This post is excerpted from Harvard Business Reviews: Motivating Millennials Takes More than Flexible Work Policies
A 2015 Gallup Poll found that Millennials are the least engaged cohort in the workplace, with only 28.9% saying that they are engaged at work. This, combined with high turnover rates and greater freelance and entrepreneurial opportunities, means that if companies want to retain these valued workers, they will have to double their efforts to meet Millennials where they are.
A 2015 report on Millennials from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce emphasized flex-time as one way to do this — it found that three out of four Millennials reported that work-life balance drives their career choices. And many companies are indeed starting to offer flexible work schedules, work-from-home policies, and job appraisals based on outcomes and deliverables.
But although these flexibility strategies are critical to attracting Millennials, from our review of the current research and experience advising global Fortune 500 companies, we believe that businesses will have to go further to keep these workers truly engaged. We have identified five ways executives can adapt management and communication styles to engage Millennials and improve productivity and outcomes across the board:
Create a deeply compelling vision of what the company or team is contributing to society. Multiple studies have revealed that Millennials are keen to see their work as addressing larger societal concerns—a factor that has affected their career choices more than those of older generations. According to Unlocking Millennial Talent 2015, a white paper by the Center for Generational Kinetics and Barnum Financial Group, 60% of Millennials said a sense of purpose is part of the reason they chose to work at their current employer.
Leaders will benefit from creating opportunities for employees to participate in personally meaningful initiatives. One powerful example is the “ecomagination nation” initiative at GE’s Power & Water business. According to the company’s 2015 sustainability report, over the first three years of this program, more than 8,000 employees worldwide engaged in community volunteer activities, reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 31 percent and water use by 42 percent. While this program wasn’t specifically targeted at Millennials, its success was driven by the passion for connection with the greater good that this generation is known to value.
Train managers and supervisors to communicate openly, effectively, and frequently. Managers exercise profound influence over employees’ desire to remain with a company—and it’s no different with Millennials. But according to the aforementioned Chamber of Commerce report, the number one reason this cohort leaves a job is directly related to a boss. Other research has found that Millennials want communication from the boss more frequently than any other generation in the workforce. In fact, one study reported that 42% of Millennials want feedback every week—more than twice the percentage of every other generation.
Embrace technology and make collaboration a way of doing business. Millennials are digital natives. They were first to experience a wireless, connected world, and according to a PwC report, they “expect the technologies that empower their personal lives to also drive communication and innovation in the workplace.” This means they expect to use social networking, instant messaging, video-on-demand, blogs, and wikis in the workplace.
Companies such as IBM, ADP, Ingersoll Rand and Novartis have met this need by developing workplace technology systems that promote real-time, ongoing dialogue across all employment levels. And tools like Yammer, Jive, Chatter, and Slack—along with the big social networks, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter—are helping employees and executives exchange ideas in open forums and collaborate across functional and geographic boundaries. These enhance opportunities for both innovation and Millennial engagement.
Build an entrepreneurial environment that encourages employees to research and develop their ideas. Inspired by a long list of young home-run hitters like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Millennials are strongly drawn to the “anything is possible” spirit of entrepreneurship. Rather than chase these workers away, companies that embrace a risk-tolerant culture and promote learning and experimentation will benefit from the heightened energy around innovation. Some organizations have led the way: IBM is investing mightily in promoting STEM education in local schools, and GE Global Research has launched an Open Innovation initiative aimed at creating a more dynamic, transparent innovation forum.
Loosen up the notion of the career ladder. “[Millennials] expect to work in communities of mutual interest and passion – not structured hierarchies,” Vineet Nayar, former Chief Executive Officer of HCL Technologies Ltd., wrote in a recent PwC report. Shifts in organizational design—including fewer management layers, matrix structures, shared services, and outsourcing—have reduced opportunities for steady promotion as a key aspect of career development.
For example, a prominent feature of PepsiCo’s Career Architecture (a structured approach to talent development that envisions a lattice versus ladder notion of careers) are “Critical Experiences” – key growth opportunities that allow people to develop new skills and knowledge, but may not represent traditional upward progression. Businesses need to promote assignments that create continuous learning for employees by allowing them to solve important problems for the company.
The talent landscape is already undergoing significant change as the Millennial generation comprises more and more of the workforce. The savviest businesses are not waiting for some tipping point to react. They are adjusting their approach to managing and communicating with employees now. And this will determine how successful they will be in retaining these future leaders.