It’s hard to think of any generation that has received more media attention than Generation Y – or the Millennials as they are more commonly referred to.
Even though generational cohorts are just one way to categorise a group of people with similarities, the research into the Millennial generation has been overwhelming.
A simple search of the term ‘Generation Y’ will not only throw up numerous titles for this generation but also some 20 different age brackets.
The research data may have some inconsistencies but Millennials are without doubt the largest generation in world history, the most studied and are on track to becoming the best educated.
Like any other demographic, they are a generation of individuals that spans a range of personality types. They are not, as some might have you believe, one homogenous group.
As with other generations, their culture is influenced by political, economic and social issues as well as environmental (both cultural and geographic) differences.
However, unlike the previous generation (Generation X), they have been strongly influenced by a major recession and the resulting fall of some notable multinational companies (particularly in the banking and finance sector), 9/11 and the escalating crises in the Middle East and Africa, coupled with globalisation and rapid advances in technology.
Colloquially referred to as digital natives, it is the Millennials use of technology that clearly sets them apart from previous generations - a wired and connected world is part of their DNA.
They are also masters of self-expression, as evidenced by their use of social media, living their lives more publicly than other generations and with a very different view of the privacy of data. Similarly, their view of hierarchies and deference is fundamentally different to nearly every previous generation.
But what does this matter for business executives and, indeed, do all these studies have any purposeful value for businesses today?
Within the next four years, it is projected that Millennials will make up half the global workforce. Those with appropriate skills will be in high demand.
In the business setting, unlike the ambitious, workaholic baby boomers and the relatively independent Generation Xs, Millennials are highly uncomfortable with rigid corporate structures and autocratic management styles.
Additionally, money is just a hygiene factor to them, not a key motivator.
They do not seek a “career” – rather a series of interesting roles or experiences. Once their current role ceases to hold their interest or they perceive little in the way of training and development, they will be on the move.
These characteristics tend to put them at odds with older workers who can be highly critical of those whose experience and values are different. This, in turn, creates one of the biggest challenges facing businesses today: changing their present culture to accommodate the new generation of employees effectively while at the same time keeping the older generation happy.
However, in many organisations, Millennials still make up the minority so executives often see a cultural change to accommodate them as something that may adversely impact on the majority.
In reality, this attitude is potentially flawed.
The key human capital objectives in managing a multi-generational workforce must be to understand the strengths and differences of each generational group, understand expectations and the emotions that are driving their behaviour and then leverage those strengths to create a work environment that values differences and gets the best from all employees.
To gain a clearer understanding of the issues surrounding this generation, we recently undertook some research into what high-flying Millennial talent is looking for from companies and cross-referencing our findings with existing data.
An interesting finding was that many senior executives believe generational change to be an emerging issue in their organisation – presenting both challenges and opportunities – and there was a sense that they had, perhaps, not done enough to effectively address it.
On a more positive note, some executives stated that they had recognised the potential power of the Millennials and were actively changing their corporate culture and values to harness this.
Starting With Millennial Graduates
Talent acquisition has changed significantly over the last decade. To attract the game changers required to drive companies forward in the continually changing digital era requires an entirely different approach to that widely adopted in the past. No longer do graduates ask “what can I do for your company?” but rather “what can your company do for me?”.
University recruitment fairs remain attractive to HR executives as a means of recruiting talented and qualified individuals. However, not only is the number of graduates turning up to recruitment fairs declining, Millennials don’t go in search of a job inasmuch as they go looking for an experience.
While they are still interested in finding out what options are available to them, most seem as interested in a work placement as in a permanent position trying out a variety of different roles and organisations until they find their best fit – rather like Tinder for jobs!.
Although it is dangerous to develop HR policies with the sole endpoint being the Millennials, there are issues that are important to this generation which need to be addressed. These include:
Embracing Work/life Balance and Personal Development
Working to live rather than living to work is the creed of Millennials.
A good work/life balance is more important to this generation than any other. They are committed to their learning and development and place greater emphasis on this than they do money.
They value the opportunity to work with strong leaders and mentors, engaging, interacting and learning from senior management. They also require clear guidelines, frequent and immediate feedback (positive or negative, but it must be balanced), context, clarity and independence.
Employers who can clearly demonstrate that their training schemes are tied to their business objectives and that they are committed to personal growth and career development will be best placed to win Millennials’ loyalty and engagement.
Once Millennial employees know they have the support they need to develop, they become increasingly motivated to promote their organisation. It’s a win-win situation.
Intel, Kimberly-Clark and BP are just three companies that spring to mind with regard to excellent employee training and development.
Key motivators of Millennials are workplace culture, an inclusive and open management style, a sense of belonging, variety and flexibility.
Millennials are more likely to flourish under interactive leadership than the command-and-control style of management often adopted by senior male executives from the baby boomer generation.
For many organisations, a change in management style is not going to come easy. However, a good starting point is to reduce the layers of hierarchy, put in place leaders who are experienced in developing diverse problem-solving groups, and provide greater responsibility to employees at a more junior level in the organisation and mentor them accordingly.
Being more diverse and inclusive will provide the framework for companies to be more innovative, better positioned to understand their customers’ needs and recruit and retain the best talent.
Providing Greater Autonomy
The rigid model of fixed working hours and place of work might have been effective 50 years ago, but it is no longer applicable in today’s business world.
Much has already been written about BYOD in the workplace (bring your own device) and there is clear evidence that Millennials are more productive when they have greater autonomy over how, where and when they work.
One study, by CEB, found that employees most committed to their organisations put in 57% more effort and are almost 90% less likely to resign than employees who consider themselves disengaged.
For the Millennials, this involves freedom, “personal space” and a recognition that “presenteeism” is no longer valid.
In many organisations it is neither possible nor desirable for employees to work remotely. Millennials are not alone in wanting a comfortable and creative place to work, but an organisation that can demonstrate an engaging, comfortable and stimulating work environment that encourages creativity will be a major drawcard for Millennials.
Additionally, as mentioned above, hierarchies will need to be flattened since Millennials have a high preference for working in communities of mutual interest and passion.
The organisation doesn’t have to be completely flat but, as one senior HR director commented, it needs to look and feel more like Facebook than a structure where the CEO rides alone at the top and they (the Millennials) are about six layers below.
The digital era has also spawned many young entrepreneurs: just think of Mark Zuckerberg, Jan Koum and Andrew Mason among others.
Not all Millennials have the same capabilities but the world they are growing up in provides an environment that is much more open to an entrepreneurial/intrapreneurial mindset than any preceding generation.
Given the right working conditions and encouragement, companies can benefit substantially by developing real game changers within their ranks.
Improved working relationships not only increase productivity, they also allow mutual knowledge transfer between the generations.
The benefits will be plentiful if the Millennials’ needs are adopted and adapted to rather than seen as the whim of a younger generation that needs to be shaped to fit an old style culture.
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