If you don’t let your millennial workers know that they’re valued, appreciated, and doing something meaningful for your distributorship, before you know it they’re going to jump ship for the next job opportunity.
Gallup calls the millennials the “job-hopping generation,” and for good reason. In a nutshell, individuals born between 1980 and 1996 simply refuse to punch a clock for decades in hopes of getting a nice retirement down the road. They want a purpose, jobs that help them develop as individuals, coaches who help them get there (not just “bosses”), and ongoing conversations (versus annual reviews).
“More so than ever in the history of corporate culture, employees are asking, ‘Does this organization value my strengths and my contribution? Does this organization give me the chance to do what I do best every day?’,” Gallup Chairman and CEO Jim Clifton writes in How Millennials Want to Work and Live. “Because for millennials, a job is no longer just a job ― it’s their life as well.”
The tight labor market combined with new job opportunities that are literally one screen tap (or mouse click) away, has aligned the stars pretty nicely for this generation—and for the Generation Z employees who are just beginning to enter the workforce. As the generation that’s most likely to switch jobs while also holding the distinction of being the least engaged generation in the workplace, millennials are putting new pressures on companies across all industries right now.
Give them a Voice
Electrical distributors aren’t immune to these pressures, and are having to step up and make changes—some of which may be downright uncomfortable—in order to keep their under-40 workers happy, engaged, and feeling appreciated. A millennial herself, Anastasia Button, CEO at Scale Your Leadership in Denver, says companies that want to attract younger workers should understand that those individuals want to know that they’re contributing to a bigger cause.
“Millennials love to have a voice,” says Button, who tells distributors to tune into their workforces (or, their competitor’s workforces) to find out what is and isn’t working. “Get an idea of what they’re doing, and also get a gauge on your own workforce.” This could be as simple as sending out an email to all employees every couple of weeks, asking them for feedback on one or two issues.
“If you want to change but you’re not sure how to do it, ask your employees,” says Button. “Your entire workforce will contribute, and you’ll be surprised to know that they’re not going to say, ‘We want a ping-pong table’ or ‘We want a swimming pool.’” Instead, they’ll say things like, “We want to have more opportunities to grow,” “I want to do some public speaking,” and/or “We want to do more volunteer work.”
“Their answers will give you a roadmap that you can use to piece all of these ‘wants’ together,” says Button, “to create a thriving workforce that aligns with your company’s mission.”
Explain the “Why”
Unlike their predecessors, millennial workers don’t mind questioning exactly why things are being done the way they always have. The companies that recognize and address this can gain a fairly easy advantage in the race to attract, retain, and engage younger employees. “Boomer and Xer managers need to get better at explaining why the organization does things the way it does,” says Jamie Notter, co-founder at Human Workplaces in Washington, D.C., and co-author of The Non-Obvious Guide to Employee Engagement (for Millennials, Boomers, and Everyone Else).
This is harder than it sounds, and mainly because young baby boomer and Gen X employees were less driven to question authority in the workplace. “Their bosses tended to be of the,
‘I say jump, you say how high’ [mindset],” says Notter, “while millennials grew up being able to find the answer to just about anything on the Internet. If you can’t give them the ‘why,’ they will wonder what you’re hiding from them. That distrust leads to turnover.”
Millennials also expect a level of customization in the digital age, where even the simplest mobile app can be personalized to an individual’s tastes, preferences, and abilities. Notter says this presents new opportunities for electrical distributors that take the time to customize something as simple as a job description.
“In the digital age, we can customize just about everything, yet we keep job descriptions standardized,” he points out. “This doesn’t make sense to millennials.” By customizing every employee’s job description every year, electrical distributors can help workers at all levels of the organization feel valued and appreciated. Be sure to factor in where each person is in his or her career; incorporate training opportunities (for potential advancement) into the descriptions; and encourage innovation across all workers.
For example, one tomato processing plant that Notter worked with gives all employees—even seasonal workers—the ability to purchase any piece of equipment needed for the job, without seeking approval first.
“Millennials grew up in and live in a world where if someone’s needs are slightly different, there’s a solution for that,” says Notter, who tells companies to focus less on radical customizations, and more on simply paying attention to their valued workforce’s needs, wants, and feedback. “It’s really just about looking at each employee and paying attention to what he or she needs.”
Mixing Work and Play
Now the largest generation in the workforce, millennials can’t and won’t be ignored. They also won’t stand for jobs that aren’t fulfilling, managers that don’t listen to them, and companies that aren’t doing their part to preserve the environment and “give back” in some way to the communities and customers that support them.
It also doesn’t pay to work millennials into the ground, hoping that they’ll shake off their stress in their own downtime and come back to work refreshed and ready to do it again. “Where Gen X is very much about, ‘Let’s work hard and play hard,’ which means there is a cutoff between work and life,” says Button, “Millennials are more focused on working hard and playing hard at the same time.” Companies that understand this, and that help younger workers integrate the two, will be positioned to hold onto their millennial workers and help them feel appreciated and valued.
“It’s interesting, but you could literally have millennials work 12-14 hours a day as long as there’s some lifestyle and play intertwined into that,” Button says. “In the end, you’d actually wind up with a more productive workforce because employees will feel like they’re around a big community of people that they can rely on.”
Turn to page 40 in the June issue of tED magazine to read more about encouraging the younger workforce in our Millenial Minute article.
Tagged with best practices, millennials, retention