Organizational & Employee Development: New Kids on the Block

Millennial employees are driving changes in HR practices involving flexibility, transparency and community.

By Kathryn Tyler October 1, 2013

Deloitte & Touche LLP hired 17,000 U.S. employees during 2012, and most of them were Millennials. "By 2015, over half of our employees will be Millennials," says Paul Silverglate, a partner in the financial services company and managing partner for work/life in San Jose, Calif. To understand what is important to this generation, Deloitte created a national Gen Y Council in 2009 to serve as a sounding board for senior leaders.

Who are the Millennials, and why does their influence matter?

The Millennial generation, or Generation Y, is currently the youngest working generation and will make up 75 percent of the U.S. labor force by 2025. Born between approximately 1978 and 1999, they range from 13 to 35 years old. This generation does not remember a world without personal computers. It’s the most virtually connected, team-oriented, technologically savvy generation in history.

And the most overprotected: Millennials grew up in "an over-adult-supervised environment," explains consultant Chuck Underwood, founder of The Generational Imperative Inc. in Miamisburg, Ohio. "Their parents convinced them they were the center of the universe."

Millennials have strong opinions about work. "They are more likely to say they don’t want to work that hard—20 percent said this in the 1970s, but 39 percent said this by the 2000s. And work is just a way to make a living—23 percent said this in the 1970s; 34 percent by the 2000s," says Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University. "Most still say they are willing to work overtime to do the best job—91 percent said this in the 1970s, and 84 percent [said this] in the 2000s."

Underwood explains that "Millennials have gotten off to an uneven start with American employers." He offers an anecdote. During a training seminar for 60 supervisory personnel at a California hospital, Underwood asked participants to shout out the strengths they saw in Millennial employees. Almost as a chorus, they answered "technology." When he asked "What else?" the audience went silent.

Brad Karsh, co-author of Manager 3.0: A Millennial’s Guide to Rewriting the Rules of Management (AMACOM, 2013) believes that Millennials get an undeserved bad rap. "Millennials are blamed for attributes every young person has," he says. "Every generation comes into the workforce clueless and perceived as lazy."

Regardless of how they are perceived, Millennials are set to become a driving force in the workplace. They will outnumber Baby Boomers in the workplace by 2015. "The tide is rushing in. It’s inevitable, so prepare for it," Karsh says.

Start by understanding what is important to Generation Y employees—flexibility, transparency and community—and adapt policies, practices and procedures to leverage this generation’s strengths and minimize its weaknesses.

Grooming Millennials as Managers

Millennials are looking for “flatter organizations and less hierarchy,” says Brad Karsh, co-author of Manager 3.0: A Millennial’s Guide to Rewriting the Rules of Management (AMACOM, 2013), who says he has spoken with 10,000 Millennials. “They think about their careers as scaffolding, not ladders. On ladders, there’s only one direction and only one person can go up at a time. You can’t pass anybody, and you can’t walk over, drop down a bit, and then keep going up. Millennials don’t think ‘Am I driving to be the next CEO?’ They think ‘Am I learning, growing and developing? Am I fulfilled?’ If so, it makes sense to make a lateral move.”

Chuck Underwood, founder of The Generational Imperative Inc., a consulting firm in Miamisburg, Ohio, and host of the PBS television series “America’s Generations with Chuck Underwood,” believes that Millennials will change the traditional corporate hierarchy. “Instead of vertical, it will be horizontal,” he says. “They will lead by group decision. Millennial leadership teams will be connected virtually, rather than physically.”

Because Millennials are team-oriented, Underwood recommends that organization leaders capitalize on this characteristic. The health care industry provides an example of how things are changing. “It had always been very hierarchical, with the doctor, then the nurse, then the nurse’s aide, etc.,” he says. “Now health care is focusing more strongly on team dynamics and team care. Millennials flourish in groups.”

They aren’t comfortable acting alone, however, so Millennials being groomed for management need training on how to stand strong alone and work individually. “They are excellent in group and team dynamics. They are not as strong when given a single, long-term task they must complete on their own,” Underwood says. “Management needs to train Millennials in being decisive and how to be stand-alone decision-makers.”

Millennials also benefit from development programs that help them understand all the parts of the organization. Emily Forrester, SPHR, vice president of HR for the Iowa Bankers Association, says: “The most common developmental program I’ve seen at our member banks has been emerging leadership programs that are designed to give Millennials exposure to the senior management teams and to additional operational areas within their banks. This gives Millennials an opportunity to connect the dots across the bank to see how everyone’s role is important to the overall success, identify areas for improved collaboration, and understand the opportunities available for future developmental and leadership opportunities.”


"Millennials need more flexibility—not just around time but around everything," says Angel Pedersen, SPHR, an HR business partner at Dyson Ltd., a vacuum manufacturer based in Chicago that has 2,950 employees worldwide. Millennials seek flexible work locations, schedules and assignments.

Locations. Millennials want to work remotely and use different technologies, says Geoff Peterson, managing principal at General Lead, a micro-recruiting firm in Pittsburgh with 50 employees. "Generation Y feels threatened by the four walls of a cubicle." With that in mind, General Lead went completely virtual.

How does the company ensure that employees are working when they are not physically at work? At first, it was difficult to track who was doing what, when and how well. So managers implemented online project management software called Liquid Planner.

"It weeded out a couple of employees right away," Peterson says. "Some didn’t feel they needed to have a tool like that, but the majority of employees really liked it. We didn’t care when they did the work, only that they did it by a certain time, with high quality. Most of them are proud to show us everything they have accomplished."

