Millennials have long been a challenge for leaders who have been seeking to improve engagement and productivity in the workplace. With a preference for transparency, direct dialogue, better work-life balance, the millennials have challenged established organizational practices like no generation before them.
Now as the millennials take on managerial roles at the workplace, organizational leadership has to come up with strategies to better engage with them. Here are five tips based on what we at Kwench have learned from working with hundreds of companies on their employee engagement programs.
Tip 1: Listen Closely to your Millennial Managers.
Millennials are more candid at voicing their opinions, and they don’t necessarily seek anonymity to do so. Even in cultures where the power distance is higher as in India, the millennials are more likely to state their stand on issues upfront. Neither do they hesitate to show dissatisfaction by walking out of the organization. Surprisingly unlike previous generations, millennials don’t seem to change their approval of the organization as they move up the ladder (unless something changes fundamentally to alter their perception). Companies thus must institute mechanisms like open collaboration and communication platforms that adequately capture the opinions of the millennial managers and the vox millennia must be listened to.
Tip 2: Promote a culture of equality.
Studies have shown that millennials as a generational cohort demonstrate far higher levels of sensitivity to inequality than any of their predecessors. Managers in this generation like to win like anyone else, but they don’t necessarily agree to ‘win at all costs.” To better engage with managers of both genders from this generation, the workplace must be seen as one that is fair and equitable in all matters ranging from job allocations, pay, and promotions.
Tip 3: Get the employer branding right.
The millennial generation has proven to be one of the most astute and conscious generations when it comes to employer brand. One study shows that millennials who are proud to tell their friends and families about where they work are almost 20 times more likely to have an extended career with the company. Companies must thus use all means at their disposal to promote their brand internally to the employees as well. Technology platforms today let companies customize layouts and encourage employer branding in ways that were previously not possible. It is time for HR to take a page out of the Marketing team’s playbook and better engage with their ‘clients’ – the employees.
Tip 4: Leadership has to Walk the Talk
The millennials have demonstrated time and again that they prefer transparency over hierarchy. For millennial managers to be convinced of the direction the company is headed and thus to be able to better engage with their teams – they need to see authenticity from the leadership. In short, leaders now have to ‘Walk the Talk.’ When leadership tells their millennial managers that ‘they care,’ they better mean it. Research has shown that Millennials respond well to leaders who show a genuine interest in them.
Some of the questions most often asked of leaders by the millennial managers are:
What makes our company unique?
What makes us different and what do we do that will make us win ethically?
Why does leadership seem to say one thing and do another?
When the going gets tough, how do we stick to our stated principles?
Honest answers to these are the minimum threshold leadership needs to cross to convince Millennial managers to better engage further on with their teams.
Tip 5: Leverage Technology to facilitate bi-directional conversations
Millennials don’t like very much to be ordered around. They prefer to participate in conversations around topics, even if some of those are contentious and uncomfortable ones. Moreover, as a generation, they believe far lesser in power distance from the top management. As millennials move into management roles, they are increasingly showing a preference for platforms that enable them to receive real-time and transparent feedback not just from their superiors but also from their team members. Technology platforms like Instapat, today empower companies to get those conversations going seamlessly. This generation has been referred to as the ‘digital natives,’ subjecting them to formal, hierarchical unidirectional/top-down communication isn’t going to do much towards engaging them.
To sum up, I think the most uncomplicated framework leaders can use to better engage with their millennial managers is the one question asked by author Simon Sinek in his book ‘Start with Why’:
“Very few people or companies can clearly articulate WHY they do WHAT they do. By WHY I mean your purpose, cause or belief – WHY does your company exist? WHY do you get out of bed every morning? And WHY should anyone care?”
The psyche, work ethic and life choices of millennials are dissected and discussed continually by everyone from opinion columnists to psychologists to economists.
The millennial generation, whose members, born from 1980 to 2000, grew up during an unparalleled digital revolution, has a unique position in history, coming of age simultaneously with the rise of the internet, social media and all the other huge technological and communication advances we’ve seen in the past few decades.
These advances brought with them globalization, drawing the world in closer contact, and opening up new lifestyle and employment possibilities unimaginable just years before.
By 2020, millennials are projected to make up 50 percent of the global workforce, and a whopping 75 percent by 2025.
