Many employers see the millennials (a.k.a. "Generation Me" or "Generation Y") as a difficult challenge and spend a tremendous amount of effort developing new and unique strategies to engage them.
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And yet, few companies take the time to ask themselves an important question: "Isn't the millennial generation simply trying to live out what previous generations could only dream of?"
Baby boomers and Gen. X-ers, hold on to your hats: Maybe we are not all that different from the millennials after all. I mean, aren't the ideas of work-life balance, purposeful jobs, altruistic motives, and career fluidity things we all sought to achieve at some point? Don't we all care about having a more "human" and personalized work experience, rather than merely clocking in and out on the linear road to retirement?
The key to engaging millennials is to recognize this foundational similarity. We must admit that the real difference between us and them is that their generation is asking for these things, whereas previous generations didn't feel empowered to do so. It isn't really that the values of each generation differ, but that the millennials are the first to aggressively pursue these values.
Additionally, millennials have had the advantage of technology to strengthen their push for what they want. In today's social media culture, the individual voice of an employee can be equally as powerful as the institutional voice of a company. Thanks to the range of online publishing channels, an individual can broadcast their voice with great influence.
Simply put, millennials know what they want and are asking for it with a loud and strong message.
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As an employer that hires hundreds of millennials a year, Seven Step RPO has learned a few things about engaging today's workforce. Here are some key lessons we'd like to share:
1. Use Purpose-Based Job Descriptions
The job should be written as a benefit-driven offer to the prospective employee, not a one-way screening tool. Don't just list a set of responsibilities. Make sure to cover the "why" by explicitly describing the impact that the open role has on the culture/company/customers.
Also, avoid saying "we" or "required" or "you must." Instead, flip the narrative and use more "you" language (e.g., "You will enjoy working for our company that is No. 3 in the data analytics industry"; "You will be engaged in challenging work and handling the following responsibilities ...").
2. Focus More on Experiences, Less on Titles
Promotions are a limited occurrence in one's career, but skills development is ongoing. Don't make the mistake of assuming your "robust" internal career ladder alone will attract and retain talent. It's okay to show off the career roadmap within your company, but make sure to sell the journey over the destination.
Consider adding descriptive dimensions to any career path communications. Explain the experiences, specific skills, and training a prospective employee will receive along the way. You could also add a human element by including testimonials of people who have made these career moves and can act as references for the value in moving into a new role.
3. Embrace the Possibility of Attrition
Most millennials do not expect to stay at one job forever. Don't see this as a lack of commitment on their end. Rather than be threatened by this reality, accept it.
While discussing career growth, explicitly communicate how the person can grow both hierarchically (in title) and experientially (in skills). Acknowledge that it is a bit unknown where this person may be 2-3 years from now and that it's perfectly okay if they have not solidified a long-term commitment to your company yet. This will build trust with the candidate and eliminate any perception of propagandizing on your company's part.
4. Engage Them in 'Doing Good'
This generation wants to make an impact on society, not just the bottom line. Millennials expect companies to provide internal philanthropic programs that allow them to help others. Tie your work culture and team development to selected charitable efforts and let the staff drive and execute on these highly fulfilling events.
5. Proactively Help With Work-Life Balance
Don't wait until enough people complain about something to respond with simple ideas for work-life accommodation. For example, proposing a sliding daily schedule or offering gym discounts can help support this cause. Any demanding job will involve sacrifices and the occasional long day or week, but good companies don't make excessive demands of their staff on an ongoing basis.
According to the Pew Research Institute, millennials now comprise the largest share of the American workforce, and they have a tremendous amount to offer. Their career desires may not actually be all that unique; they simply seek meaningful engagement from their employers. Companies must rise to the occasion and respond to the strong millennial voice.
Who knows – the millennials, who garner criticism from some, may ultimately be remembered as the generation that forced companies to rethink and improve their engagement strategies.
Beth Gilfeather is CEO and founder of Seven Step RPO.