By Bridget McCrea
A generational and talent development expert gives distributors her best tips for engaging and retaining the millennial generation.
The influx of millennials into the workforce presents both opportunities and challenges for electrical distributors that need to keep their employee pipelines filled while adapting to the habits, work preferences, and likes/dislikes of this new generation. According to Pew Research Center, more than one-in-three American workers today are millennials (adults ages 19 to 36), and in 2015 they became the largest share of the American workforce. This milestone occurred in the first quarter of 2015, as the 53.5 million-strong millennial workforce surpassed that of the Baby Boom, which has declined as the Boomers retire.
By all accounts, millennials are unlike preceding generations. “They view the world differently and have redefined the meaning of success, personally and professionally,” according to University of North Carolina’s Maximizing millennials in the Workplace.They have grown up with technology, always been able to browse the Internet for information, and listened to digital music while simultaneously playing Candy Crush. In some cases, this has led to misunderstandings among the different generations co-existing in today’s workplace. “Increasingly, however,” UNC reports, “business leaders are realizing this generation’s unique competencies and perspective, and employers are looking for ways to harness their strengths.”
Engaging the Masses
In their quest to “harness” those millennial strengths, employers across all industries are running into some basic challenges, says Kate Zabriskie, founder and President of Tobacco, Md.-based Business Training Works, Inc., which regularly consults with business owners on the issues involving recruiting and training the millennial employee. Here, Zabriskie shares some best practices with electrical distributors that want to do a better job of attracting, recruiting, and retaining millennials:
tED magazine: What is so difficult about finding and attracting millennial workers to an industry like electrical distribution?
Zabriskie: The challenge lies less in the actual recruiting and more in the retention process. It’s about knowing what to do with them and for them once you have the individuals onboard. The whole process has to be very hands-on and include a lot of feedback and praise—things many of us would never have been praised for when we started working. This is a difficult point for older workers/managers to wrap their minds around, but it has to happen if you want your millennials to stay with you for the long term. (RecruitiFi’s recent millennial Outlook Survey found that although 83 percent of millennials acknowledge that “job-hopping” has the potential to be negatively perceived by prospective employers, 86 percent say that it would not prevent them from pursuing their professional or personal passions. And while 33% have plans to stay in their current jobs for 3-5 years, 20% plan to leave after 1-2 years.)
tED magazine: What other workforce-related expectations do millennials have?
Zabriskie: They expect to move up the ladder much faster than previous generations did. Many of them don’t realize that it can take 20+ years to move into senior management or leadership positions, for example. Because of this, distributors need to be very clear about pointing out potential career paths—and the timelines and expectations associated with these career paths. Also, they like job flexibility, and particularly when it comes to their work schedules. Whereas older generations may have been glad to “just have a job” and willing to wait a year to be able to take a 2-week vacation, workers under 36 years of age tend to operate on the mindset that work provides the money that they need to live their lives. Now, this is obviously not true for all millennials, but we do see this more so now than we did with previous generations.
tED magazine: What employee retention strategies tend to work best with millennials?
Zabriskie: Try to avoid “trapping” them, or making them feel like they have no other career choices. Put a bigger focus on helping them be successful in their careers wherever they choose to work for the long term. Work with them, train them, mentor them, and help them get the skills that they need to succeed in the workforce as a whole—as opposed to trapping them into thinking that they can only work for your distributorship. Going a step further, you can also embrace an “open door” policy (i.e., keep that door open so that exiting employees can come back at any time and pick up where they left off). This is an interesting point for companies that are used to slamming the door behind their employees when they walk out the door to new jobs, but the open door policy has proven to work very well with millennials.
tED magazine: It sounds like “flexibility” is the operative word when it comes to hiring and keeping millennials as employees. Correct?
Zabriskie: Absolutely. Distributors have to adopt flexible mindsets and recognize that every candidate’s or employee’s situation is a little bit different than the next. Then, learn to balance this fact with your own company’s needs. It’s not always easy to do this, but it needs to happen.
tED magazine: What else can electrical distributors do to keep their younger workers engaged and interested in their jobs?
Zabriskie: There’s no magic in it, unfortunately, but there are some things that companies can be doing now to make sure their employee pipelines remain filled. One of the best strategies is to give all of your workers—regardless of age/generation—a voice. Ask them what they think, solicit their opinions, and get them involved in the problem-solving process. Not every piece of input is going to be valuable or useful, but this approach also presents a good coaching opportunity. For example, ask them why they would choose a specific solution, and if it’s not the best choice, explain why and tell them what would work better. Remember that your younger workers want to feel like they are part of something bigger than just themselves, so if they’re contributing, collaborating, and sharing ideas, they’ll be more fulfilled and apt to stick around longer.
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