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Gen Y Speaker: How to Engage Millennial Workers

As Gen Y speakers and Millennials experts can tell you, it’s a brand new workplace landscape out there, one that features three distinct and powerful generations: Baby Boomers, Generation Xers, and Millennials. As Millennials become a bigger segment of the working population,  it’s important to keep in mind that, like the generations that came before, they have unique work styles and learning needs. To better understand this, we sat down with Lisa Orell, CPC, author of popular books including Millennials Incorporated and Millennials into Leadership.

S: From the perspective of Gen Y speakers, and Millennials experts and consultants, what are some of the most important trends and happenings we’re seeing emerge amongst people who hail from this age group?

O: Communication is key: In a survey conducted by Yahoo! HotJobs and Robert Half International, over 60 percent of Millennials responded that they want to communicate with their managers at least once a day. Unfortunately, many members of “older” generations feel that communicating that often with employees is cumbersome, but the Millennials require it, or they will leave. Thus, smart companies are requiring managers of Millennials to accommodate this.

Also, training and development is critical. According to a recent PwC national survey, Millennials rated training and development as an employee benefit 3 times higher than they rated cash bonuses. And they not only want skill-based training; they want training on soft skills, too.

75% of Millennials surveyed (nationally) by Deloitte said they thought their companies could do a better job at training/grooming their future leaders.

S: What are a few unexpected things people would never guess about members of this generation?

O: They ARE loyal to employers if they receive the things they need to succeed: mentorship, close ties to their boss, training and development, and being challenged. Most people complain that Millennials “aren’t loyal” to employers, but research shows differently. They ARE willing to work hard. Many employers complain they don’t have a strong work ethic. But they typically DO. They just want to do it on their terms, and don’t always understand why they have to just work 9:00 to 5:00. For companies who have structures where flex-time IS possible, they quickly see that they get MORE hours of their employees each day than if they made them stay in the office. They are NOT ALL wanting raises and promotions quickly. The PwC survey above shows that.

Their helicopter parents also follow them into the professional workforce. In my 7+ years of conducting presentations for companies about how to better recruit, manage and retain Millennial talent, I’ve yet to ask this question and NOT get a hand raised: “Who here has heard from a Millennial employee’s parent at work?” Even if it’s small private session for a Management Team, versus an audience of 300+, I always get at least 1 to 2 hands raised. The Helicopter Parents (typically Boomers) are actively involved in their adult children’s lives and think nothing of calling their son or daughter’s employer/manager to: Inquire why their kid didn’t get the promotion or raise; ask questions about the benefits package their ADULT Millennial child brought home for their parents to look at; etc. AGAIN, I’m referring to “children” who are in their 20s in corporate environments…, not parents calling on behalf of their teenager who is working at a part-time retail job.

I recently conducted a presentation for more than 100 executives and one of them (a senior vice president) shared that she received a call from the father of one of her Millennial employees (a 26-year-old female) saying that he didn’t think his daughter’s parking spot was safe and asking could it be moved. Sometimes the Millennials know/ask their folks to make these calls, BUT in this case, the Millennial employee had no idea her dad had called her boss. Regardless, the helicopter parents willingly do it to support their adult children. I have COUNTLESS stories on this topic.

S: How does this generation fundamentally differ from those which came before – and those will follow after?

O: Millennials’ wants and needs aren’t much different from those of older generations; they just have a lower tolerance threshold than generations before them. A Boomer may put up with a job for five years even if he or she is bored or doesn’t feel valued, but a Millennial may only tolerate it for five months. Why? Because their Boomer parents told them, “Life is too short! Don’t stay at a job you’re not happy at.”

A Millennial’s emotional attachment to a job isn’t with the company itself; it’s with the relationships they create IN the company. That’s very different from the generations before them where the mindset was “work is work;” deal with it even if your boss is a jerk, or you’re bored, or don’t really like your co-workers. “Enjoyment” was supposed to be after work, on weekends, and on vacation time. Millennials don’t think like that. A brand may be the thing that attracts a Millennial to the company, but once they start the job, it becomes ALL ABOUT the relationships they create.