With the software, managers can see how long it takes for an employee to complete a task and leverage employee strengths accordingly. "We had an employee who was taking a long time to do phone screens with candidates but was really good with research, so we shifted her into research," Peterson explains.

Vocon Partners LLC, a 100-employee design and architectural firm in Cleveland, allows employees to work remotely and has Wi-Fi throughout the building and on an outside terrace. "This generation expects flexibility around mobility," says Scott Ashley, Vocon’s workplace strategist. "They’ve got to have laptops and smartphones, the ability to be mobile."

Schedules. "We see the end of the 9-to-5 workday," predicts Jacqueline VanBroekhoven, consultant for Hogan Assessment Systems in Tulsa, Okla. "Workers—especially Millennials—expect more flexible work arrangements to accommodate the changes in the typical workday structure."

Deloitte & Touche has a pilot program called Small Things Big Differences that organizes work teams. Each team determines specific guidelines for the group, such as "We should be home on Thursday nights," and the teams hold themselves accountable. "It gives them a bigger sense of control and flexibility, and the performance is significantly better," says Silverglate, who adds that the pilot has done well and there are plans to expand it.

Work assignments. Millennials "like to learn a lot of different skills. They like variety, and they like it early on in their job tenure," says Neil Howe, author of Millennials in the Workplace: Human Resource Strategies for a New Generation (LifeCourse Associates, 2010). "Sometimes this is mistaken as wanting to move up right away. They want to move up just because they want to do something different."

Karsh says rotational programs feed into Millennials’ need for change. VanBroekhoven notes that such programs "give emerging talent opportunities to experience different areas of the business, step outside of their area of expertise and gain large chunks of institutional knowledge in a relatively brief period of time."


Millennials are driving HR policy changes involving transparency as well. "They want to understand the rationale behind every decision," Karsh says.

Emily Forrester, SPHR, vice president of HR for the Iowa Bankers Association, has experienced this firsthand. "To develop and retain this generation, we’ve had to evaluate our performance appraisal and compensation adjustment procedures," she says. "It’s been important for us to maintain transparency with this group. We’ve been asked a number of times for more information on how we set compensation amounts, so we’ve had to be more forthcoming."

Karsh advises: "If HR can pull the cloak off certain things, do it. When you can’t, explain why."


For Millennials, work is a "second home." In an ongoing study by Nick Shore, MTV’s senior vice president, strategic insights and research, 90 percent of Millennials say they want their workplaces to be social and fun, and 71 percent say they want co-workers to be like a second family.

"Be open to new ways of doing things to make the work more engaging, more fun," advises Pedersen, a Millennial. "Don’t immediately shut down Millennials’ ideas or they won’t stay. Valuing our opinions and ideas is important. People need to have fun and want to have fun at work. It’s not all about getting the work done. I take work home with me, on weekends, on vacation. It’s about finding the balance of work and play. Make the environment more like a community."

How can HR professionals do that? Experts recommend:

Gathering spaces. Consider coffee-bar-type spaces for conversing. Millennials see these as places to exchange ideas and ways to build trust, according to Ashley. "If I know a few personal things about you, I’m more comfortable asking you to help with a project," he says.

Group onboarding. "Group onboarding appeals to [Millennials’] core peer personality traits. Bond them as a group to the organization so they are loyal to the company and to each other," Howe says.

Karsh recommends a "starting class" concept where groups of 30 or so employees train and do rotational programs together. "Companies that have a ‘Class of 2013’ have found the employees end up being as, if not more, loyal to each other than they are to the company," he says. "It’s a powerful retention tool."

Affinity groups. Millennials want to have social opportunities at work. "Book clubs or running clubs are popular," Karsh says.

Mentoring and formal career planning. Millennials "need to know they are being looked after and there is a plan; it isn’t just a bunch of random different experiences," Howe says. "There should be continuity, a mentor and some sort of plan for career advancement."

The company as a parent. "Millennials consistently want more noncash benefits than Xers," Howe says. "It is the desire for the in loco parentis employer."

Parents in the workplace. In the past, HR professionals did their best to keep parents at arm’s length. "That’s a mistake" with Millennials, Howe warns. "We have never seen a generation of 20-somethings so close to their parents. They are calling their parents every night."

Howe recommends that managers "use the parents as a resource. Let them join the conversation." That might mean having a parents newsletter or hosting a "Bring Your Parents to Work Day." The New York Stock Exchange encourages new graduates to bring parents to the half-day orientation.

Social responsibility. Millennials want to know how their organization—and their contribution within that organization—fits into the community. "They don’t want to just give money; they want to be involved with charity work," says Susan Austin, PHR, chief HR officer at Vocon Partners.

Accommodate All

By 2020, due to the delayed retirements of Traditionalists and Baby Boomers, experts estimate five generations will be working side by side. This diversity will affect practices around employee benefits, flexible work arrangements and compensation, according to VanBroekhoven.

That does not mean HR professionals need to cater to Millennials. "Focus less on the characteristics society has ascribed to the emerging Millennial generation and more on policies and practices that support the changing demands being placed on our workforce," VanBroekhoven says. "Flexible work arrangements do not just apply to one generation."

Howe says HR should recognize the contributions that each generation brings. "Older generations have to understand how different they were than the generations that came before," he notes. "Once they understand that, then they can start to see how they view the Millennials through the eyes of their own generation." Eventually, Millennials will recast the workplace in their image. Will you be ready?

Kathryn Tyler is a freelance writer and former HR generalist and trainer in Wixom, Mich.

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