Editor’s note: Aimee Lucas is a vice president and customer experience transformist at Temkin Group, a Boston-area customer experience research and advisory firm.
Engaged employees are valuable assets, yet organizations are having difficulty engaging the fastest growing portion of the workforce, Millennials – employees born between 1980 and 2000. Temkin Group’s 2014 survey of over 5,600 U.S. full-time employees – 33 percent of which were Millennials – found that just over half of this generation were moderately or highly engaged, putting them behind both Generation X and Baby Boomers.
Further research into this generation revealed the differences between Millennials and their older colleagues is not as distinct when it comes to what they look for in a workplace or in their bosses. While the following characteristics are not exclusive to this generation, our research found Millennials are:
- Group-oriented. Millennials prefer team-based, collaborative work. Relationships are important to them and they interact with an extensive network of personal and professional connections. Our research found that compared to other employees, Millennials put greater importance on working with people they can learn from.
- Progress-driven. This generation wants to make a difference at work right away. Our research shows that compared to employees from other generations, Millennials favor jobs with a boss who teaches them and helps them progress in their careers.
- Socially conscious. Millennials seek meaningful work and will look to work for employers whose principles align with their personal values. Despite the desire for meaningful work, the study found that nearly 40 percent of Millennials do not understand the overall mission of their company, making them the least mission-connected of the three generations primarily represented in today’s workforce.
- Autonomous. Millennials prefer choices over mandates. Compared to respondents from other generations, Millennials seek jobs that have flexible work hours and that encourage creativity, rather than bosses who provide specific directions for getting work done.
Companies are recognizing both the challenges and the opportunities associated with Millennials and are using a variety of approaches to engage this generation with their work and employer. We expect this focus to continue through 2015 and beyond as this generation continues to grow in number and begin to become leaders themselves. To understand how to best capitalize on this generation we interviewed a number of companies and identified five specific strategies that can be integrated into a company’s existing employee engagement efforts:
Expand job descriptions. Millennials want opportunities to grow and showcase their skills in meaningful ways, and they desire feedback confirming they are making valued contributions on the job. Companies should clearly define performance expectations and what success looks like and create a variety of opportunities for this generation to expand their knowledge and skills.
Create connections. This generation is used to working on teams and collaborating with others. They actively seek opportunities to form relationships both inside and outside of their organization. To fulfill Millennials’ need to build relationships, companies should foster network building within and across generational lines, organizational levels and functional roles.
Make work matter. Meaningfulness is a powerful intrinsic motivator, especially for Millennials who want to make a difference in their company and in the world at large. It’s important that organizations help this generation connect to the company’s values, culture and causes employees care about.
Make work more flexible. Millennials have grown up in a world that affords them many opportunities to choose where, when and how they communicate, learn and complete their assignments. To keep pace, organizations need to demonstrate adaptability in how they communicate, train and expect work to be done.
Develop Millennial leaders. Savvy companies need to help managers and leaders across the organization understand generational differences so that each group evolves its approaches and processes that touch employees.
HR must step up
If organizations want to actively engage Millennials, then their primary employee-focused programs need to adapt. Here’s a primer for HR groups that want to make an impact on the Millennial generation:
Hiring and onboarding. Millennials evaluate potential employers across many dimensions, including brand reputation and alignment of values. Thus, HR organizations should have a well-defined company brand and communicate that brand through the channels that Millennials naturally gravitate toward, particularly in the digital/social realm. Branding stories should center on “employees like me” and highlight how Millennials are making an impact at the organization. During the onboarding process, HR should reinforce the brand and company values and help new Millennial hires form meaningful internal relationships quickly.
Training and development. Most Millennials are used to more interactive forms of learning. So while traditional classroom-based programs might be the norm today, HR organizations need to incorporate technology-based training and collaboration tools into their Millennial learning plans. HR must facilitate growth and development outside of the classroom through stretch assignments, special projects and formalized coaching or mentoring programs. HR organizations should encourage managers to provide more frequent feedback, and train them on how to offer clear and specific coaching that recognizes both the good and the bad.
Performance management. Millennials are ambitious and have high expectations about how they will progress within their organizations. They look for very clear success criteria and want to see the path ahead of them. To appease their need for advancement, HR organizations should develop clear career paths that include more frequent milestones that emphasize individual skill development and that recognize growth even without formal promotions. This also means that HR must help managers let go and allow Millennials to take new jobs inside the company, otherwise these young employees may leave the organization to find opportunities elsewhere.
Recognition and incentives. Millennials, like generations before them, want to hear that they are doing a good job – they just want to hear it more frequently. Millennials are accustomed to structure and regular praise, and in the workplace this translates into a desire to know how they are measured and a need to receive recurring validation and approval that they are on track. HR organizations should establish non-monetary recognition programs that encourage managers and peers to find Millennials who are demonstrating the behaviors required for success. HR should also examine its formal incentive programs and incorporate rewards for demonstrating the company’s values and for exceptional team performance – both workplace elements that are important to Millennials.