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Why Companies Should Engage with Millennials

A group of business people talking at a meeting.

Millennials, the generation born between 1981 and 1996, have grown up in a rapidly evolving world. Millennials are ambitious, quick to learn and are resilient team players. They are a generation that want to feel valued and are determined to make an impact on the business world. According to a recent Gallup report 'What Millennials Want Is Good for Your Business' this particular generation don't just work for a paycheck – they want a purpose. 

We would think, then, that the majority of Millennials are very clear about what they hope to achieve and are willing to work hard to reach their goals. The youth of today are the future industry leaders of tomorrow, so it makes sense for companies to invest in developing their talent. So, why are Millennials shrouded in a negativity that prevents companies from engaging with them? Millennials can bring four key elements to the workplace: innovation and technology knowhow, resourcefulness, social media awareness, and social and environmental consciousness.

Innovation and technology knowhow: The millennial generation is key to bringing new technologies and ideas into the company in order to ensure relevance. Having grown up surrounded by technology, Millennials have a mastery of technology and social media that far surpasses that of previous generations. So, Millennials are able to learn and adapt fast to changes in technology. This attitude is key to keeping companies competitive in the coming years.

Resourcefulness: Millennials are quick learners and active problem-solvers. If they do not know the solution to problems, they are able to rapidly and effectively search for answers on their own initiative by leveraging their existing networks. Their technology knowhow also allows them to come up with new and unique solutions to problems. As a result, it may be a challenge to keep them constantly engaged.

Social media awareness: Millennials are actively engaged with the world around them. Millennials know how to use social media to engage with customers and drive PR for companies in ways other generations do not. These skills can help companies to stay relevant in the marketplace.

Social and environmental consciousness: Millennials are drawn to work environments that can impact meaningful social or environmental change. These attitudes create a positive environment, culture and messaging (branding) for companies. Companies that have positive social branding and healthy workplace activities are more appealing to Millennials. A 2017 Deloitte Millennial Survey shows that business involvement in social issues is perceived by Millennials as boosting their sense of empowerment.

While Millennials have the potential to drive a lot of value for companies, care should be taken to guide and train them in traditional company problem-solving techniques and values. Millennials can tend to be overly reliant on 'technology solutions', whereas just focusing on structured processes can also help solve the issue. Companies should foster the right culture and highlight the importance of face-to-face meetings and building personal relationships which can suffer if the millennial workforce is too 'plugged-in' to their technology. True value will only be unlocked when companies maintain a balance and leverage the strengths that Millennials bring to the workforce along with upholding the core values of the company.

How Should Companies Recruit Millennial Talent?

Millennials are looking for active training and fast growth in their field of interest. It is important for companies to engage with them in colleges and universities before they enter the workforce. There is value in recruiting Millennials straight out of college. It is easy to train and mold them to company culture and expectations. Millennials seek a company culture that is collaborative, engaging and not rigidly hierarchical.

Information sessions create awareness and branding: For small companies, information sessions are very effective and serve to introduce Millennials to an organization they may not otherwise be aware of. Career services in colleges partner with employers to arrange information sessions by inviting specific pools of students. Informal information sessions also allow recruiters to size up talent and make sure to engage with interested students one-on-one to inform them about company culture and resources. Information sessions are also an effective means to target specific majors that may have few graduates. These sessions are low cost and simple to put together. Companies get a chance to showcase and share the progress of a typical work day with the students. This, in turn, gives students important information to help them make suitable decisions.

Student organizations can recruit targeted majors: All colleges have student organizations and these range in variety based on activity and interests. There are multiple student organizations for students pursuing, for example, an engineering major. The American Society of Civil Engineers or automotive clubs are examples. As part of a career and branding campaign, companies can send guest speakers to network with students in these organizations.

Career fairs: For larger companies with established branding career fairs add value. Recruiters are able to meet students from different majors at these events. Leveraging alumni to engage with new recruits at these fairs is also essential.

Updated social media: Regardless of the size of the company it is important to leverage social media platforms such as LinkedIn. In order to stay relevant, company pages should have updated and informative content. Increasingly, companies have taken to Twitter and Instagram as well to highlight company culture and accomplishments. Millennials use social networks to evaluate all positive and negative aspects and reviews of the company. They try to figure out growth prospects, which alumni are working in the company, etc.