In India for example, a country of over one billion, nearly 65 percent of the population will be of working age by 2026. This striking number of individuals will not only drive India’s progress, but also supply human capital around the world.
Companies around the globe are aiming to provide the kind of work environments that attract and motivate millennials.
Of course, not all millennials can be painted with the same brush; culture plays a huge role in motivational factors and personality.
In that case, what are some key motivators for Indian millennials?
Titles and avenues for progression
Millennials in India are ambitious and conscious of titles. Providing an organizational structure with designated roles and the opportunity for upward movement is key.
Mentors make millennials feel valued and looked after by an organization. Effective mentor programs show fresh employees there is a path to promotion, and give them guidance for continued success along the way.
Millennials have grown up in a society that is constantly reminding them of the need to stay relevant. Many do not want to stay in one role, or even one place, for too long. Offering training programs and skill development courses which allow them to multi-task and fulfill a variety of roles over time will keep them engaged.
Feedback and recognition
Communication with management is vital for millennials. They want to feel challenged and recognized, in order to feel they are an integral part of the organization, and that they are making a positive difference within the company. Give constructive criticism when improvement is needed, but make sure to equally dole out praise for a job well done.
Millennials, with all their quirks, are here to stay in a big way.
Therefore, it’s imperative to harness their collective power, understand what makes them tick, and motivate them for maximum productivity, on their terms.
Here is Sanjay Behl, CEO Raymond with his thoughts in the BusinessWorld Kwench HR Masterclass on how to engage the Millennials.
Do leave your thoughts and comments in the section below. I would love to hear your opinions on the topic.
Looking for one transformational idea for Employee Engagement in 2016? kfit: the Employee Health and Wellness platform from Kwench might be just what you are looking for!
I have always dreaded the last week of December. Christmas and New Year get-together and cake eating binges aside, there is always the dreaded mental review of another year gone by.
Ever since I landed up on the wrong side of 30, “Loose Weight” and “Exercise Regularly” have been on top or near top of my New Year Resolutions list and are always the items with a red cross against them in my year-end review. And somewhere along the year I would have inevitably invested in exercise gear that cost way more than I could afford, gym memberships that cost even more than the above mentioned exercise gear, and last year even a high-end water-proof watch – you know, for when I do the 25 laps in the pool. Several consecutive years of this pattern, and tens of thousands of Rupees later – I was fed up.
So I did what was seemed most obvious thing to do – I headed to the café and discussed my problem with others! (With a large latte and a chocolate donut on the side). Now what is interesting is that the story seemed to be pretty common across people I talked to. With all the stresses of just barely balancing daily work and family life, exercise and diet more often than not takes a back seat. Even drinking adequate amounts of water can be a challenge and the sugar in all the cups of coffee reflects pretty quickly on the waistline – if not worse! My colleagues at Kwench pretty much confirmed the challenges and so did a lot of our friends, family and even clients to whom we posed the question.
There is no doubt about it. The more we asked around the more it seemed that India Inc. has a serious health problem. We dug around for some data and this is what we found.
Well that’s just one part of the problem. You see from an organizational perspective, there is a lot at stake when the wellbeing of its workforce is not quite up to the mark. Loss of productivity due to more sick days, absenteeism and worse presenteeism.
If there is so much at stake for both the employee and the employer, why don’t Workplace Wellness programs work? Research on enterprise wellness programs by Guidespark reveals the top reasons why these programs don’t achieve the required results. While ~70% of employees feel that wellness is important, less than 10% actually take full advantage of such programs. Employees don’t participate or the end results are not as expected because they are too busy with work, the programs don’t suit their lifestyle or that they are not fully aware of what is on offer. Almost half of them felt that their biggest wellness challenge was insufficient activity followed by stress and poor nutrition.
Clearly any wellness initiative that hopes to succeed in the workplace must have a solution to all if not most of these issues.
One of the really cool things of working at Kwench is that problems are not left unattended for too long. Anything that touches on Employee Engagement obviously piques our interest. And if we think we can use technology to fix that problem them it excites us to no end.
We took the problem, pondered over it, did our homework, drew the sketches, put the engineers and designers into one big room to do their magic and created kfit – a comprehensive employee health and wellness platform that leverages the magic of social, gamification and mobility to help companies raise the health quotient of their workforce. kfit uses micro interventions coupled with technology to bring about positive and long lasting behavioral change.
