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VOICES FROM THE INDUSTRY: As boomers age, companies need to court Millennials

June 4, 2007

Baby boomers are fast approaching the official retirement age, with the first of them turning 60 last year-President Bush and Bill Clinton being the most prominent among them. And as the boomers turn gray, a new generation has begun to make its presence known in the corporate world.

In the 1990s, it was Generation X. Today, it is the so-called Millennial Generation-people born between 1977 and 1995. Tech-savvy, happy and creative, Millennials are nearly 80 million strong, by some estimates.

They are in some ways very similar to their boomer parents and grandparents, and in others, quite different.

These eager young individuals represent a vast reservoir of talent, and competition to hire and retain the best of them is expected to increase in the years ahead. Does your organization offer the opportunities that will make it an employer of choice among the Millennials?

Here are four characteristics of the Millennial Generation that companies should consider if they want to develop a culture appealing to these newest members of the work force.

Responsibility

Millennials are achievement-oriented and crave responsibility. Facile multitaskers, they thrive on challenges. They are confident, having grown up with unsparing parental support. Millennials desire to do their jobs well and want the opportunity to make a real contribution to the company right away-not just toil away with rudimentary tasks. They require structure, but once given direction, Millennials should be allowed to work to meet the task at hand. Be aware, however, that Millennials have grown up in an environment that encouraged teamwork and prefer to work in groups. So expect them to seek out a fair amount of collaboration from co-workers.

Millennials also don't see their career as a narrow path, but rather perceive many avenues ahead of them. Companies that successfully retain Millennials will be the ones that offer them a variety of ways for professional development.

Mentoring

Considered by some to be coddled, Millennials had very involved and supportive parents and were showered with positive feedback. Consequently, they will require hand-holding at times, despite their mien of confidence. Companies seeking to attract Millennials will do well to have a formal and structured mentoring program in place and encourage their new hires to take full advantage of the benefit.

Given their upbringing, Millennials respect persons in authority and seek to have relationships with them, so don't hesitate to assign them senior-level managers as mentors. They will respond well to the personal attention.

Social values

Like the Baby Boomers, whose idealism defined the late 1960s and early '70s, Millennials have a strong sense of social consciousness. They accept diversity and value the environment.

Millennials seek opportunities to work for causes. They typically name volunteerism as the most important thing they can do with their time. In fact, many have volunteered on team projects at their respective colleges and seek the same opportunities to work along colleagues to assist not-for-profits.

Companies should foster a culture that reflects the values that are important to Millennials. More important, companies should create a formal system, supported by leadership, that identifies non-profits requiring assistance and organize volunteer teams to tackle the project.

It is also not only important to find opportunities to volunteer, but equally important to provide employees with time to do so. Many leading-edge firms provide their employees with volunteer time in which the employee can either volunteer with co-workers or spend the time on the project of their choice. Offering a flexible program is key.

Balanced life

Once they entered the corporate world, many Boomers eventually became entrenched in the seemingly non-stop work culture of the "go-go" 1980s and '90s. Long hours were the hallmarks of success. Millennials have seen the toll this ethic has taken on their parents and on family life, and they don't wish to follow in their footsteps.

Young professionals want a more balanced life and will look for firms that offer work-life benefits such as flexible schedules, comp time and the freedom to work at home. It's important for companies to showcase employees who have adopted work-life schedules in internal publications and videos. In this way, all employees get to see how important this topic is and recognize that there is opportunity to discuss flexible schedules with managers.

There have always been generation gaps, but that doesn't mean companies shouldn't make an effort to gain an understanding of the values and viewpoints of younger workers. In fact, it is vital that they do. With hiring competition expected to increase in coming years, Millennials can afford to be choosy. Making accommodations for the next generation is a sound business decision, one guaranteed to pay dividends in the years ahead.



Pottratz is KPMG LLP's partner in charge of human resources in Indianapolis. Views expressed here are the writer's.
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