Employers Say Accommodating Millennials Is a Business Imperative

Aliah D. Wright By Aliah D. Wright April 26, 2018
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Actualize Consulting HR Director Kerry Wekelo (left), shown here with two interns at a company-sponsored volunteer event, says changing the consultancy's workplace culture not only helped them significantly decrease turnover, it has helped them attract and retain Millennials. Photo courtesy: Val Bey

In 2010, Matt Seu, a founding partner at Actualize Consulting in Northern Virginia, realized that the company was facing a very expensive problem: 33 percent annual turnover of his workforce. It was struggling to attract and keep employees.

Actualize's HR director, Kerry Wekelo, suggested a significant change to address this problem. She devised a program called Culture Infusion for the Reston, Va.-based financial services consultancy. The program offers the firm's more than 70 employees flexible work schedules, as well as programs focused on corporate social responsibility, wellness and other work/life balance issues.

Little did Seu and Wekelo know that their "people first" strategy, which included prioritizing work/life balance, team connection and effective communication, would not only help them retain their current employees, but it also would help them attract and retain Millennials.

For the past three years, turnover has hovered around 1 percent and the program has helped the company reduce the amount of money spent on finding talent. Millennials now make up 33 percent of the company's staff.

"I've seen how important it is for key leaders to grow a culture that attracts and retains both employees and customers," Seu said. "I'm proud of what Actualize is all about, and we couldn't have done it without the unique focus on personal and team growth and achievement that Kerry has created."

CEOs can learn a lot from the growing trend of accommodating the desires of Millennials—those born between 1981 and 1996—especially since Millennials are now the largest generation in the U.S. labor force. More corporations are meeting Millennials' desires for a kinder, gentler workplace because it improves the bottom line and aids recruitment. Competition for talent is fierce. As SHRM Online reported earlier this month, the economy is at full employment and economists are predicting hundreds of thousands of new jobs.

Gone are the days when members of this generation were derided for being spoiled and entitled. Today's workplaces are accommodating them as a business imperative, recognizing that many will quit even well-paying jobs that don't accommodate their need for work/life balance, wellness programs, charitable endeavors, instant feedback and recognition. In addition, employers tell the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) that these programs are helping them hire and retain employees of all generations.

From Entitled to Business-Savvy

"Many Millennials roll their eyes when they hear Baby Boomers or Gen X leaders discuss the Millennial desire for 'work/life balance.' Why? Because it's terribly misunderstood," said James Goodnow, a 36-year-old Millennial and job trend expert. He is co-author of Motivating Millennials (AveryToday, 2017).

"To some, 'work/life balance' is code for shirking responsibilities in favor of taking selfies on that whitewater rafting trip," he said. According to a survey from FlexJobs (a leading job site for flexible work), when Millennials are faced with an important project 76 percent would prefer to work at home because the office is too distracting. "Companies that give Millennial workers the latitude to choose where and how to work ultimately win by retaining and keeping the best Millennial talent."

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[SHRM members-only toolkit: Staffing in Special Markets: College Students]

Everyone Wants Work/Life Balance

PwC recruiters noticed that the youngest generation of professionals—despite hefty salaries and the prestige of working for one of the largest professional services firm in the world—were quitting in droves after just a few years. Because Millennial employees "appeared to lack interest" in having "an intense work commitment early in their career in exchange for the chance to make partner later on … PwC knew it needed to clarify the impact of what appeared to be a shift in culture," the company said in PwC's NextGen: A Global Generational Study. That survey of more than 40,000 of its employees worldwide revealed that the company needed "to transform the core dynamics of the workplace" in order to foster a greater sense of commitment among Millennials, who have made up 80 percent of the PwC workforce since 2016. But the Millennials weren't the only employees longing for change. "Just as notable are the widespread similarities between Millennial employees and their non-Millennial counterparts, all of whom aspire to a new workplace paradigm that places a higher priority on work/life balance and workplace flexibility," as the study authors wrote and as Actualize Consulting discovered.

"That's not to say that Millennials don't work hard," said Goodnow, a managing partner in the Phoenix law firm Fennemore Craig. "We do. It just means we're not necessarily going to let that come at the cost of family, friends and outside activities."

Goodnow added that "Millennials in many ways represent the pendulum swinging back from the focus on work that drove the economic boom that … lasted from the late 1980s through 2008."

He pointed out that in Jim Harter and Marcus Buckingham's book First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently (Gallup Press, 2016), "More than 20 years ago … an employer's providing the correct workplace tools for success [was] a key ingredient of retention. Fifty years ago, the right tools might have been a new set of mechanical pencils and a stack of notebooks. Twenty-five years ago, the right tools might have been a personal computer and a printer at your desk at the office." 

He said Millennials today want workplace tools that facilitate creative thought and communication, such as the Apple Watches or Fitbits his team members use to stay connected and healthy. He said those tools have helped improve employee wellness.

Money Still Matters to Millennials

While work/life balance is nice, pay is still important, and Millennials aren't afraid to ask for it.

"In my experience, Millennials are motivated by money more than we think they are," said Marielle Smith, vice president of people at GoodHire, a background check company in Redwood City, Calif.

"Yes, they want fulfillment at work … and, of course, they want extra income to go out, have fun and do all of the things that interest them."

According to the 2018 Better Money Habits Millennial Report, 46 percent of Millennials have asked for a raise in the past two years compared with 36 percent of Generation X and 39 percent of Baby Boomers. "Eighty percent of Millennials who asked for a raise in the past two years received one. The study also revealed that 1 in 4 Millennials consider themselves part of the gig economy by taking on freelance or short-term work.

Still, companies are "absolutely making efforts to become mission-led to attract Millennial employees … because they know it's the right thing to do," Smith said. GoodHire has an underlying mission to use business to create "positive social outcomes; our company inherently attracts Millennials who are interested in being part of that 'business as a force for good' mindset.

"While many of our Millennial employees are initially attracted to the company because their values align with our mission, we're able to keep them motivated and retain them as employees longer because we make a concerted effort to create a corporate culture that prioritizes both a fun working environment coupled with social responsibility that includes office-sponsored volunteer activities, and that is very fulfilling."

 

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