Excited? We sure hope so, because we are very excited about the possibilities this platform holds in transforming the health and wellness landscape of Corporate India.
If you are looking for one BIG idea for your Employee Engagement program for 2016, then look no further.
If you want us to get in touch and explain more about how kfit can help transform your company’s wellness, please send us an enquiry.
The Architect – Precisely. As you are undoubtedly gathering, the anomaly is systemic, creating fluctuations in even the most simplistic equations.
Neo – Choice. The problem is choice. (Matrix Reloaded, 2003)
On this blog and in quite a few conversations, I have pointed out the risks of overtly relying on cohorts or grouping of employees to formulate an employee engagement strategy. Using segments and cohorts to understand broad behavior and drivers of engagement is okay, but trying to engage the individual based only on those conclusions is not the best approach.
As ‘Neo’ puts it in the movie Matrix Reloaded , the ‘problem’ is Choice or to be more accurate, in this case – individuality. Every employee is an individual with her own priorities, preferences, fears and responsibilities.
Work, forms an important part of an employees life – and the emphasis I place is on ‘part’ and not on ‘important’ because that aspect is the one that often gets missed out when employee engagement strategies or initiatives are designed. As an individual with family, friends, interests, hobbies, ambitions and aspirations – responsibilities at work represent just a fraction of the things that matter to the employee.
There are a bunch of things that are important to the employee (health, financial well being, spending time with family, a social life, learning new things, new experiences) and there are things are important to the organization (employee well being, profits, playing an important role in the society, innovation).
When an employee is at work, he is operating in the intersection of these two spheres – there are things that matter to him which align with what matters to the organization. When this overlap is driven by the correct factors (alignment on the larger picture, the direction the company is taking, quality of work, the work culture etc.), there is a zone of alignment that is sustaining (and empowering).
When what matters to the organization (as perceived by the employee) starts to drift away from what matters to the employee as an individual, this overlap reduces, the zone of alignment starts to shrink and becomes unsustainable. This is when disillusionment sets in eventually leading to Disengagement if corrective measures are not taken.
Too much of something:
The logical question that follows is what when there is perfect alignment – shouldn’t that be the ideal state? To borrow (somewhat incorrectly) from that age-old adage, “Too much of anything isn’t good for you”
A situation where an individual is completely (and only) aligned with what matters for the organization makes him dysfunctional in other things that should matter to him. If the last line reminds you of the uptight, always-on-the-edge, hard driving, ranting and screaming executive, you are bang-on.
The other (unintended) consequence of such a situation is that individual then subsumes his discretion to what seems best for the organization. Being too focused on one aspect inevitably leads to a myopic vision of what is correct. It is the healthy balance of all aspects in ones life that helps drive a balanced approach towards challenges – both personal and at work.
A ‘super-mom’ I know uses negotiation skills learnt at work with her 1-year-old infant (works most of the time) and then takes the lessons learnt from handling the concerns of parents, her husband, siblings back to work to engage with her multi-generational team. Imagine what would happen if she tried a time-sheet driven approach with her infant or never took time out to spend time with her parents or spouse but focused only fixing “issues” at work (of which there never seems to be any dearth).
The Time Element:
Unlike organizations, what ‘matters’ to an individual is in a state of flux. I am not talking of value systems, or ambitions – those are (hopefully) rather fixed. I am referring to the drivers of what is a priority. Companies and Institutions have stated goals at time of creation and (usually) those drive everything they do. People on the other hand have changing preferences and changing events and these affect the overlap and consequently the alignment they have with the organization.
If the organization stays rigid on how it interacts with the employee, then the extent of alignment is bound to change. Again an increased degree of alignment is not necessarily a good thing.
A few years ago I got chatting with a senior executive at a party. He was really good what he did, and totally disengaged. He was so efficient at what he did that the organization was reluctant to consider what his own personal aspirations were and had kept him doing the same thing for years on end. “The Gap of Disengagement” was very clear and he was looking to quit because he realized that by staying on he was damaging himself and the organization through his disengagement. I ran into him two years later in a busy airport and was surprised that he was still with the same organization in the same role. When I quizzed him, he confessed that he was still disillusioned but a personal crisis had made it impossible for him to look for other possibilities. His efficiency gave him more time at home and so he compromised his ambitions to stay on with his employer. The executive’s alignment with his employer had increased, but it was driven purely by convenience.
