How to Engage, Develop and Retain Millennials
Millennials will soon rule the world. Born between 1980 and 2000, they are entering the workplace in vast numbers. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that as of this year, they have overtaken the majority representation of the workforce, and by 2025, this hyper-connected, tech-savvy generation will make up 75 percent of the workforce.

No generation before has had as much access, technological power, or the infrastructure to share their ideas as quickly as the Millennials. Their career aspirations, attitudes about work and knowledge of new technologies will shape the culture of the 21st century workplace. They are future revenue generators and our future leaders, and attracting the best of these Millennial workers is top of mind for organizations globally.

But exactly who are the Millennials? How do we effectively integrate them into a multi-generational workforce? And how can we best manage their expectations while maintaining high-performing organizations? Understanding how they view technology, work-life balance and career growth is key to ensuring they succeed.

Because of their early access to technology, Millennials are used to speed, multi-tasking, collaboration, making instant connections and working on their own schedules. These can be great assets in a knowledge economy, which often values results over process. As this new generation enters the market, they’re arriving with distinct ideas and expectations.

Millennials want a flexible approach to work, development opportunities, and regular feedback and encouragement. They want to feel their work is worthwhile and that their efforts are being recognized.

During a recent panel discussion among Millennials at a company meeting in Tucson, all of the panelists cited career development and ongoing training as the top measures employers should take in order to motivate them. One of the panelists noted that employers should “Recognize that a one-size-fits-all approach will not work. I’m motivated by the trust my employers have in my abilities to handle large jobs and by the challenge of constantly learning, becoming more knowledgeable and advancing further.”

Another Millennial listed his key motivators: “Make us a part of a flexible, work hard/play hard environment. Provide Millennials opportunities to learn -- whether it’s tuition reimbursement, mentorships within the company, certification opportunities and so on.”

Technology

Millennials are sparking a change in how work gets done, as they increasingly work in teams and use more technology than prior generations in their day-to-day responsibilities. Their affinity with the digital world clearly sets them apart. They have grown up embracing broadband, smart phones, laptops and social media as the norm. This is the first generation to enter the workplace with such a strong grasp of technology-based business tools, and they expect organizations to adopt key technologies to attract their attention and stay competitive.

Organizations that understand how Millennials view and use technology, and that can rapidly adapt to their preferences, stand to benefit greatly. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is an important example: 24/7 connectivity is a given among Millennials, so providing the means to work when and where they want in a secure environment is critical.

Leveraging technology to enable collaboration among employees is also an important transformation that companies need to undertake. Millennials expect instant knowledge to help them solve problems. Social networks and online forums including Facebook, LinkedIn and industry-specific groups are always available to provide quick answers and let them share information; technologies such as FaceTime, Skype, Vibe and Google Apps let them chat and collaborate in real time. Without these tools, what Millennials value most -- a flexible work schedule -- would not be possible.

One Millennial, a quality engineer with a medical technology company, summed up the role technology should play by explaining that “I think it first begins by the company embracing technology within their organization and utilizing technology to not only complete tasks, but also as a collaborative tool. Once technology becomes an integral part of the organization’s culture, it becomes easier to attract and capitalize on Millennials’ technology preferences.”

According to another Millennial, a media advisor for a digital marketing and technology company, “Organizations want their employees to feel comfortable with their standard business tools. Learn early on what their technology preferences are. If it is not a typical company practice, empower them to test something new. Chances are there will be more with similar preferences and they could become subject matter experts to guide and teach others.”

All Work and No Play

For Millennials, flexibility is key. Work/life balance is cited by Millennials as more important than financial rewards. In a recent PWC survey, 95 percent of Millennials rated work/life balance as important; 70 percent rated it very important. They understand the importance of work/life balance and demand the ability to work anywhere, anytime as a way to strike that balance.

The personal and professional tend to blend with this generation. The expectation is that employers will accept that the lines are very blurred, and as long as work is being done with high quality, we need to be much more hands-off and trust that this generation will get it done. According to a recent Ernst & Young survey of 10,000 Millennials, lack of workplace flexibility was cited as the top reason they quit jobs, with one in six reporting having suffered negative consequences for working a flexible schedule. Almost 40 percent of U.S.-based Millennials are so dissatisfied with the lack of paid parental-leave policies, that they would be willing to move to another country.

Millennials have not rejected the corporate world, but they will seek other options, such as starting their own companies, if they cannot find workplaces that accommodate their personal values. On the other hand, they are loyal to companies that enable them to stay true to their personal and family values.

For business executives, it's especially important to provide a working environment and a company culture that supports a healthy work/life balance and to provide technology that helps Millennials to work and collaborate from wherever they happen to be, whenever they want to work.

One Millennial explained what gave him the flexibility he wants in his work environment by saying, “I manage my own calendar for both work and life-related priorities. I’m not micromanaged. There’s no predetermined time off, I take it when I need it but don’t abuse it. Life priorities -- oil change, haircut, etc. -- can be taken care of during work hours.”

Added another, the chief metallurgist for an international natural resources company, “Non-traditional schedules have a large appeal for me. I have worked 7 on/7 off, 12-hour days and long hours (sun up to sun down) on projects in exchange for extra days off.”

And another panelist said, “Being able to work anywhere from my computer makes it easy to get my priorities done whether I am traveling, on vacation, sick, or just need a day to myself.”

Beyond offering perks like free snacks and on-site gyms that we’ve come to associate largely with Silicon Valley companies, companies that take those amenities a step further are seeing success retaining Millennials. Free fitness classes, tuition reimbursement, massage therapy, unlimited personal time off, online banking, car wash and laundry services -- these next-generation amenities score high on Millennials’ wish lists.

Development and Career Progression

Career progression is a top priority for Millennials who expect to rise rapidly through their organizations. Additionally, they’re committed to personal learning and development, calling it out as the first choice benefit, with competitive salaries coming in second.

Millennials want to lead. More than that, they are confident in their ability to contribute to the growth and success of their employer from day one. As a generation, they have a high level of confidence and a very strong desire to contribute, right away, on the job. They don't like the notion that to get ahead, to be a leader, a worker must first 'pay their dues’; they are well aware that they have these incredible technology and critical thinking skill sets from day one and they want to put those to work.

Millennials expect to keep on learning as they enter the workplace and spend a high proportion of their time gaining new experiences and absorbing new information. Thirty-five percent said they were attracted to employers who offer excellent training and development programs and saw it as the top benefit they wanted from an employer. The most valued opportunity was the chance to work with strong coaches and mentors. Millennials relish the opportunity to engage, interact and learn from senior management.

Noted one Millennial panelist, “Nothing is better than learning directly from someone within your company who has been doing it longer than you have. My company encourages employees to use part of their work day to expand their knowledge, whether it is learning from a peer or using online resources such as training videos.”

Shaping the Future

When asked what they would change in the workplace when they become leaders, our panelists echoed what Millennials at large consider critical: ensuring management is in touch with and listening to employees, treating them as people vs. employees and not micromanaging them; fostering a culture focused on transparency, flexibility, quality and social responsibility; and making opportunities for professional growth readily available and engrained in the company culture.

Without a doubt, Millennials are changing the rules of the game and reshaping the workplace. They crave what all of us want from our workplaces -- better technology, collaboration, flexibility and the ability to learn, grow and succeed. The future success of our economy depends on our ability to listen and respond to their needs.

Author Pam Baxter is CIO of CompuCom, a provider of IT managed services, infrastructure solutions, consulting and products to Fortune 1000 companies.