European Businesses Need to Adapt to Millennial Employees
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It's not particularly important where you place the boundaries between generation X, millennials and the emerging generation Z. What's important is recognizing the cultural differences between these generations; and, if you're an employer, adapting to these differences.
Millennials are a minority population in the EU, and the proportion of children and young people in Europe is projected to keep slowly falling in the coming decades. Meanwhile in the U.S., they're expected to overtake baby boomers by 2019.
This doesn't mean that European businesses shouldn't prepare for the millennial takeover. If millennials are to be a scarce resource in Europe, then companies should be especially aware of how to meet millennial needs.
Here are my top five tips, based on my experience in running the millennial-heavy offices of Brainlabs, and a bucketload of academic research to back it up.
1. Open up communication channels.
The best way to understand millennials is to directly ask them about their motivations. Luckily, millennials love giving feedback -- and receiving it.
PwC's "Millennials at Work" study identifies the desire for detailed and regular feedback as one of the strongest millennials traits, and found that only 1 percent of the millennials questioned said that feedback is unimportant to them. Long gone are the days of annual reviews; millennials want face-to-face feedback in real time.
Implementing a company-wide feedback system should be a top priority, because it's a win-win situation. Millennials (and non-millennials alike) thrive when they receive feedback, and are more motivated to work for leaders who seek feedback in return.
There is an incredible wealth of information that can be gathered from employees, leading to crowdsourced decisions that improve the company as a whole.
2. Embrace flexible working.
Millennials will work hard for you -- in exchange for extra freedom and flexibility. They don't believe that excessive work demands justify sacrifices to their personal lives, even if this leads to compensation and more rapid advancement. PwC's NextGen study concluded that work/life balance is "one of the most significant drivers of employee retention."
In this day and age, there's simply no excuse for not having a flexible work culture -- most employees can have access to their work wherever they are, and millennials in particular believe that their results are more important than the hours they put in.
And they're not wrong; flexible working improves organizational performance, encourages accountability, increases employee retention and boosts personal well-being.
Research shows that employee happiness is correlated with company performance, so get creative with your company's extracurricular activities.
And don't forget the merits of a generous holiday allowance: Employees return from vacations with decreased stress levels. This is a worthwhile investment, considering workplace stress can lead to an increase of around 50 percent in voluntary turnover. Research even shows that these positive effects are long-lasting when employees take extended time off, and it even benefits the organization.
3. Continuously integrate technology in the workplace.
As the first generation born in the digital age, access to the best tools and technology in the workplace is a top priority for millennials. Although European millennials have a stronger preference for face-to-face interaction over screen-to-screen compared to U.S. millennials, all millennials believe in "using any and all technologies available for the greatest convenience."
Fifty-nine percent of the respondents in the Millennials at Work study find that a technology-positive culture is an important factor when considering a job, and three quarters believe that access to technology increases their productivity. A third of European millennials use the internet to find and apply to jobs, compared to 18 percent of gen Xers and 4 percent of baby boomers.
Aside from meeting the expectations of your millennial employees, providing them with the right tech will increase efficiency and flexibility for both collaboration and execution. Consider your policies on social media at work, for example. A study by the Pew Research Center found that employees use social media for a variety of reasons, including to solve work-related problems and strengthen professional connections, and 56 percent believe that their use of social media improves their professional performance.
4. Create an engaging workplace culture.
Company culture is inextricably linked to millennials' workplace loyalty and happiness. Crucially, the NextGen study's findings show that what drives retention is emotional connection to the company.
First, millennials are happier in team-oriented cultures that incorporate their network of work friends, mentors and teams. The majority of millennials want their coworkers to be a second family. They crave community-oriented, social workplaces, where they are more productive. Effective collaboration has been linked to productivity, workplace efficiency and business results, and is an important factor in innovation.
Second, millennials believe that being passionate about a role is more important than salary, and would like to do worthwhile work. According to Wells Fargo's Millennial Study, 94 percent say that having fulfilling work is an important aspect in life. One study found that 64 percent of millennials said they would rather make $40,000 a year at a job they love than $100,000 a year at a job they think is boring. Help employees do work they enjoy by crafting roles around them, rather than the other way around.
Third, it's important to engage with social issues that millennials care about. Deloitte's Millennial Survey 2018 found that millennials are more loyal to employers that engage with social issues like income inequality, corruption and climate change. Almost two-thirds of millennial employees say they want their employer to contribute to social or ethical causes they believe are important.
Addressing social issues correlates with positive employee sentiment and a stronger desire to stay with an employer. Furthermore, millennials are more positive when they can get personally involved via the workplace, which is where they feel they can make the greatest impact.
Don't resist change, prepare for it.
Millennials are not quite the job-hoppers they've been made out to be. Deloitte's Millennial Survey reports that young professionals are now in fact less likely to leave the security of their jobs, and are more loyal than in 2016. According to research from the U.S. Department of Labor, millennials are just as loyal as generation X workers were at the same age. College-educated millennials actually stay longer at their jobs.
Even so, millennials do expect to change jobs frequently, and will be tempted to do so if work isn't living up to their expectations. Instead of fearing this, you should be ready for it, and even support it. Being open about the possibility of employees leaving reassures them that they can talk about it to their managers, and this is a conversation both parties can benefit from.
Ultimately, the main thing to keep in mind when managing millennials is that communication is essential. A millennial-friendly workplace communicates about everything, from the company's values to career progression, and allows its employees to have their say. This way, your company can continuously evolve and adapt to your employees needs by learning from each other. When millennials flourish, everyone benefits.