S: How might Millennials be unexpectedly similar to other generations in ways casual observers might not expect?

O: Basically, they want the same things older generations want, like feeling valued at work. Again, they just have a lower tolerance level.

S: How are Millennials changing the way we communicate and interact?

O: They are requiring their managers and leadership to “step up their game” in terms of communicating more often. One of the biggest complaints Millennials share with me is that their boss(s) cancels their one-on-ones a lot. I have clients who now make it a policy that if a boss cancels them more than twice, without a valid reason, THE BOSS gets written-up. Older generations don’t complain much if their boss cancels them; BUT the Millennials take it very seriously. They WANT that time and feel “dismissed”, and not valued, when it happens. They are influencing their employers to embrace social media more for marketing, customer service, and sales.

They are influencing their employers to develop more on-line based communication channels for internal communication and sharing (i.e. intranets and Facebook-like online communities for employee communication) as well.

S: How is this generation changing the world? What kind of impact has it had on our society already?

O: They were the first generation required to do community service in high school as a graduation requirement. Therefore, they are (as a whole) very philanthropic and feel the need to help others in need. Many of them are bringing these values into the workforce and making their employers get involved in supporting non-profit causes.

When choosing a company to work for, many Millennials are more swayed by the company if it’s got a strong corporate social responsibility (CSR) culture. That often outweighs pay and benefits as an important factor in their decision-making for where they’ll apply for a job. Also, LGBT and mixed race couples are accepted by them. Millennial have GREATLY impacted lifestyle acceptance. There weren’t LGBT student groups in high schools and LGBT diversity groups in corporations before the Millennials. And, they also have a “color blind” mentality when it comes to race. They tend to have friends of all races, and don’t see an issue with dating or marrying people of another race. Certainly, this isn’t totally accurate in EVERY town/region, but it has VASTLY improved in a very broad way across the country.

S: What advice would you and other Gen Y speakers and expert consultants give businesses or brands hoping to more effectively engage Millennials?

O: Peer recommendations mean everything. They are an extremely close-knit generation and value peer recommendations, even from strangers who are peers, more than flashy marketing campaigns. As a matter of fact, research reveals they rank “peers” as their most valued source of information. The key take away? To attract them, companies should include Millennial testimonials and imagery in their sales and marketing materials, as well as include Millennial-created content in their social media efforts.

They require (and demand) guidance. Although they are confident and perceive themselves as “individuals”, countless research shows that Millennials tend to struggle with decision-making. Remember, this is the generation raised by helicopter parents, and many of those parents continue to “hover” over their Millennial kids well into their adulthood. So if marketing efforts and sales teams focus on being positioned as “Trusted Advisors” versus on “sales speak” (focused solely on making a sale), they will fare much better with landing Millennial customers.

S: More and more Gen Yers are moving online for their news, information, shopping, and more. From the viewpoint of Gen Y speakers and Millennials experts, what’s the best way to capture their attention and interact with them these days?

O: Companies who are not active with social media are missing the boat. Millennials like to RESEARCH and if a company/brand doesn’t have a strong, active online presence, they can miss out on effectively reaching the Millennials as consumers.

S: What does success look like for today’s Millennial in your opinion, and what’s driving them as they go about making decisions in business and life? Is it a desire to enjoy the better things in life? Have better work-life balance?

O: Yes. They want to have it all, and don’t understand why they have to sacrifice enjoying their job/work environment just because “it’s work.” This is also the first generation of MEN that are super hands-on as parents. They wear their babies on their bodies like (only) moms used to, and they push strollers and carry diaper bags with Dad-pride. Thus, they don’t want to miss their kids’ baseball and soccer games, and school plays/events, like THEIR dads might have done. This is causing culture shifts at companies because these younger fathers are demanding more flexibility to BE WITH their kids.

For a more in-depth look at succeeding in a multi-generational workplace, you can check out Make Change for You, now available in paperback. Information for dynamic keynote speeches focusing on generations and millennial marketing is available at: www.akeynotespeaker.com/speaking/

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