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Meeting Millennial Expectations Can Benefit Your Entire Workforce

Younger workers’ desires lead to increased feedback for all employees, better communication from managers

By Kathy Gurchiek May 16, 2017
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If you haven't changed your organization's practices to meet the Millennial generation's workplace expectations, maybe you should.

"The Millennials are going to become half of the workforce and … they're going to run the place," said Itala Keller, associate account manager at Pearl Meyer, an executive compensation consulting firm headquartered in New York City. The generation born between 1981 and 1997 officially became the largest share of the U.S. workforce in 2015, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data.

Keller was among panelists at WorldatWork's Total Rewards Conference on May 9 in Washington, D.C., discussing "Maximizing the Positive Impact of Millennials in the Workplace."

A Pearl Meyer online survey, conducted in April with human resource and compensation professionals from 84 businesses around the world, confirmed that Millennials: 

  • Want and expect constant feedback.
  • Want training and development opportunities and a manager who is interested in their career growth. 
  • Want to understand how their work contributes to the organization's mission.

Meeting those expectations can benefit an organization's entire workforce, according to panelists.

'Tell Me How I'm Doing'

"I can't envision working a whole year without hearing how I'm doing," said Keller, a Millennial, on the importance of feedback. "I want to know how my performance is, what needs to be improved and what is going well so I know which direction to [focus on]."

Keller said she sometimes initiates a conversation with her manager asking for feedback, and she suggested other Millennials do the same. That can be helpful to managers who aren't exactly sure what Millennial employees want. 

"How often do they want feedback? What does 'constant' mean?" said Tobi-Lee Russell, program coordinator and visiting associate professor of management at Framingham State University in Framingham, Mass.

She found her students expect feedback with every project and homework assignment, and she thinks the same holds true for the workplace.

The Pearl Meyer survey found that 22 percent of respondents provided more frequent feedback to Millennials than to other employees. Some gave Millennials weekly feedback and non-Millennials monthly or quarterly feedback. Keller advised employers to give all employees as much feedback as possible.

The need for feedback isn't limited to Millennials. Employees at Dallas-based Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. wanted more supervisor feedback, said Steffany Jay, senior compensation manager. Managers at the company now have increased feedback sessions to formal, quarterly meetings with employees to discuss their progress toward annual goals

'Help Me with My Career Growth'

Coaching is Millennials' preferred training method, the Pearl Meyer survey found, followed by on-the-job learning.

"Millennials want a manager [who] gives them direction … a manager who inspires them and kind of shapes them to the workforce," Keller said.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Coaching in a Business Environment]

Michael Ng, executive compensation leader at Adobe in San Francisco, said that when he worked at management consulting firm McKinsey & Co. in Washington, D.C., employees were assigned a mentor who held a more senior rank. That person may not have been in the same department, building or country, but it was his or her job to give advice, he said.

Jay noted that a mentor does not have to be the mentee's manager, but the odds of the employee staying with the company increase if that is the case.

"Millennials need help. We need your help," Keller said to employers.

A PwC report, Millennials at Work: Reshaping the Workplace, also noted the importance of understanding Millennials' personal and professional goals and suggested a variety of ways to help them along their career path.

"Put them on special rotational assignments more frequently to give them a sense that they are moving toward something and gaining a variety of experiences. Challenge them to come up with new ways to streamline processes and to exercise creativity," the report said. "Millennials have a strong desire to work overseas and this is a rich potential resource for organizations focused on global growth. Less desirable locations could be positioned as an important career path milestone."

Keller also had some words of advice for her generation:

"Please talk to people face to face. Get off the phone for a little bit," she said. "And be patient, work hard, grow strong relationships [and] learn as much as you can."

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