Human Capital Management

Addressing the millennial engagement epidemic

/ May 15, 2018 May 15, 2018

Millennials will soon make up half of the global workforce, yet the latest Gallup study shows only 29 percent of them are engaged at work, the lowest of any generation. That means half of your workforce is only feeling engaged with your company one third of the time. And that means you are at significant risk of losing your top talent. OpenTable CEO Christa Quarles summed it up well during one of our recent talks, “Your employees are no longer conscripted soldiers — they’re volunteers.”

Millennials are the first generation actively questioning the way work is performed and the relationship between working people and their employers. And they’re forcing change in companies looking to engage them. To address this millennial engagement epidemic, it is now imperative for organizations to design employee experiences with a millennial mindset.

First, recognize that it’s not just about millennials.

It’s not only millennials who have higher expectations; they’re shaping the appetites of the rest of the workforce. Says SurveyMonkey Chief People Officer Becky Cantieri, “Honestly, the millennials at SurveyMonkey have pushed me to a level of thinking and expectations and a bit more soul searching than I ever have before in my career.”

True to its name, SurveyMonkey is obsessively curious about its employees and what they want. They regularly survey employees on everything from career development to what coffee brand they prefer in the office cafe. Following President Trump’s election, SurveyMonkey’s largely millennial workforce had a lot of questions for the company about its stance on hot-button issues that were playing out in the news. The company made the choice that it would publicly and transparently state its position on issues where they aligned with company values, to support employees both within their walls and outside of them. For example, SurveyMonkey was one of 97 tech companies to sign Amicus Brief opposing the controversial immigration order.

Changing how things have been done in the past can feel scary at first, but what your millennial employees are asking for is actually good news for all of us and good for the business. “It’s hard stuff and there’s no silver bullet,” Becky admitted, “But as much as millennials get branded as having really high expectations, they’re actually pushing us to do things that we’ve not done before. So, it’s a tall order, but it can achieve some really great outcomes.”

You have to have purpose.

Millennials crave belonging. They need to feel, “I am where I’m meant to be. I am with people who reflect my values. I am doing work that is valued.”

Pinterest Head of Culture Cat Lee confirmed to me that many of their employees join because they are attracted to the company’s mission. “Our mission is to help people discover and do what they love, and as a result our culture comes from that. We created Pinterest by collaborating with our Pinners, and similarly we create our culture by collaborating with Pinterest employees,” Cat said.

Pinterest does an incredible job linking their mission and purpose. Every year they host a two day festival at the company called KnitCon, where employees teach each other skills that are based upon their interests — everything from wine tasting, to salsa dancing, to coding. Pinterest gives employees this opportunity to live out their mission statement, and reconnect to the purpose that led them to join the company in the first place.

Balance is the name of the game.

Employees need to feel that their work life is not in complete conflict with the rest of their life. There’s no longer an artificial barrier between your real self and your work self. Millennials have broken down that barrier. “Millennials work to live — they do not live to work,” Pat Wadors, the chief talent officer at ServiceNow, told me. “They want and expect a more harmonious, integrated life.” Millennials expect a corporate culture that integrates seamlessly with their personal life and promotes employee well-being. They want to feel that there is balance, fluidity, and support for them as real people.

Across the board, millennials are more likely to have made, or be willing to make, sacrifices to manage work and family/personal responsibilities. EY’s 2015 Global Generations studyfound that 75 percent of millennials want the ability to work flexibly and still be on track for promotion. They would also be willing to “take a pay cut to have flexibility” (44 percent). U.S. millennials are the most likely generation to say they would change jobs (77%) or careers (76 percent), give up an opportunity for a promotion (65 percent) or “move my family to another location” (66 percent).

Culture is 99 percent of the employee experience.

For millennials, it’s all about the experience. Recruiters aren’t selling perks, they’re selling your company culture. The real question you should be asking yourself is, what type of environment do I need to create to engage top talent?

“It used to be good enough at one point to make sure everybody was getting paid, everybody had reasonable benefits, and everybody had a spot to sit in the office,” Becky joked. No longer! To engage millennials you need purpose, belonging, and balance. And above all, you need to create a company culture that values employees and puts them first.

Originally published by Lorna Borenstein for Benefitspro.

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