Smart organizations would avoid this situation by being aware of various dimensions of what drives each employee. DIY Pulse surveys are a good way; Managers who listen to their team members and do something about their concerns are even better.
A static employee engagement program is not enough neither is a “one-size-fits-all” approach. Like ‘generically designed’ antibiotics can have unexpected nasty side-effects in patients, employee engagement strategies designed for ‘masses’, ‘cohorts’ or ‘segments’ can induce the reverse effect. The pharmaceutical industry has woken up to the importance of pharmacogenomics to counter the ill effects of ‘universal-design’ for medicines – its time for HR professionals to follow suit.
Post title inspired by the Twilight Zone series (1958)
Joseph Wilson is an unlikely name to be associated with Employee Engagement. Yet the founder of the Xerox Corporation is often credited with having founded the first Employee Resource Group (of sorts).
Back in 1968, when violent race riots were tearing apart parts of America, Wilson wrote a letter to his managers, calling for an increased hiring of African-Americans. This move, which led to the establishment of BABE (Bay Area Black Employees), was a ground breaking approach towards addressing the issue of discrimination and achieving equality in the workforce. You can imagine how inspired people would have been to work at Xerox after this!
While ERGs were an excellent tool to help employees find a voice in large organizations, they were often seen as threatening by managers. Over time with changing demographics and the evolution of technology used in the workplace, ERGs (also known as affinity groups or employee networks) seem to be undergoing a resurrection of sorts.
So what’s with the renewed interest in ERGs?
ERGs require commitment of both time and money of the workforce to be successful, in addition to being aligned with the overall company goals. A study by Mercer in 2011, states that companies are spending well into six figures every year, not including the cost of the technology that enables collaboration between employees across the organization, including those in remote locations.
Research, surveys and studies attribute the renewed interest in ERGs to a combination of factors.
The investment in technology and communication (and the rise of social networking): Considerable investment in the technology and platforms to enable collaboration between the members of ERGs and the increased acceptance of social networks in the enterprise has improved communication and reach of ERGs. Coupled with dedicated efforts of HR team to make new recruits and teams aware of ERGs over the years , the workforce is now more aware of ERGs and this has contributed to increased memberships.
Changing Demographics in the Global Workforce: With Gen-Y now becoming a substantial component of the workforce distribution; their work choices and preferences are contributing to the success of ERGs. Unlike the generations that preceded them, Gen-Y is digitally native and are comfortable working collaboratively and using social media tools – both of which are critical to the success of employee networks.
Evolution in the focus and activities of ERGs: Over the years, ERGs have evolved from just being groups focussing on mutual support for members to those making substantial contribution to the bottom line of the organization. ERG’s are now providing insights into the market place, teaching employees located in the remote locations nuances of doing business, acting as brand ambassadors for the organization and improving the company’s reputation through community contribution.
The 3P’s of ERGs
People: ERGs provide organizations with access to talent that is relevant and more engaged. For talent acquisition, evolved organizations put their ERGs to good use by consulting with them to recruit new hires. When ERG members connect with their alma-maters, provide testimonials and use their network, talk about the culture and prospects at the company, it helps to attract high quality talent. ERGs thus can be used for extremely targeted recruitment to hire like minded and high quality candidates who will be a good fit for the organization. In a survey conducted by Software Advice in the US, among the respondents, almost 70 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds noted that ERGs would positively impact their decision to apply, while over half (52 percent) of 25- to 34-year-olds said the same. The substantial difference between this age group and the others is an indication of the shifting winds in priorities of the future managers and leaders.
From talent retention stand-point, affinity networks provide a powerful medium to help employees stay connected, and overcome gaps by providing mentorship and guidance – lack of which is a key reason why employees leave organizations.
In the same survey, the data showed that well over half of respondents under the age of 44 noted they would be more likely to stay at a company offering ERGs.
Productivity: ERGs are an excellent way to keep employees engaged. By connecting people who share the same concerns, passions, and interests, ERGs help form employee networks that span the silos usually get created with the departmental hierarchy.
