Across America - and particularly among technology and creative types - the grumbling is getting louder. “They are not using me to my full potential.” “I’m not growing.” “I don’t have access to the tools I need to excel.” “I’m not getting the mentoring I expected.” “I don’t see any opportunities for advancement.” “I’ve been here just 18 months and I’ve already outgrown this job.”
Before you dismiss such remarks as the whining of a spoiled generation, consider that Millennials – or those born between the late 1970s and late 1990s – now make up the largest group of people in the United States and much of the global workforce. They will make up half the U.S. workforce by 2020 and 75 percent by 2025, as Baby Boomer retirements accelerate.
Consider also that decades of research by both academics and consultants demonstrate a direct correlation between employee engagement and financial performance. Aon Hewitt boasts that, on average, companies certified as “Best Employers,” earn operating profits that are 4 percent higher; sales growth that is 6 percent higher; and employee turnover rates that are 33 percent lower than their non-certified peers.
Make no mistake. Winning the hearts and minds of Millennials will be critical to winning the talent war in the coming decade, and that will require countless companies and managers to make big changes in how they manage and motivate the workforce.
In its 2015 Trends in Global Employee Engagement report, Aon Hewitt found employee engagement levels plateaued in 2014 and that employees’ overall work experience was deteriorating. In October 2015, Gallup reported that the percentage of U.S. workers it considers engaged in their jobs averaged just 32.1 percent, essentially unchanged since March and well below the levels seen before the last recession.
Yet, even as the unemployment rate approaches its lowest level in 7.5 years, many employers remain oblivious to the forces driving the griping.
“This is a generation of employees with technological fluency that is willing to live at home longer until they find a company that they truly want to work for,” writes Jacob Morgan, who has interviewed dozens of CEOs around the world for his work as an author and co-founder of Future of Work Community, an online resource for talent management practitioners. “In other words, organizations must shift from creating an environment where they assume that people need to work there to one where people want to work there.”
Morgan says the most forward-thinking employers are investing hundreds of millions of dollars to overhaul their technology, offices and talent management systems in a bid to create such environments.
“The big shift we are seeing now is that the employees are telling the organization what tools they want to work with, what values they want to promote, what types of places they want to work in,” Morgan says. “I can’t think of a single industry where this is not relevant. It cuts across all careers, whether engineering, marketing or in any creative position.”
In his 2014 book, “The Future of Work,” Morgan lays out how technology, demographics and globalization are reshaping the workplace and the steps employers can take to gain an edge in competing for top talent.
WHY CHANGING THE WORKPLACE MATTERS Millennials are even hastening the demise of one of corporate America’s most despised institutions – the annual performance evaluation. Accenture made waves in July 2015, when it announced it would eliminate its annual review process beginning Sept. 1 after concluding it caused more frustration than results. The global consulting firm is moving toward a system of more frequent and less formal evaluations.
To compete for top programmers, TechSmith participates in a program at nearby Michigan State University that pairs Amazon, General Motors, Ford, Symantec and other employers with teams of computer science students to develop market ready applications. The program gives it an edge when it comes to hiring interns. TechSmith also keeps its kitchen stocked with food and beverages, has lunch catered every Friday and holds employee recognition events every month.
Heathfield predicts that technology companies based in small markets will have to become much more comfortable hiring remote employees if they are going to compete for top talent.
“One of our challenges in mid-Michigan is that if we have some candidate in California who loves our company and wants to work for us, there are no other companies he can work for here if the position does not work out,” Heathfield says. “Our chief technology officer is retiring in 2016, and I absolutely believe the CTO we hire to replace him is going to be remote. That’s a huge jump for my husband, but not so much for our daughter. At her last job, she had teams in six countries and her boss was in London. It’s a different world.”
In the realm of technology, companies are shifting to Cloud-based tools, enabling workers to quickly and inexpensively organize around projects regardless of their location. This is allowing new levels of collaboration and innovation. Yet the gap between the consumer web and enterprise remains large and is creating growing employee frustration at many organizations, Morgan says.
In its most recent report on global employee engagement, Aon Hewitt found increasing employee dissatisfaction with many of the resources they are provided.
“Employees who are engaged, but not empowered, are more likely to be frustrated, burned out and become disengaged,” says Ken Oehler, Ph.d., Aon Hewitt’s global engagement practice leader. “This puts organizations at risk of having suboptimal productivity and higher-than-average employee turnover.”
That has not stopped employees and job candidates from using the connectivity enabled by the web to strengthen their own hand in employment negotiations.
A top employee with high-demand skills who no longer wants to commute three hours a day to and from the office need only start returning emails from recruiters on LinkedIn, for example. This reality not only helps explain the proliferation of “Best Places to Work” lists, but also the eagerness of employers to get on them.
To get on those lists, employers must be prepared to assign new employees to teams and projects that will challenge their skills, provide career counseling, feed them and allow them to telecommute for those occasions when they need to leave the office early or come in late so they can attend a family activity, care for an ailing parent, or attend to some other personal priority.
“Millennials value flexibility more than money,” says Susan M.Heathfield, a consultant whowrites about human resourcetopics on About.com whenshe’s not helping her husbandrun TechSmith Corp., a 300-employee software company inOkemos, Mich. “Sure, they wantall the money they can get, butwork is something you do inbetween weekends.”