I just read an interesting article online entitled, Stop Treating Millennial Employees Like Enigmas, written by Sara Roberts and Michael Papay and featured on Fastcompany.com. As the title suggests, the article focuses on how businesses can best utilize the skills and talents of Millennials, generally defined as that 80-million-strong cohort born between 1977 and 2000, making it larger than the highly influential Baby Boomer generation.
Since Millennials will make up fully one-half of the workforce in the next five, short years, and 75 percent in the next ten years, it certainly would seem to be in the best interest of businesses to pay at least some attention to this huge group of current and future employees, to learn what it may take to attract and retain them in the not-so-distant future.
WHAT MILLENNIALS WANT FROM EMPLOYERS
Strictly as a broad overview, here are FOUR key things the authors say Millennials desire from employers:
- Treat us like our heads count, not like a head count. In other words, they want to be engaged in a human way, not treated in the abstract. They want to be allowed to provide input, not simply be receptacles for input from the top.
- Set up collaborative environments. Millennials say they thrive on both giving and receiving feedback from an employer, and they want an opportunity to “weigh in” on important issues and strategy. They want to be actively involved in shaping the direction of their organization.
- Talk frequently with us. “Like you, we are constantly learning and growing,” the authors write. “The annual cadence of the employee engagement survey or annual reviews is not (emphasis mine) working for us: They are way too slow. We enjoy and can evolve with constant feedback.”
- Explain why. Millennials want to work in an environment where it is “safe” to ask and explore “why?” “Gone are the more simplistic days of the industrial era when a rote job description and manual sufficed for someone to do their job well,” the authors write.
It’s of course hard to argue convincingly that any of these job desires are wrong headed or ill conceived. In essence, all of these desires can be distilled into just another way of employees asking to be treated with respect, to be valued as people and not mere cogs in some giant industrial wheel. They want to have their opinions and contributions valued, and which of us don’t also desire such treatment? Nonetheless, a jolt of reality is also called for, I believe.
ARE MILLENNIALS’ JOB DESIRES REALISTIC?
At the beginning of our careers, had we been asked what it would take to make us “happy,” the majority of us quite probably would have answered the question by citing wants, needs and desires similar to what Millennials are said to seek in the article cited in this post. Never mind the fact that most of us were not in fact asked this question in the first place because companies then—and, surprise!, many companies TODAY—didn’t really have as their top priority making employees “happy.” A hiring company’s TOP priority then was making money in order to stay in business. Coincidentally, that priority has not changed for hiring companies today.
Now, for those of you who may be feeling the urge to rush to your computer to blast me as being a dyed-in-the-wool, “old school” cynic (I much prefer to think of myself as, and to be classified as, a realist), please hear me out. Yes, most hiring companies of yesterday, today and tomorrow placed, place and will indeed place a top priority on employee morale, and that’s particularly true of market leaders. Significant to note, however, by the very nature of business it can never realisticallybe expected to become the TOP priority of any business enterprise! Here’s why:
Business are not now, nor have they ever been or are they likely to become . . .
- An institutional democracy. Not all “votes” are equal in any business. As a matter of fact, in most businesses, the vast majority of employees get no vote whatsoever when it comes to key business decisions!
- An organization designed to “create jobs” or hire people who need/want jobs. Notwithstanding the implied “social responsibility” obligation for being able to do business in a free society, most businesses create new jobs and hire new people for one principle reason: They have determined it is the best, most efficient, quickest way to add to the bottom line, in order to make the business successful or even more successful.
- A social organization. Since most of us spend at least one-third of our working lives on the job, it’s just natural that the workplace can easily evolve into an important environment in which to “socialize” on a regular basis. But to imbue the workplace with the characteristics of a genuine social organization is to entertain career disaster if circumstances were to suddenly head south.
- An employee’s “extended family.” One good thing about family is that, once part of it, one can never be “fired” from the family. That same claim cannot be made by those employees who allow themselves to be lulled into believing that fellow employees are in actuality part of his or her “extended family.”
HOW MILLENNIALS (AND OTHERS) WILL SUCCEED IN FUTURE
Virtually all of us want to be in a position to be valued and given the opportunity to make a difference in our chosen career. We all want to be taken seriously and treated with respect, and the sooner the better. That’s especially true when we first enter the workforce. We may have just earned our degree in our chosen professional specialty and we’re excited about having—and widely sharing—the knowledge and skills we believe we possess. But you know what? Until you are actually offered a position, hiring companies don’t really care what you want, need or desire in a job. They principally care just about one thing: What can you offer the company, i.e., how can you make the company money, save the company money, or both? Hard fact of life.
Once you are in fact offered a position, the hiring company definitely will then seek to learn what it is that will make you “happy,” will make you want to accept the offer. Still, even after you are hired, nothing will be given to you simply because you want it or desire to have it. You will have to earn the right to be heard and taken seriously. In other words, you, like virtually every person in virtually every profession, will have to first “pay your dues.”
Can the 80-million-strong Millennial generation ultimately exert enough power and influence to mold the future workplace into an environment more to their liking? Perhaps. Still, history and experience clearly demonstrate the uncanny ability of those who are now the “oppressed” easily morphing into the new “oppressors,” if and when they take over the reins of leadership.
We shall just have to wait and see what develops.
Roberts is CEO of Roberts Golden, a boutique consultancy. Papay is CEO and co-founder of Waggle, a real-time employee feedback platform.
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