What Steps Can Companies Take to Retain Millennials?

Millennials tend to change jobs far too quickly. On the one hand it is important to hire Millennials, but on the other hand it is equally critical to engage them so that you do not lose them. According to the Gallup report "How Millennials Want to Work and Live" only 29 percent of Millennials are engaged in their workplace.  The millennial generation strives for empowerment and ownership. By empowering them, creating a clear career path for them to grow, making them take ownership of their own performance, and providing tools for their growth like e-learning platforms, Millennials feel engaged and welcome. It is essential to give them opportunities for growth and development. Michele Brown, president of IntuAction Coaching and a leading industry expert, has conducted a lot of research and seminars with companies on managing and motivating Millennials. Through her research, she has found that Millennials' workplace expectations are primarily focused around:

  • Mentorship, coaching and acknowledgement from their managers
  • A collaborative, flexible, open and value-centric work environment
  • Opportunities to learn, apply their knowledge, innovate and grow

Below are some specific steps that companies can follow to better retain Millennials:

Mentor programs: Establish mentor programs which will help them advance. As they learn and gain knowledge from their mentor, give them training opportunities to apply their knowledge. This also helps new talent from college effectively transition to become active contributors to a positive company culture. In addition, mentor programs allow minorities and underrepresented groups to feel more comfortable working in the company.

Provide recognition. Millennials want to feel recognized and appreciated for any steps they take above and beyond their regular duties. Acknowledging their contributions keeps them engaged within the company and allows them to contribute to a positive work environment. Verbal recognition of times they have shortened timelines or used their resourcefulness to creatively solve problems in the workplace is essential. Having a work environment with clear goals towards advancement opportunities is also imperative to retain millennial talent, such as fast-track growth programs. Recognizing talent and allowing them direct interactions and learning opportunities with senior leadership, as well as mentoring, is another way to recognize and reward this generation.

Offer flexibility with respect to travel and relocation: Growing up in an environment where there are no geographic boundaries has made the Millennials very receptive and positive to relocations both nationally and internationally. Dealing with new challenges, settling in a new country, and acclimatizing and integrating with the cultural nuances are all appealing to them. Millennials are increasingly adaptable to new challenges and environments.

Highlight corporate social responsibility: Companies that have positive social branding and healthy workplace activities are more appealing to Millennials. Environmentally beneficial recycling or rideshare programs also appeal to this generation. Wellness programs as well as company events that engage with the community are ways to keep Millennials engaged.

Graduate training wheels: A graduate training wheels program is a powerful tool for retention. This is a process of providing exposure as well as training on multiple services, topics and knowledge areas which can be mutually beneficial to the employee and company. This can be a rotational program between 18 months to two years long. The result is fast growth for the graduate; in a short span of time they gain a combination of technical, business and soft skills. In addition, it presents a transparent progression path and shows an ongoing commitment from the company. However, it is important to give them growth opportunities after they have gone through the graduate training wheel. It is imperative to gain their input on their preferences and strengths when transitioning them out of the training program after two years.

Functional breadth and movement: Simply giving Millennials the right training is not enough. It is crucial to allow them to use and apply the knowledge and to move around different functions within the business. This will keep them engaged. The outcome will be growth and advancement because of an infusion of knowledge and learning. Studies show that opportunity to learn and grow is far more important for Millennials than it was for baby boomers and gen-Xers. Millennials are interested in opportunities outside of their regular sphere of work, so give them opportunities where their strengths can be leveraged for the benefit of the company.

Millennials have grown up in an increasingly technological age and have developed skills and a sense of resourcefulness that should make them invaluable to today's fast-developing business world. They are looking to engage with their interests and make an impact on the social and environmental aspects of the communities we live in. Even though companies have often times failed to respond to the Millennials' ambition and enthusiasm, they can lend valuable skills to our industries and we should be encouraging recruitment, training and retention of these individuals.

Archana Khanna is the human resources director for the Americas for Currie & Brown in Princeton, N.J. She has more than 15 years of strategic leadership and hands-on experience in human resources, ranging from organizational development to talent acquisition.


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