It’s all the rage right now in the media and in leadership forums and discussion groups to talk about how to ‘engage’ Millennials in the workforce, to ensure we’re able to capitalize on their strengths and abilities, while embracing their differences in worldview, approach, and values compared with other generations they work alongside of.
But some leaders have spoken out, sharing that struggling to ‘engage’ Millennials is absolutely the wrong way to look at it. Anthony Lye, for example, the Chief Product Officer at Red Book Connect — a global mobile technology solutions company providing technology for the restaurant, retail and hospitality industries – believes that what’s needed is not to engage, but to attract, motivate and retain top Millennial contributors. ‘Engage’ sounds pejorative – as if we have to run after Millennials with all sorts of enticing carrots to keep them interested in working rather than appreciate their bona fide differences and create work cultures that satisfy their legitimate needs.
Anthony shares his views:
“Complaining about Millennials is in vogue and business leaders are supposedly struggling to ‘engage’ Generation Y and make them productive. Corporate recruiters and business leaders claim that 20-somethings are unprepared and difficult to manage. Again and again, commentators say they’re just too narcissistic, solipsistic and entitled for the working world.
If you want to manage and retain Gen “Me”, Gen “We” or whatever you feel like calling the generation entering the workforce, stop trying to engage them.
‘Engage’ is a vague and loaded buzzword—is this Star Trek or a business? You can engage an opponent, engage an audience and get engaged, but how in the world do you measure your success at ‘engaging’ Millennials within a business?
Your Millennials chose to apply for a job with your company and probably want to succeed or, at minimum, keep their jobs. They engaged you first, so stop assuming that you have hired a bunch of digi-zombies who must be engaged.
Millennials can be highly motivated, productive and insightful when you set them loose with creative boundaries. This has been my experience at Red Book Connect, where I manage a team that includes Millennials along with other generations of contributors.
If you’re a Baby Boomer or member of Gen X, take a moment to compare how different Millennials’ education was compared to yours. A huge chunk of Gen Y can’t remember the world without PCs and the internet, and some can’t remember the world without smartphones. It’s startling, I know.
From an early age, Millennials learned that they should use computers and mobile devices to get things done as efficiently as possible and on their time. Unlike older generations, which would have revised and edited school papers by hand, Gen Y edited in MS Word or Google Docs. Whereas older generations might have written invitations or made phone calls to organize an event, for years 20-somethings have sent mass texts and created Facebook events.
And here’s the key: while Boomers and Gen Xers needed to attend live classes, visit the library for research, and read all the required materials in order to succeed, huge number of Millennials have found more efficient ways of learning. Between Wikipedia, Kahn Academy, recorded lectures, mobile study apps and Google searching through books (why read and browse for data or quotes?), Millennials have learned that they will succeed by doing things their way. Thus, they’re deeply drawn to work that promises self-direction, work-life balance, fulfillment and other benefits and perks that come across as entitled to older generations.
Millennials do plenty of “engaging” without our prodding, and while I, too, am guilty of using that word, I suggest we take it out of the lexicon for moment so that we might elevate our discussion from theory to practice. To attract, manage and retain Gen Y effectively, I offer five tips:
Make your current employees happy
Millennials want to choose their employer based on fit, expected satisfaction, career-life balance and the opportunity to make an impact. If your current employees are dissatisfied, attracting and retaining new recruits will be an immense challenge. Today, Glassdoor and similar review sites provided a clear if imbalanced view right into culture of your organization. The comments on that website can scare away great recruits. Your standing in the media, social networks and review sites like Glassdoor could make or break your ability to attract the best talent. Whether you decide to introduce a lavish break room, weekly work at home days or regular happy hours, focus on improving morale — Millennial candidates will catch wind of your efforts.
Put the onus of training and development on Millennials
If you run a restaurant, would your want your new servers to come in on their first day clueless or would you prefer that your recruits have already worked through five hours of training on their mobile device or smartphone? The truth is that Millennials prefer to learn at their own pace and schedule rather than go through lectures and overly structured training. Make your training content succinct, entertaining, mobile and self-directed. Make sure there’s a discussion board where trainees can discuss material and share content. And as for your training material, video clips under three minutes long are ideal because they will fit within the attention span of your audience. Just set a clear deadline for completing training and let them do the rest.
Encourage them to think for themselves
If you were to wander through a college campus visiting random classes, I suspect you would notice a trend. In many lectures, instead of taking notes on their laptops, students will be browsing Facebook. In discussion-based and laboratory classes, students will focus and participate. Millennials often despise educational and work environments based on passively absorbing knowledge and regurgitating it later. Instead, they prefer the ability to acquire knowledge and apply it through discussion, debate and action. Working with Millennials is all about asking for their independent ideas, discussing them and funneling them into a plan of action. To stimulate innovation in a group of Millennials, allow the best ideas to rise, otherwise they will tend to lose motivation and faith in your leadership.
Millennials grew up with video games like Duck Hunt, Super Mario and Pokémon, and they’ve since transitioned to massive online games and all sorts of addictive mobile games. Video games establish intense competition and cooperation. Gamify workplace training, regular tasks and operational goals to bring out the ‘coopetive’ side in your Millennials. Let’s face it – some jobs tasks are dull. Gamifying them with points, badges, leaderboards and team dimensions adds stakes and motivation that otherwise wouldn’t exist.
Listen and adapt
The people you manage know a lot about how they want to be managed. If you have an abysmal Millennial retention rate, investigate why. Ask those who leave why they left and take their feedback seriously. If a Millennial has committed three years to your company, ask what encourages him or her to stay. Most importantly, ask your current employees what you can do to support their productivity, satisfaction and motivation. This is much smarter than blaming it on Millennials, being frustrated at your low retention rate or guessing haphazardly at solutions to the Gen Y exodus.
Perhaps it’s part of the generational role we play to lament the shortcomings of the younger ones. At some point, Millennials will find themselves frustrated and disappointed with a forthcoming generation (for what, we cannot possibly imagine). As much as we would like Millennials to empathize with our perspective and learn to be managed the way we’re used to managing, that’s not realistic. We can be smug about how self-centered Millennials are and hopelessly continue to try to ‘engage’ them. Or, we can create work environments where Millennials do all the engaging themselves. The businesses that thrive in the next 10 years will do the latter.”
(For more about Anthony Lye and Red Book Connect, visit http://redbookconnect.com.)
(To learn more about building a satisfying, successful career, visit kathycaprino.com.)