Keeping up with the millennials

Keeping up with the millennials

< Back to Articles | Topics: Skilled workforce


Jon Tattrie

Is your HR team riding the wave of change?

Last year, a popular Chrome extension automatically replaced “millennials” in headlines with “snake people.” It led to altered gems such as, “Navy seeks to adapt training for snake people;” “Snake people: you will not be quite so special in the ‘futr’;” and “Snake people most likely to fall for online scams.”

Ali Breen, a Career Coach for snake people — sorry, for millennials — says workers in their 20s and 30s are used to stereotypes. Savvy human resource departments read beyond the headlines.

“Stop listening to the noise about how millennials are entitled, or millennials are coddled. A lot of that is very negative. Really, at the end of the day, wouldn’t it be great if everyone — millennials or not — was engaged and excited to work where they were working and felt they were delivering meaning every day when they showed up nine-tofive?” she asks.

And it’s not about funky chairs, pingpong tables and a Wii in the lunchroom. Breen worked in human resources before starting her own business to consult with millennials and with those who wish to hire them. She sees what works when recruiting young workers.

When she sits down with a millennial selecting a career path, she uses a narrative approach. “You help people mine their stories and experiences in order to power up to move forward. We do a lot of reflective work before we take next steps. A lot of young people just go for what’s posted, or what they’ve already done, instead of going for what they really value.”

“Value” is the key word in understanding what millennials seek in work. “Most millennials feel like they are part of a bigger picture,” she says. Breen uses the example of a company looking to hire a carrot-chopper. If you wind up chopping carrots just to chop carrots, it won’t feel meaningful. But if you chop carrots because you’re working at the Dartmouth North Community Centre and it’s helping people live healthier, that’s meaningful. Or if you’re chopping carrots at a restaurant that always sources local foods, that’s meaningful. “I’m happy to chop the carrots, because there’s meaning behind the chopping.”

Job ads should reflect this. Often, Breen says, postings read like job descriptions. Perhaps the carrot-chopper needs to be “dynamic” and have good customer service skills. “But they won’t say, ‘Because our customers are looking for this kind of experience.’ In a way, they’re putting out a wish list of skills without putting that into the context of their specific business.”

In return, younger workers send generic applications to match the generic posting. It can be better. Breen points to one of her clients who recently recruited new workers. Usually, that would mean posting the job, reading resumes, interviewing applicants and hiring someone. But they took a different approach.

First, a current millennial who worked for the company posted the opening on Facebook and invited anyone interested out for coffee. “They take a peer-level employee and get them to have a casual, informal meeting. That’s the first interview.”

The potential worker meets an active employee and gets a true idea of what the work will be like. If it’s a mismatch, they know then and no more time is wasted on either side. If they can see themselves in the role, they go to the next step. In that case, they made a two-minute video of themselves answering three questions. The third step was a formal interview with HR and a manager.

That meant instead of their first contact with the company being the highly structured and stressful interview, it was the last step and they arrived for it with a good understanding of the company and a friend inside. “You’re going to attract people who really want to be there much more than if you do something really generic,” Breen says.

Another creative way to reach millennial workers came from a company that asked for references from applicants — and provided its own. Would-be workers could talk to a former employee about company culture, a “supercustomer,” about why they love the company, or a community partner who relies on the company. Breen considers: “How cool is that?”

Again, it means if the applicant accepts the job, they’re already buying into the company’s values and thus are more likely to stay. If all the pressure is on just landing the job before you get to peek behind the curtain, millennials are apt to leave quickly if they don’t like what they see.

Scott Coleman is co-owner and Atlantic Managing Partner at Optimum Talent, which offers full-service human resources to help “organizations succeed through people.” Increasingly, those people are millennials. “We’re at a pretty fascinating time when it comes to age-related demographics in the workforce. We have boomers through millennials — and everything in between,” he says.

When it comes to recruiting younger workers, “fully tech-enabled organizations will certainly outpace the laggard organization to recruit and retain top talent.”

That includes using enterprise resource planning, or ERP, to integrate applications to manage the business and automate some office work. It also means using popular communications tools like Yammer or Skype for Business, with less reliance on phones or email. It opens more channels for communication at work, including instant messaging and video chats.

“We’re seeing progressive organizations and progressive HR departments invest in things like employee experience through gamification, supporting learning and development through massive online open courses, or nano-degrees,” he says.

He says younger workers focus more on “moments that matter,” such as promotions or performance discussions. “The biggest trend we see is the consumerization of HR. People have more choices today than they’ve ever had before in what they want to do and with whom they want to work.” In a way, he says, companies can take the approach they used to win customers and apply it to recruit and retain younger workers. “It’s more than the pool table in the lounge or social beverages at three o’clock on a Friday,” he says.

Younger workers tend to respond well to being coached, rather than managed. HR departments might find more success with monthly catch-ups compared to reviews every six-months. Little problems can be addressed quickly and engaged workers will do a better job. Some younger workers want to rise to the top swiftly, while others seek untraditional career paths including lateral movements and temporary spells in different departments. Culture trumps cash for retaining younger workers. Perhaps that means working untraditional hours, or in untraditional workspaces.

“On the whole, young colleagues are hungry, they’re capable and they crave learning opportunities like no other generation,” he says. “True success for our younger colleagues is a balance of personal health and happiness with contributions at work.”

Coleman says younger workers value collaboration and were raised to ask questions. They might stop asking in a workplace where boomers and gen-Xers don’t ask questions, or don’t like to be asked questions. That can lead to alienation, a sense their work isn’t meaningful and fresh vacancies in the company.

Wendy Vrooman says older generations are moved by money, titles and success. “It’s been the norm that with long work hours, you throw yourself into your career to get to a certain stage,” she says. “Millennials, from what I see, value collaboration, team work, social justice and enterprise — companies that are really putting their money where their mouth is in giving back and making the world a better place.”

Vrooman is a Partner at Sandler Training. They help companies grow their revenues by analyzing the organizational charts around sales, learning the company’s strategy and studying HR deployment and HR skills gaps. She routinely meets millennials who want to grow personally and professionally. Successful HR departments tie those goals together to benefit the company and the employee.

She gives a recent example where a young woman wasn’t bringing in enough sales through cold calls. Cold-calling seemed unconnected to her personal growth. But she did want to travel and do mission work. When she came to see cold-calling as valuable because the more success she had, the more money she could bank to take a travel break, her sales increased. She was no longer just “chopping carrots” — she was chopping carrots to help herself help others through mission work.

For an older generation, the idea of working hard at a job to leave it might make no sense. But it makes sense to millennials. The job they’ll do in 15 years doesn’t exist today, meaning few people expect the job they land in their 20s to be there in their 40s.

“They’re coming up and taking care of the world,” Vrooman says. “If we don’t get on board with that sooner rather than later, how are we preparing and coaching them to be the drivers not only of economy, but I think more importantly to them, of social justice and social enterprise? It’s incumbent on us to adapt to them to help them be successful.”

< Back to Articles | Topics: Skilled workforce

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