is the number 1 factor that matters to them. Millennials don’t want to sacrifice their personal life and have to constantly work overtime. They don’t believe that productivity is measured by the number of hours worked at the office. It is also important to note that HBR research concludes that an opportunity to work remotely and to work flexible hours contributes to improved productivity and retention among millennials and other generations of employees.

Zappos, an online shoe and clothing store, is a good example of how to keep a good work-life balance. Here’s what the company stands for: “We don’t promote work/life balance in the traditional sense, rather we believe in “work/life integration.” We like having a good time at work, not just outside of it. There’s no need to hide your random quirks or awkward dance moves from us. In a way, you might be taking a “break from life” by working here!”

  • Inattention to appreciation

According to a PwC generational study, 41% of millennial workers would like to be rewarded or recognized for their work at least monthly. Their vision of managers and executives has changed. “Millennials don’t want to be managed, they like to be led, coached and mentored. This generation is on fire and ready to go,” says Farshad Asl, an entrepreneur and a certified John Maxwell Leadership Coach. In other words, millennials are willing to work hard but they want the support and approval of their supervisors. An interesting aspect is that millennials want feedback but they don’t ask for it. This is corroborated by a Gallup report showing that only 17% of millennial employees receive meaningful feedback.

  • Poor or unclear company culture

There are two sides to this point. First, making sure the employee fits your company culture should start before the onboarding process takes place. When you choose the successful candidate for a position, keep in mind both the employee’s hard skills and the soft skills that are needed for the position. If your company’s values don’t coincide with an employee’s values, neither perks nor the salary will increase your chances of retaining that employee. Second,  state what your company’s values are, and stick to them. Consistency is half the battle.

Transparency and communication are Google’s core values. Laszlo Bock, formerly the Senior Vice President of People Operations at Google, described the company culture as “Default to open.” In other words, Google welcomes any suggestions from employees, and values ongoing conversations and feedback. It is no wonder that Google headed the list of Top 100 Companies to work for.

It’s not about retention, it’s about engagement

The modern world is volatile, and generations of employees have had to get accustomed to new and quickly changing conditions. An increased interest in freelancing and jobs with flexible hours as well as shorter job tenure is explained by instability and insecurity millennial employees experience nowadays. This has lead to a general shift in the work environment, and as a result what is of primary importance to millennial employees is different to other generations.

To millennials, engagement is much more important than retention. They won’t stick with the same company for many years unless they have a reason to do so. But they can make a significant contribution to your company. To reap the benefits of their contributions, get your millennial employees engaged. Understand what matters to them, and incorporate it into your company and their working conditions. Employees who care about what they are doing are more productive and will help your business to grow.

Think like a millennial

  • I don’t work for a paycheck. I work for what I love.

Robert H. Frank, professor of economics at Cornell University, gives this advice to his students: “The most important thing is to find something you like to do because only then will you have the passion to get good at something… And then you might have a chance to make a lot of money out of it.”

Millennials seek meaning in what they do. They want to know that their completed tasks will help your company to achieve its business goals. Even if millennials don’t have their dream job–yet–they love to feel that they have a purpose, and that their work is meaningful in a concrete way. This is the new driving force in the workplace. A Gallup study shows that 71% of millennials who know what their organization stands for will stay with their company for at least another year compared to millennials who don’t know what their company stands for. Make their work more than just another job — make it a meaningful contribution.

  • Don’t just boss me around. Teach me.

The old-school bosses’ mission was to control and command. That doesn’t work anymore. Millennials prefer managers who can coach them, who take care of their professional development, and who value them both as employees and individuals. Personalized learning with just-in-time training has been proven as the best way to help employees achieve their professional goals and increase their engagement and productivity. Professional growth and development opportunities are rated as very important to 87% of millennial employees.

  • It’s not just a job, it’s my life.

Millennials don’t want to endure their work lives by counting the minutes to Friday evenings. Let them grow in their jobs the way they grow in their lives. Growth means a lot to millennials. It’s not just a title. Give them a new challenging project, provide them with an opportunity to work with a different team, or allow some time to work on a project that they feel passionate about that has something in common with your company’s goals. Besides that, keep the right work-life balance. Offer flexible hours and/or offer the opportunity to work remotely, when it is possible.  

  • I know my weaknesses. Let’s talk about my aspirations.

Though it’s very important to give ongoing feedback to millennials about their performance, don’t be confined only to this. Instead of focusing your conversations only on things that were done wrong or right, include a discussion about your employees’ goals and ambitions. Find out what millennials expect from their job, how they want to grow and contribute to the company and help them enjoy helping your firm to grow to meet its business objectives.

By knowing the ins and outs of how millennials perceive their world, their values and needs, and how they want to increase their contribution, you can retain their skills and talents, and have a more motivated, effective workforce. Get millennials engaged early in their employment, before they move on. Show that they have a future at your company where they can learn, grow, develop and contribute.

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