They're the largest generation to enter the U.S. workforce and every business owner and talent recruiter is trying to tap into their DNA and engage them. These 18-35 year olds are 69.2 million-strong and wield a powerful voice. They are our future. How do we persuade them to work for us and bring their passion to our companies?
First, we need to understand them. Are they really that different from Gen X, the Boomers, and the Greatest Generation? Not really.
In a 2015 American Trends Panel by Pew Research, Millennials rated themselves high as cynical (59%) and self-absorbed (31%). "While 59% of Millennials describe the members of their generation as self-absorbed, 49% say they are wasteful, and 43% describe them as greedy. On all three dimensions, Millennials are significantly more critical of their generation than older age cohorts are of theirs."
And in a surprising revelation, when asked to characterize their own generation as "environmentally conscious," "entrepreneurial," and "tolerant," there were no significant variations between their perceptions of themselves and the Boomers' or the Silent Generation's perception of themselves. It's dangerous to lump an entire generation into one bucket of expectations. It's more effective to align the goals, passions, work ethic, and aspirations of Millennials to your workplace than to force our business model on them.
Like most managers, I can't afford to make hiring mistakes. It's expensive. That's why we need to connect with Millennials early on and engage them in the purpose of our company. We need their energy, passion, curiosity, and fresh critical thinking about the world. And they need opportunities to thrive, invent, experiment, and learn how to lead.
So, how do you keep the Millennials motivated? Focus on these 5 tips, and you'll be investing in your most valuable company asset--your future.
1. Invest in them. Set aside funds in your budget for professional development and non-profit sponsorships--The Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, United Way. Encourage your new hires to look for conferences to attend, classes to take, and non-profits to support. Don't expect them to come to you first about these opportunities. Make sure they know that you are depending on their curiosity and self-motivation. When my middle son was hired for his first job, it was right out of college. In fact, the CEO had recruited him on his college campus. From the first conversation, there was chemistry. They shared common interests like the outdoors, hunting, fishing, and Scouting. That connection was valuable because it served to entice him to join the company in spite of the lower salary they offered. He really liked the boss and felt a connection to his principles--that matters if you want your employees to give 110%.
Because my son was the youngest person in the company, and a recent graduate who was skilled in technology and social media, I wondered why the boss didn't encourage him to attend conferences on social media and marketing so he could use his skills to fill a gap in the much-needed marketing services. Millennials have grown up with a device in their hands, and when you release them to be brand ambassadors for the company, it's a sign of trust and creates loyalty. Look for ways to invest in your young employees--it will be returned five-fold, not only to the bottom line but to the company culture.
2. Teach them. Millennials are bright and graduating college in record numbers, but no one comes to their first job with full mastery of the skills. Reach out to your young hires, and provide opportunities for conversation and personal guidance. Communicate clearly and explain the company policies. Don't expect them to know company protocols and guidelines unless you have explained them clearly. Provide mentors, advocates, or sponsors. "The Millennials, we saw, did want a constant stream of feedback and were in a hurry for success, but their expectations were not as outsized as many assume. That's good news for organizations wondering just who will mentor this rising generation."
Whether you're an office of 3 or 300, introduce a mentor for every new hire. It can be a business leader from your community or someone from your firm. Spend time over lunch sharing about your own business experiences, stories of when you succeeded, and especially when you failed. Being real and authentic is contagious and a catalyst to personal growth. Pouring your life into someone is time-consuming and hard work, but the personal and business rewards will be priceless.
3. Allow them to serve from Day 1. Millennials want to make a difference. "Purpose is the new way of doing business," says John Dame, leadership expert and founder of the Business Evolution Conference. "In the past, it seemed that businesses needed to turn a profit for years (if not decades) before they allowed themselves to explore a higher purpose. Millennials are rewriting the world of engagement: their new model aims to express business and purpose in the same moment."
What can employers do? Encourage their passions, because it creates company loyalty. "We need to bring more than just employment, product, and money to the table. This new generation wants to be a part of giving back--a focus on enrichment of the community instead of just the business itself. Purpose is meaning. An employee connected with the purpose of a business does 1.5 times the amount of work as an employee who is disengaged," says Dame.
4. Ask for their help. This generation spends hours per day with a mobile device in their hands. One report states that 88 percent of Millennials get their news from Facebook and 50 percent from Instagram. There is much we can learn from them. If you notice that a young member of your team is savvy on Snapchat or Instagram or Facebook Live, ask him or her about it. Ask for a social media primer. It's what the PR firm Burson-Marsteller calls Reverse Mentoring--and it builds relationships across generations and across business lines.
5. Give them the tools they need. When my oldest son graduated from college with a marketing degree, I hired him. It didn't take me long to notice that his working style was entirely different than mine. His desk was full of devices, and his ability to multi-task fluently across platforms and dip in and out of conversations was enviable. He had music on while he was working on his laptop, texting on his iPhone, and still able to answer the office landline and tweet. I gave him a budget for office equipment, but I let him choose the laptop that worked best for him and the mobile phone that he was most comfortable with. I did the same with my other employees. I said, "What tools do you need to succeed at the office and be productive?" Ask them what they need to deliver high quality, highly valued work, and then give them those tools.
If you want a thriving business that Millennials want to be a part of, it doesn't have to have a pool table or free craft beer, but it does have to be an environment where curiosity is welcomed, passion is stoked, and high gear is expected.
Anne Deeter Gallaher, CEO of Deeter Gallaher Group LLC, is passionate about entrepreneurship and high gear work environments. Anne was recognized as one of Pennsylvania's Best 50 Women in Business and is co-author with Amy D. Howell of two books: Women in High Gear: A Guide for Entrepreneurs, On-Rampers, and Aspiring Executives and Students in High Gear: A Guide for Students and Aspiring Game Changers in Transition from College to Career. Celebrating 16 years of business ownership, she believes her biggest high gear achievement is watching her three sons graduate from college and set their own courses for success.