In just five years, Millennials (those born between 1980 and 1995 and currently under 33 years of age) will make up 40% of the workforce in America; in 10 years, they will comprise 75% of the workforce. If your organization wants to remain competitive, you must address the unique needs of this growing group. The best place to start is to build a foundation for a thriving workplace culture and to foster individual autonomy.
What Millennials Want
According to 2014 research from the Intelligence Group, a division of the Creative Artists Agency that focuses on analysis of youth-focused consumer preferences and trend forecasting, Millennials are looking for employers who:
- Offer meaningful work. (64% say it’s a priority for them to make the world a better place.)
- Foster collaboration, not competition. (88% prefer a collaborative work-culture rather than a competitive one.)
- Provide employee autonomy. (72% would like to be their own boss. But if they do have to work for someone else, 79% prefer that boss to be more like a coach or mentor.)
- Provide flexibility and support work-life integration. (Since work and life now blend together inextricably, 74% want flexible work schedules, and 88% want work-life integration.)
What Your Organization Can Do
Many workplaces offer options like wellness programs, flex-time, and maternity or paternity leave. While these may offer some benefits for employees, such programs and policies do not necessarily foster meaningful personal growth and development. They are elements of workplace climate, not workplace culture. (Confused about the difference between climate and culture? Read this.)
In order to appeal to Millennials and support their need for personal growth and development, it is essential to focus on cultivating a thriving workplace culture. Here’s how to get started:
1. Clarify and align core values. Millennials want to be part of something bigger than themselves, and they are looking for employers who offer them meaningful work. If your organization hasn’t already, clarify your company’s core values, the two or three behavioral traits that lie at the heart of your organization’s identity. (These are not to be confused with what Patrick Lencioni, in his book The Advantage, calls permission-to-play values like “honesty” or “integrity,” which are not what sets your organization apart and uniquely defines you.) One of the best ways to identify your core values is to look at the traits that are inherent and natural for your organization, and have been for a long time; what are the qualities of the employees who already embody what is best about the organization?
For example, Patagonia’s core values are central to everything they do. Here is how they describe their values:
Our values reflect those of a business started by a band of climbers and surfers, and the minimalist style they promoted… For us at Patagonia, a love of wild and beautiful places demands participation in the fight to save them, and to help reverse the steep decline in the overall environmental health of our planet.
Zappos is also well known for their core values, and intentionally living them and ensuring all business practices are guided by them. Some of their core values include:
- Deliver WOW through service
- Embrace and drive change
- Create fun and a little weirdness
- Build a positive team and family spirit
As you can see by these examples, your core values reflect your organization’s culture and your employment brand by framing the entire employee experience. Once you’ve clarified your core values, involve employees in living them on a daily basis.
How your organization can support this:
- Offer a Culture and Visioning Workshop. People support what they help create, so provide employees the opportunity to describe in detail what the employee experience looks like when everyone is living the core values. What behaviors will they see that are consistent with core values? What behaviors might sabotage the core values? Let employees see how they align with core values and vision as individuals, and how their work contributes to living the values and vision. With this foundation, employees can begin creating their development path, which will support meaningful work.
- Offer a quarterly Workplace Culture Workshop. Once employees have collectively created clarity around the behaviors that reflect the company culture, they will be able to create structure to nurture and protect your organization’s brand. Part of this structure includes supporting and holding each other accountable, so offer employees the opportunity to do so in these workshops. Have employees connect with peers and managers to reflect on how they see themselves and others behaving in a way that is or is not consistent with the core values and workplace culture. Not only will this address Millennials’ need for collaboration and meaningful work, but it will also bring to light any glaring problems or issues before too much damage has been done.
- Use your core values as a litmus test for everything you do – from hiring to recognition and even firing. Because leaders profoundly shape employees’ experience of the culture, every leader and manager within your organization needs to live the core values and create the conditions where employees feel valued; otherwise, all bets are off in terms of having a high performing organization and retaining Millennials. Assuming you have leaders who walk the talk, base employee recognition on how people are living out the core values and contributing to a thriving workplace culture.
2. Provide physical and mental space where employees have an opportunity to “pause.” In his best-selling book, “Leadership from the Inside Out,” Kevin Cashman describes how too often people allow themselves to be overcome by busyness. We are unhealthily attached to our smartphones, and too caught up and distracted to take the necessary time to sift through life’s complexity and find purpose. Many Millennial employees are unconvinced that excessive work demands are worth the sacrifices to their personal life. In fact, Millennials know what the research shows: to be productive and engaged, employees need to find ways to recharge during the day. Organizations that actively seek ways to help people integrate their personal and professional lives will have energized employees who are better able to bring their best selves to work each day.
How your organization can support this:
- Deliberately schedule play into the work week. Organizations whose employees engage in high-level thinking (e.g., Google, 3M) deliberately schedule play into the workday; they recognize that adopting a childlike mindset opens people up to alternative ways of thinking. Although play can include physical activities (e.g., setting up a Ping-Pong table in the break room), it is really more of a mindset; the key is that employees need to feel safe about pursuing occasional tangential interests.
- Create an environment that positions people to do their best work. Some people need quiet space to allow for focus and concentration, while others benefit from collaboration. Create spaces that allow people to work well, but also to play and relax. Consider repurposing a meeting room into relaxation space for reflection, meditation or short naps.
- Support breaks and vacations. In his book, “The Best Place to Work,” Ron Friedman asserts that people have a biological need for rest that’s as strong as our need for food and water. Yet personal time – including vacations – has become infected with work through smartphone technology that compels many to check company email frequently. FullContact, a progressive software company in Denver, recognizes the importance of rest. In 2012, they implemented a program that pays each employee $7,500 to take their family on vacation each year. However, in order to receive the bonus, employees must first agree to 3 strict provisions, as outlined on the blog of their CEO, Bart Lorang:
- You have to go on vacation, or you don’t get the money.
- You must disconnect.
- You can’t work while on vacation.
Lorang explains how this seemingly expensive program benefits the entire organization: “It’s an investment into the long-term happiness of our employees, which in turn leads to the sustained growth of the company.”
Other simple things you can do to support the human need for rest include leaving time between meetings, encouraging employees to take a quick walk, and providing time for socialization.
3. Generously support professional AND personal development. Millennials are looking for organizations that truly value them, not just as cogs in the company machine, but as people who are thinking, evolving, and complex-systems capable. Show your Millennials (and all of your employees!) that you value everything they bring to the table by helping them take advantage of developmental opportunities that will broaden their horizons. Whether they choose courses or conferences to enhance their professional skills, or can benefit from programs or a professional coach to help them grow personally (a cornerstone of highly effective organizations), employees who are supported to grow and are much more likely to be engaged at work.
Strengthening Culture is a Win-Win
When addressing Millennials’ unique needs, beware of simply creating more programs and policies. It’s essential to shift and strengthen the underlying workplace culture in order to support employee autonomy, personal growth and development, and attract Millennials to your organization.
The good news is that by addressing Millennials’ needs, you will foster a healthier and more productive workplace for all of your employees — and improve organizational performance.
For more on building a thriving workplace culture and improving employee morale, check out this article.
Do you have a healthy workplace culture? Find out now with this quick quiz.