Why Should We Care About Engaging Millennials?

Millennials today make up the majority of the work force. They’re helping to shape the way that we think about and organize our work and they’ll continue to transform our people practices. It’s time that we start to embrace the energy and enthusiasm they bring with them. We know that engaged employees are more productive employees, so we must then find ways to build this engagement across the employee lifecycle. It’s not enough to simply wine, dine and recruit. Learning needs to be a journey that spans across multiple fronts. It’s time we start to build organizational practices that recognize this.

The most common complaint I hear about Millennials is that they want to rise through the ranks of the organization too quickly, that they don’t have realistic expectations for their career and that they need to temper their enthusiasm. To that I ask, “Is that really a bad thing?” Don’t we want our employees to be enthusiastic and engaged? Research clearly shows that engaged employees are more productive employees, so why not figure out ways to capture this energy and put it to good use?

The overwhelming majority of Millennials just want to be challenged and to be given work that is meaningful but most organizations don’t do much to promote and capture this from the outset. The organization goes out of its way to recruit the ‘best and brightest’ but when they come into the office on day one, they’re shown where the bathrooms are, where the cafeteria is and ushered to the cubicle where they’ll be spending 40-50 hours a week. Their excitement quickly fades and turns to the stark reality that work life is much different than their days in college. Not all organizations are this bad, but even the good ones could do better. Here’s how.

Rotational programs, if used correctly, build camaraderie, inculcate the new hires into an organization’s culture and set expectations. The good programs we’ve seen at Prescient Strategists have challenged incoming talent with project based assignments that are aligned to specific career patching initiatives. For instance, in one global financial services provider, business leaders have to submit an application to get a rotational candidate that describes the project they’ll be working on and the impact it will have on the organization as well as on the employee. They need to clearly define the experiences that the employee will get while working on the project, e.g. working with cross-functional project teams or managing the budget for a high stakes project. If the experiences aren’t in alignment with the career pathways that were established, the project gets rejected. The quality of the experience is critical to maintaining engagement and retaining top talent in the organization.

The rotational program is a nice way to introduce employees into the organization, but once they have gone through it, what’s next? How do you continue to maintain engagement? The learning that occurs on the job is the most important of all, but organizations and managers haven’t traditionally done a good job explaining to their employees how this works. Most employees are clamoring for more development, more time to learn and more opportunities to attend training. The reality is, the vast majority of the learning they do happens in the moment and on the job. Helping your Millennial employees connect the dots between performance management, talent development and on the job experience is critical to building and maintaining their engagement.

Organizations that drive engagement forward manufacture opportunities for employees to grow their networks, both internally and externally. Create opportunities for millennial employees to learn through others and should show them how to seek out mentors to help them move their careers forward. A nice way to transfer organizational knowledge is to have older employees take the younger employees under their wings. Employees should also be encouraged to seek perspectives from outside of their function and even, from outside of their organization. In today’s world of work, connecting the dots from one discipline to another is an important and critical quality to have.

If you’re concerned that Millennials want to jump to the next job too quickly, expand the scope of their current role to take on new challenges. In order to satisfy your Millennials’ rabid yearning for growth, create the leeway for roles to be easily expanded and built upon. Roles that are too rigid or too tightly defined won’t offer employees the opportunity to expand his/her scope. Millennials want to know that they have options and opportunities ahead of them.