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5 Great Ways to Motivate and Engage Younger Workers

5 Great Ways to Motivate and Engage Younger Workers

By Bridget McCrea

How electrical distributors can do a better job of motivating and engaging millennial employees in today’s tight labor market.

Born between 1980 and the mid-2000s, the millennial generation is the first to have had access to the Internet during its formative years. Millennials also stand out because they are the most diverse and educated generation to date: 42 percent identify with a race or ethnicity other than non-Hispanic white, around twice the share of the baby-boom generation when they were the same age. Finally, about 61 percent of adult millennials have attended college, whereas only 46 percent of the baby boomers did so.

These statistics are posing challenges and presenting opportunities for electrical distributors that want to fill their employee pipelines and build leadership bench strength just as the long-time baby boomer workers begin to turn 70 (and, retire at an alarmingly high rate of 10,000 per day). “Millennials want positive reinforcement, they want to know that they’re doing a good job, and they want opportunities to advance their careers,” says Maggie Wenthe, Des Moines, Iowa-based ITA Group’s incentive and recognition solution manager. “They’ve changed the way we view the workday, how we integrate technology, and how we make use of our time—it’s no longer just about ‘clocking in and clocking out.'”

So while baby boomers and Generation X are often happy to just “have a good-paying job,” millennials want a little bit more. Because of this, keeping them engaged, happy, and onboard takes more elbow grease and some creative maneuvering—things that distributors may not be used to. But ignoring these facts could be detrimental:  According to RecruitFi, 86% of adults aged 20-36 would “job hop,” even if it makes them look bad. And while 33% of these workers plan to stay in their current jobs for 3-5 years, 20% plan to leave after 1-2 years.

5 Steps to Success
The good news is that there are ways to keep millennials interested, engaged, and motivated—despite the fact that such a high percentage of them are looking for the next best thing job-wise. Here are five strategies that you can start using right now to buck the trend and retain your younger employees:

  1. Think outside of the “traditional work hours” box. It’s not that millennials don’t want to work—or that they feel entitled to extra time off—it’s that they want to enjoy some of the things in life that their parents or grandparents may have missed out on. Through the use of flextime, remote work options, and other non-traditional arrangements, distributors can effectively think beyond traditional work hours and meet their millennial staffers halfway on workday-related issues.
  2. Don’t expect them to sit at a desk all day. We’re all more mobile than ever, but millennials are particularly good at getting things done on the fly through the use of smart phones, tablets, and laptops. “While their parents may have sat at a desk from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. making cold calls, millennials just don’t operate this way,” says Wenthe, “and neither do your younger customers.” One way to work around this issue is by simply understanding that the work is getting done even if someone has to leave at 3 p.m. to go pick up his kids and drive them to a soccer game (where he can then get those sales reports done on his iPad, while sitting on the sidelines cheering—or, later that night when he gets home). “This is an important point that a lot of traditional companies tend to overlook,” says Wenthe, “and one that smart electrical distributors can really leverage to their advantage.”
  3. Develop clear career advancement paths. With 86% percent of their millennial workers willing to jump ship for a better opportunity at any given moment, distributors that create clear advancement paths can help to stem that tide and keep their younger employees onboard for a longer period of time. “Millennials really want to be able to ‘master’ their positions and then grow and develop within the organizations that they work for,” says Wenthe. Even smaller firms can take advantage of this point, she says, namely by creating “horizontal” opportunities (as opposed to management or leadership roles) that allow younger workers to expand their knowledge bases and skill sets. “In the past, everyone may have wanted to climb the corporate ladder, but this generation is different,” says Wenthe. “From what we’ve seen, a lot of millennials are more interested in growing and developing themselves. In some cases, that could mean simply shifting positions within the same company.”
  4. Make training fun. A one-hour brown bag lunch meeting with a top supplier in the break room may have been enough training for the baby boomers and Generation X, but millennials want more. One way to address this need is by simply making the training process fun, says Wenthe. Operating in an industry where product and technical knowledge is both necessary and tedious, she says electrical distributors should try to infuse some fun, engaging content and rewards into the training process. An employee that achieves a certain level of education or earns a new certification, for example, should be rewarded (i.e., an electronic badge on a leaderboard, special privileges, recognition at an annual meeting, etc.). “You can make the experience very personalized and rewarding with a just a few small tweaks,” says Wenthe, “and without having to make any dramatic changes to your training process.”
  5. Focus on good, 2-way communication with all employees. If top-down rules are prevalent and unbendable at your distributorship—and if you’re having a hard time attracting and retaining younger workers—then it’s probably time for a mindset shift. “The CEO who stands up and says, ‘This is how we do things around here,’ isn’t going to win any points with millennials,” says Wenthe. “In fact, they’ll be immediately turned off by this approach.” Instead, focus on communicating the company’s culture, mission, standards, ethics, and other important qualities in a way that invites feedback, interaction, and collaboration. Talk to them about why they should stay with your company, says Wenthe, and why they should also tell their friends to come and work for you. In the end, it all comes down to good, 2-way communication.  “Communication is one area that tends to trip up a lot of companies,” says Wenthe. “They just don’t put enough effort into it, but good communication can go a long way in keeping your younger workers engaged and motivated.”


SIDEBAR: When in Doubt, Help Them Out

Here’s an interesting way to keep your millennial employees onboard, loyal, and engaged for longer than the predicted one to five years:  Help them pay off their student loan debt. With total outstanding student loan debt in the U.S. at $1.2 trillion—and millennials responsible for much of it—some companies are helping their employees chip away at that financial burden. And much like benefits such as matching retirement programs, allotted vacation days, and healthcare coverage help “solidify” the employer-employee relationship, student loan contributions can also strengthen that bond.

Right now, bills proposed in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives would treat up to $5,250 per year in employer contributions toward student debt as nontaxable income. “Student loan repayment would be a very attractive benefit that employers could offer,” said Kathleen Coulombe, a government affairs adviser at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), in Bloomberg’s Soon Your Employer May Pay Back Your Student Debt.

According to SHRM only about 3 percent of companies in the U.S. currently offer to help employees chip away at student loans. Most of the employees currently receiving this benefit work in the public sector, such as nurses, teachers, and lawyers. Interested in learning more? Check out Business Insider’s 7 companies that help employees pay off student loan debt for some good examples of what this employment looks like in action.

McCrea is a Florida-based writer who covers business, industrial, and educational topics for a variety of magazines and journals. You can reach her at bridgetmc@earthlink.net or visit her website at www.expertghostwriter.net.

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