Is Your Workplace "Cool" Enough for Millennials?

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By Jan Ferri-Reed, Ph.D.

For sales manager Jody McKenna the recent spate of optimistic headlines has been a welcome relief. Although she survived tough economic conditions before, Jody's company — a leading financial services firm — was hit particularly hard last year. With sales in sharp decline her company froze hiring and suspended all recruiting efforts. Now, with a seeming recovery finally underway, McKenna feels she can start looking to the future again. Unfortunately, she may be in for a few surprises when it comes to her younger employees.

Recent good news about the economy has many business leaders cautiously optimistic that a recovery is finally underway. That means, among other things, that it's time to get serious again about recruiting, hiring and developing employees. Older employees from the Mature generation (born between 1909 and 1945), the Baby Boomer generation (1946 to 1964) and Generation X (1965 to 1979) have been through recessions before.

Millennials, on the other hand, are experiencing a downturn for the first time. For many of these younger workers the shock and frustration may have them re-thinking their career goals. Organizational leaders are going to have to take steps to re-engage these workers or risk losing them. And that could be costly.

Millennials or Generation Y employees, who were born between the years 1980 to 1999, will have a profound impact upon the employment landscape over the next five years. There are already around 35 million Millennials populating the workplaces of America and by 2014 there will be more than 58 million members of Generation Y employed in U.S. organizations alone. Failure to recruit, train and retain these workers could cost organizations millions in turnover and retraining. The most recent recession, like previous downturns, has caused most employees to "play it safe." Human resources management is usually among the first recession-driven places for cutbacks, so hiring is frozen, training is often reduced and promotions are put on hold.

A company that once looked promising to Millennial employees may now seem undesirable or an uncertain place for a long-term career. Although they may have been content to sit "tight" and ride it out (since there were few alternative job prospects, anyway) the recovery may well lead Millennials to take more risks and consider moving to another company. They may even consider switching careers altogether.

For most financial services organizations Millennials are the lifeblood of the company's future. Not only will young employees step in to fill available jobs in increasing numbers, they also represent future sales growth as your future customer base. In addition, their growth and development within the company is going to have an unavoidable impact upon your corporate culture for years to come, so the time to re-engage Millennials is now.

Your organization's image may be a little tarnished in their eyes due to economic cutbacks, but you can regain their enthusiasm by addressing those factors that made your company a "cool" place to work in the first place.

But, what makes a particular workplace seem "cool" to Generation Y employees. Based on seven years of surveys, feedback from Millennials, focus groups and workshops, the following factors ranked highest in making a workplace more desirable to Millennial employees and job candidates:

  • A "fun" work environment with social networking — The old "cubicle farm" won't do anymore. Millennials prefer to collaborate and like to interact openly with their peers. 
  • Creative communications — traditional newsletters, memos and voicemail communications aren't sufficient for a generation raised on cell phones, instant messaging, texting, and tweeting. 
  • Corporate values — Millennials have been raised to value community service and they expect the same commitment to social service from their employers. 
  • Workplace flexibility — Millennials tend to be results-oriented and enjoy being able to take advantage of spontaneous opportunities. As long as the task at hand is completed, some flexibility in hours and scheduling goes a long way towards motivating them! 
  • Career development — A clear-cut development path for Millennials helps them to understand the big picture and provides targets to aim for.

With these points in mind it's time to revisit your on-boarding process. The future success of the Millennials in your organization will depend upon how they are groomed for future leadership today. They need to be well prepared for the responsibilities and it will be equally important to help them maintain a sense of optimism as they face tougher times ahead. The following are three strategies to rekindle your Millennial employees' enthusiasm for your organization:

Promote the Organization First 
In order to prepare your Millennials for future leadership responsibilities you should give them the broadest possible exposure to your organization and its culture. They need to understand the necessary history and traditions, but they also need to see the organization as a living, breathing entity. They also require a solid understanding of the various roles and functions so you may want to also include as much cross-training and cross-department orientation as possible. 

Mentor the Mentors
Millennials may seem more adrift than older employees when it comes to questions of protocol, power and influence. These are lessons best taught by experienced employees who are in a position to impart this knowledge through formal and informal mentoring programs. Train these individuals to serve in a career "mentoring" program to help younger employees to "learn the ropes." Mentors can be knowledgeable veteran employees or even fairly new employees who have enough experience in the company to fill that role. And don't forget about reverse mentoring where younger, technologically savvy employees can mentor more mature colleagues who may have less experience or skills.

Cultivate an Active Culture
We can't see it, touch it or feel it, but corporate culture is the sum of the values, traditions, beliefs, and customs that make an organization unique. Culture is the glue that holds an organization together and makes it stronger. Your new employees need to learn about corporate culture during your on-boarding programs. This includes exposure to organizational values, expectations, traditions, legendary stories, communication patterns, work ethic and numerous other facets of organizational life.

With the recession beginning to recede and business prospects finally looking up, it's time for you to reinvigorate your youngest and most promising employees. Since they represent the future of your organization — both as employees and as prospective customers — you need to "re-court" your Millennial employees to help them see your company as a "cool" place to work with excellent long-term potential. That effort should pay off in renewed employee enthusiasm and a positive sense of confidence about the future of the organization, along with their own future. 

Jan Ferri-Reed, Ph.D., is president of KEYGroup, a speaking, training and assessment firm that provides guidance to leaders who want a more engaged, productive and profitable workforce. She is also co-author of the book, "Keeping the Millennials: Why Companies Are Losing Billions in Turnover to This Generation and What to Do About It." For more information, visit: or call 724-942-7900.

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