At the end of 2015, Millennials became the largest generation in our workforce surpassing baby boomers and Gen X. By 2030 – in just 15 years – they will represent 75 percent of the workforce. The oldest Millennials are 35 this year, and the youngest are 18. Over the next 15 years, Millennials will become our senior executives and CEOs . . . and yet, many Gen X and Baby Boomer business leaders still don’t “get them” when it comes to the workplace.
An Enlightened Speaker Series event in Austin brought together two futurists and an innovation researcher to discuss Millennials in the workplace and technology trends they are influencing.
Anne Boysen of Pearson Strategy Group set the scene by comparing two recent presentations she’d done to two different audiences – one of Millennial students at Texas State University, and one to a group of Baby Boomers in Norway. The Texas State students worked their phones, tweeting and Instagramming. The Baby Boomers put their phones away and paid attention to the presentation.
But in Boysen’s view, it was the multitasking Millennials who made their mark. “My presentation ended up on YouTube and Storify,” she said. “If all the speakers who came to campus got that type of attention, there is no PR campaign or marketer in the nation that could have helped that university get better visibility – it was fantastic.”
By contrast, she labeled the Norwegian conference as out of touch. “[It] didn’t even have a hashtag,” she said. “It had no digital footprint. It was a missed opportunity.”
In a nutshell, that story sums up the challenges and opportunities facing employers who hire Millennials. “If you are about curating content in any capacity and you want to appeal to the younger generation, you can’t tell them to leave their technology behind and put away their phones – that’s not how they are wired,” Boysen said. “They live for their technology.”
One thing technology lets Millennials do is co-create. In other words, instead of selling them a finished product, let them put their personal spin on it. Let them have a role in creating the message for the product.
“It’s the DIY mindset,” Boysen said. “Hollywood is losing ground to YouTube because the kids today are more likely to look up to an authentic YouTuber who is self made.” They bring that mindset to their jobs. If, on their first day at work, they get a list of “do this, do that,” they might find a better way to do that, she said. If they don’t get heard, it’s likely they’ll stay for a year or two and move on.
But that attitude can also work to an employer’s benefit. “Your mission is to find a way to create jobs for them that they feel strongly about,” said Joyce Gioia of the Herman Group. If that happens, she said, Millennials can be your best employees. “What we need to do is to design positions that allow them to do the things they really love to do,” Gioia said. “Yes, we still need them to do some of the not so fun jobs, but we can possibly give them special projects that will put them on teams where they get to do what they love to do – which is interact with technology.”
Gioia updated the joke about why grandchildren get along so well with grandparents — because they have a common enemy. Now, she said, Millennials and Matures get along well, because they have two common enemies – the Baby Boomers and the Gen X’ers. That creates an opportunity for employers. “Pair your Millennials and your Matures and let the Matures mentor the Millennials,” Gioia said, “but, also create reverse apprenticeships where the Millennials are teaching the Matures.”
The tech-savvy nature of the Millennials enhances that cross-generational relationship. They can work with the technology they love, and raise the abilities of older employees, and because they’ll feel rewarded, they will reward employers with their loyalty, she added.
Bert Haskell of Pecan Street is looking ahead at coming technologies. “Five years hence, we have an IoT [Internet of Things] lab, our own 3-D printer, electronic platforms, we’re building our own energy management systems for homes, we’re collecting big data, analyzing big data, distributing big data through a portal — and all these tools have become part of our laboratory where the Millennials and other employees are taking advantage of learning.”
Developments in solar power mesh with the do-it-yourself attitude of Millennials, Haskell said. The installed base of solar energy is doubling every two years. Batteries are getting less expensive, and are deploying at the same fast rate. “They have incredible numbers and when they set their mind to something like sustainability, they produce more energy than they use,” he added.
“The term we use is ‘distributed everything,’ a highly distributed infrastructure,” Haskell said. “Energy, water, and food produced as close to the point of contact or use, as possible, and often produced by the people that are going to consume it.” People will make and store their own energy, and utilities will become a backup service. Water, he said, will be increasingly recycled, to the point of using 300 gallons over and over again for drinking, bathing, and food preparation. “This is the environment that the Millennials are heading into,” he said. “Are they prepared? I don’t know.”
On the one hand, Haskell said, young people are picking up technology skills, but on the other, “the more successful and industrious are also picking up core skills for basic survival and maintenance of our infrastructure – plumbing, electrical and welding,” he said.
Boysen agreed. She said the younger generation sees higher college tuition, and older siblings who are losing their jobs and struggling under loads of student debt, and they’re returning to vocational training. “Blue collar jobs are getting back in vogue – that will be interesting to watch that develop,” she said.
Gioia said it will be interesting to watch what happens after the Millennials generation is fully in the workforce. “Generation Z is God’s gift to you as employers,” she declared. “Imagine the Millennials with all of their energy and creativity and tech knowledge and abilities, without the disadvantages like impatience, short attention spans and desire to start second from the top.”
Part of the problem in the labor market today is that we have stopped training young people for jobs, Gioia said. Not only should employers be growing their own employees and creating their own training programs, but they should be conducting what she called “stay interviews.”
“Find out what it is about your workplace they love and what it is about their job that makes them feel like they want to leave,” she said. “If you conduct these interviews, you’ll be able to keep the good people.”
Gioia said young people are looking for three things: training and development; life-work balance; and career path. “Creating individual growth programs is really good idea for this generation,” she said. “You must hold them accountable – accountability is key.”
The well-documented impatience of Millennials makes it hard to hang onto them. Sometimes, Gioia said, they just have to leave. But they might come back. Gioia suggested keeping in touch with other employers who might be able to exchange employees with you. “People want to have different surroundings and settings and you will profit because they will bring back the best ideas from wherever they’ve been,” she said.
This idea can also be kept in-house, if a company has multiple offices. “Consider that one of the perks you would give a Millennial is an opportunity to work in another one of those offices for a span of time – a few weeks or a few months – every year,” she said.
“It would be wise to incentivize the Millennials a bit more,” Boysen said. Since Millennials are very entrepreneurial, companies can offer what is called an “intrepreneurship.” That means giving a person ownership of their area of expertise. When things go well, they get rewarded. When things don’t go well, they’re held accountable. “It’s giving them that ownership and showing them how success here can lead to the next success to get them to where they want to be,” she explained.
In addition, take a look at benefits packages, advised Gioia. A benefit package for a Millennial should be different than for a Baby Boomer, because the Millennials want different things. “A cafeteria-style package will better engage them at a higher level,” she added.
“Take care of your younger generations and they will take care of your customers and your business,” Gioia concluded.