Four Steps to Engaging Millennials
By Stefanie Hatch, CPA
Stefanie Hatch, CPA, is a senior audit associate with Wilsey Meyer Eatmon Tate PLLC in Oklahoma City. She is currently serving on the OSCPA’s New CPA Committee and is also a member of the AICPA.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the first of the baby boomer generation started reaching age 65 in 2011. Until 2030, baby boomers will turn 65 at a rate of about 8,000 per day. Although many of them have opted to postpone retirement for various reasons, millennials will make up a majority of the workforce in just 10 short years.
This is scary news to some who have clear-cut visions of millennials fostered by anecdotes of the casual, never-looking-up-from-their-smartphones, seemingly entitled young generation. There are just as many anecdotes of hard-nosed baby boomers, those born from about 1944 to 1964. Younger generations typically stereotype boomers as older people who refuse to meet with anyone who might have a different view, know almost nothing about the technology environment and reject new methods because the old ones have always worked for them. There are also differences between group-minded millennials and the individual-minded Generation Xers, those born roughly between 1965 and 1978. Gen X managers don’t want to spend all their time hand-holding or micromanaging millennials, often leaving them feeling left in the dark about what they are supposed to be doing and why.
Obviously, every person is different and these generalizations aren’t going to apply across the board, but keeping these stereotypes in mind can be helpful when meeting and working together. Like other generations, millennials also want to make a difference, be heard and respected for their contributions, know where the company is going and how to grow with it and be paid what they are worth.
In the 2014 Qualtrics Millennials in Tech Survey (http://tinyurl.com/mn4x2z5), the most important attribute millennials look for in a workplace is a collaborative work environment, garnering 74 percent of votes. An understanding of the generations is paramount to having an efficient and productive collaborative environment. Other desirable work benefits included professional growth and fair compensation. Keeping these qualities in mind, managers can take four basic steps to engage their millennials.
Step 1: Communicate.
If your company truly wishes to engage millennials, it’s key to first listen to them. Millennials value the freedom to question and will question everything. Don’t try to brush them off with a “Because that’s how it’s done” or “We’ve always done it this way.” Stymying a millennial’s chance to make a change and an improvement that will help the company will cause them to clam up about any ideas they may have in the future. Millennials are also used to quick information and communication that occurs nearly instantaneously. Quick and timely feedback of errors will also help in making sure the errors don’t become habits, which would be even more difficult to overcome.
In this same area, millennials should listen to constructive criticism. Experience and knowledge will lead every time and there is generally a reason things are done how they are. Be open and receptive to communication. Keep in mind that being told no doesn’t mean nobody’s listening.
Step 2: Train and develop talent.
Millennials want to focus on learning and development. With a wealth of knowledge at their fingertips at all times, millennials are used to being able to receive any knowledge at any time. Traditional training of job compliance, safety and know-how can’t be thrown away, but it should be just a small part of the overall training process. Learning and development should be ingrained into every step of the company process, from reviews to mentorship.
Millennials need to be ready to put in the time and effort it takes to receive proper mentorship in addition to completing what’s required for the job. The standard 40-hour week will not fit all the personal and professional growth you need to be successful.
Step 3: Re-envision the corporate ladder.
For millennials, the corporate ladder doesn’t reflect the same value as it does for previous generations. The one-way trip to the top isn’t as much of a goal to most of them. More focus is placed on experience and growth. This can be done through job rotations to ensure they’re learning about the different areas of the company. A mentor can assist in this area by learning how the employee wants to contribute to the company goals and by recommending areas that will help develop the experience and skill needed.
Millennials will need encouragement and coaching to understand the time it will take to climb the ladder and what they can do to reach their goals. Make sure that there are standards in place for reviews and how people advance. The path to the top is often murky for the younger generations who all seem to have a story of how someone got promoted, even though the person was obviously not right for the position.
Step 4: Illustrate the power of traditional communication.
Millennials are used to communicating almost exclusively through text messages and emails. Most don’t see the power of a face-to-face meeting, much less a phone call. This is where the boomers and the Gen Xers need to step in and help the younger generation to understand the power of interpersonal communication. Millennials also need to understand that they aren’t having a friendly chat with their friends; this is business communication with clients or colleagues and must be handled as such.
Various generations working together in one place can get complicated. However, if we all manage to keep in mind that we’re all people of varying wants and needs and multiple motivating factors, we can reach a happy workplace.