Keeping millennial workers happy is smart business
Each morning, Michelle Introsso, 22, huddles with her co-workers at Cirle, brainstorms with them on a blackboard, and chats with them online as the day unfolds. When the workday ends nine hours later, she often heads with them to dinner or for drinks.
The camaraderie, she says, is what she looks for from the people she works with and allows her to do a better job. "I'm not just an employee; I'm part of a team."
Today, millennials like Introsso want to integrate their work and personal lives even more than previous generations. They want their workplaces to be like second homes, their co-workers to be their friends, and their bosses to be their workplace parents or mentors.
While the big push in creating social workplaces has centered on ice cream-making contests and costume competitions, experts say the future is going to require a more strategic approach to building a "fun" culture that encourages camaraderie, loyalty and dedication.
Researchers say millennials' expectations for social connections at work set them apart. A survey by Millennial Branding shows this young generation has a team-oriented focus and enjoys collaboration.
"They were on sports teams growing up where the teams were rewarded and want the same feeling in the workplace," said Dan Schawbel, managing partner of Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research and management consulting firm. "If they are able to make friends at work, they are more likely to stay with your company and be happy doing so."
There are significant business reasons why employers should want millennials to stay and be happy. The millennial generation – people born between 1982 and 1993 – numbers about 80 million in America, slightly larger than the baby-boomer generation. By 2025, millennials, also known as Gen Y, will account for more than 75 percent of the global workforce.
Employee engagement, particularly when it comes to millennials, is a top priority for businesses, such as accounting firm Ernst & Young, where 60 percent of its employees are young workers. Karyn Twaronite, EY Americas inclusiveness officer, says her organization has taken a proactive approach to managing its increasing millennial population.
"We try to put in more formalized opportunities for networking and teaming inside and outside of the office," Twaronite said. For example, the firm encourages community involvement by teams and puts younger workers on projects involving more experienced staffers so they can expand their networks and look for mentors.
Nikolai De Leo, 25 and a staff member in the transaction advisory services practice at EY in Miami, said the payoff is big when companies foster more social interaction. "If you get to know someone on a personal level, you're more open to their ideas or anything they would teach you on the professional side."
Those deeper relationships, he says, are what will keep him at the firm. "Liking the people you work with is huge." He finds getting to know a manager on a personal level also allows him more opportunity to earn trust, and that pays off, too. "You can have the freedom to operate independently and have a better workplace balance once you gain their trust."
Through research, EY learned that its millennial workers want to be themselves at work, have their voices heard, and have give-and-take relationships that are not just work-focused with managers. "That's incredibility important to them," said Twaronite. Now, the firm is training its managers to respond and give more guidance, like a parent would, and show young workers a path to upward mobility. The firm also is coaching its Gen Y workers to ask for specific feedback.
Millennials say businesses are on the right track when they hold barbeques and company retreats, but efforts can fall flat if they end there. Tracy Thomas, a 31-year-old senior marketing manager at Oasis Outsourcing in West Palm Beach, Fla., said "fun" activities are the place to start to create a sense of family. But day-to-day, managers need to encourage an environment where co-workers can socialize, office doors are open, and successes are celebrated. "Whatever level you are, you have to feel you can reach across and create relationships and that it's supported," Thomas said.
Creating that collaborative environment can be easier with the right office design. Richard Awdeh – founder of Cirle, a Miami-based medical-technology incubator – says his company's office features blackboards and whiteboards throughout, open desks, beanbag chairs and a snack wall. "The culture fosters collaboration among the team," he said.
With a workforce almost entirely of millennials, even hiring at Cirle is a team effort. "I have others on the team spend time with the person and make sure that anyone I hire is someone they can socialize with." Awdeh said his reasoning is pure business: "If someone likes the environment and people they work with, they end up doing great work."
Some companies are finding the most effective way of creating that "second-home" environment comes from allowing millennials to create social bonds the way they're used to doing it – online. At Cirle, Introsso said she and her co-workers instant-message each other all day long. "We might not speak face-to-face for five hours, but we're constantly communicating."
At other workplaces, employers are taking a different tactic – embracing parental involvement to attract and hold onto young talent and boost morale. They are inviting millennial parents to open houses and hosting "Bring Our Parents to Work Day."
At the heart of all successful millennial workplaces is communication. Today's 20-somethings want to be able to candidly speak their minds.
"We are a social-networking generation, which is why communication is so important to us," said Jeremy Condomina, a 27-year-old business analyst and computer-system trainer with Dade Paper in Miami. "Whether or not we hang out outside of work, we want to know that we have a work family and even if we step on toes, it's going to be OK."
–89 percent of millennials say they crave a social and fun workplace, while only 60 percent of baby boomers surveyed wanted a social and fun workplace.
–88 percent of millennials said they wanted their co-workers to be their friends.
–89 percent of workers from every generation believe that work-life balance is key to happiness on the job.
–75 percent of millennials would like to have mentors.
–71 percent of millennials want their co-workers to be a second family.
SOURCE: Millennial Branding, PGi.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal LLC, a provider of news and advice on how to balance work and life. She can be reached at email@example.com. Read her columns and blog at http://worklifebalancingact.com/.
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