McKinsey recently carried out qualitative research in the USA, conducting 200 in-depth interviews with young professionals across 120 companies. The purpose was to look for ways to engage younger employees effectively.
Each generation seems to see stark differences in the upcoming generation. McKinsey came across the following quote:
“Because all the peoples of the world are part of one electronically based, intercommunicating network, young people everywhere share a kind of experience that none of the elders ever had. . . .” The quote was written in 1970!
Commentators have branded today’s youth as “millennials”—workers who are said to be difficult to manage and likely to quit at a moment’s notice. But can you define everyone born between 1980 and 2000 by a handful of general characteristics? The reality is more complex.
The research highlighted what shapes this ‘millennial’ generation: the harsh economic realities they’ve seen, the burden of student-loan debt and coming into a workforce amid the global financial crisis. This has understandably influenced their decisions to join or leave companies and sharpened their desire to find meaning and purpose in the chaos of the world in which they’ve grown up. Millennials also speak of themselves as hyper-connected globally—“always on”—and this natural affinity for technology provides them with unique skills and insights that managers can use.
So how are organisations adapting? Here are some examples of actions some companies are adopting.
Put communication on steroids: Yes, all employees are eager to hear from top management, but millennials expect this to happen at hyper speed, in real-time, with two-way communication that accepts input from everyone, followed by fairly immediate action. One company in the research conducts surveys of its mostly millennial employee base every 90 days and reports the raw findings and analysis, to all employees. This approach provides unprecedented visibility into issues and solutions—and encourages a rhythm of continuous improvement.
Develop a culture of mentorship: Many young people thrive on collaborative work and support from colleagues, but few companies have figured out how to build a culture that helps existing employees to mentor new ones. One company is testing the idea of mentoring circles whereby three more experience employees support the a young person when they join. .
Get creative about professional growth: This young generation has grown up watching entrepreneurs reach the height of success before the age of 30. They are frustrated by the lack of advancement opportunity in today’s flat structures. Short-term, temporary projects over and above the day job are nothing new, but for millennials, who thrive on challenges, they are crucial and young workers say they are energised by job rotation programmes, a practice which has fallen by the wayside in many companies.
Make flexibility more than polite talk: Young employees value the genuine blending of their work and personal lives. Approaches whereby core hours mean that staff are responsible for their results, regardless of their work hours, creates trust. Flexibility is also important to millennials who are starting families and many cite their families as a top priority and they want more family-friendly policies at work.
Make young employees part of the solution: Allowing millennials to pose questions that foster solutions, and to pause and engage with their elders before moving on to action means they can identify with the role of the manager. It’s crucial to encourage this two-way dialogue between the generations. Given the right attitudes, senior and junior leaders can bridge the cultural gap that divides them.
Young people can help show the way, not because they are so different, but because they have a fresh perspective and can raise relevant questions about why more progress hasn’t been made already. Leaders who listen, and have the courage to break new ground, can improve their odds of building a lasting legacy that serves generations to come.
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