ERGs formed around topics/domains, help provide training and provide access to mentors to their members – an invaluable means of engaging and motivating employees who might otherwise find navigating the complex fabric of organizational hierarchy for information and advice, a daunting task. ERGs can also act as great tools for HR to help spot the ‘right’ talent required for various positions. For example, Air Products and Chemicals’ Asian American group developed the Building Bridges program to help Asian colleagues expatriated to the US make the transition and become more productive.
By providing members an alternative to the formal hierarchical system, ERGs can help employees to understand business nuances, organizational culture, provide mentoring to perform better at current tasks and also help prepare members to move up the corporate ladder to other roles – a matter understandably of substantial interest to the Gen-Y constituent of the workforce.
All of these advantages go a long way to help address engagement challenges and increase motivation and productivity of the members.
Profitability: At many organizations, resource groups have an important role as focus groups and innovators in understanding the market-place dynamics and providing insights which help the company launch new and successful products. Mattel used their African-American ERG to conceptualize and advice their product and marketing teams to launch a line of dolls specifically designed for African-American girls. Pharma major Merck created global-constituency groups in 2008 to connect with their local markets. McDonalds’s women leadership network had a major influence on the introduction of healthy menus in their restaurants.
ERGs ahoy then, is it?
Not quite. While ERGs do clearly have the potential to engage and motivate your workforce, it isn’t for everybody. Companies that are working with or planning to recruit and engage a younger workforce will find ERGs useful, not so much organizations that are formal, hierarchical and have an overwhelmingly older work force.
Companies with the most dynamic and successful ERGs attribute their success aligning the mission of the ERGs with the interests of employees and the executives. In addition these organizations are sensitive to the need for new ERGs that address multigenerational, multicultural, and other constituencies and work hard to actively market the ERGs to their employees and new hires.
ERGs succeed when they are adequately funded and held responsible for those funds. The leaders of these groups need to receive training and other support to manage the groups in a professional manner.
Glenn Llopis (subject matter expert and chairman of the Glenn Lopis group) underlines the importance of supporting an ERG in the company by having a senior executive who is fully invested in its success of the mission, lead the group.
Llopis goes on to say that the success of the ERG depends on a clear articulation of the mission:
“Our objective is to help our organization to best understand and leverage the unique talent, gender and/or cultural insights we bring to increase recruitment efforts by [X] percent, talent retention by [Y] percent and our employee community’s overall workplace engagement by [Z] percent.”
If clear and measurable objectives aren’t defined, Llopis says, the ERG “just becomes a social gathering that doesn’t add real value and makes it difficult to sustain participation.”
And it also depends where in the world you are:
Mercer in its study found that there are differences in the practices of ERGs depending on the location of the company. Companies located in or having its headquarters in the US tend to have a higher probability of having ERGs, while it’s a very new/non-existent practice in Asian countries.
The proliferation of social networks and other collaborative platforms in the enterprise environment coupled with the increase in presence of Gen-Y in the workforce will no doubt change the way ERGs communicate and recruit new members.
The best ERGs are those that create a safe environment where employees can discuss challenges, voice concerns and work on self improvement, career progression and self-actualization through community contribution. ERG’s are now evolving to help attract, empower, motivate and engage a diverse and younger workforce from diverse backgrounds and cultures, which has a direct and quantifiable impact on the bottom line in the increasingly global arena where boundaries are blurred and geographical locations are starting to hold lesser and lesser significance.
As Lopis says, “It’s about embracing the special skills and characteristics that may be attributed to one’s culture or to one’s ethnicity or to one’s gender that a company could be much more mindful of [while utilizing the] special intelligence … that particular group can deliver to the company’s overall strategy or business model.”
Acknowledgements and References for this post:
Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net, Graphs courtesy of HR & talent management technology resource Software Advice.
ERGs Come of Age:The Evolution of Employee Resource Groups, Mercer; Employee Resource Groups, Joseph C. Wilson, Wikipedia; Who Made America, Joseph Wilson, pbs.org, The business benefits of Resource Groups, Diversity Inc; Your Secret Weapon: Employee Resource Groups, Linkage Leadership Blog, Xerox diversity timeline, Xerox.com; Survey: Employee Resource Groups help engage Gen-Y Workers, (Erin Osterhaus), New Talent Times.
This is the third and final post in the series. The first post is here, the second is here.
It was almost 6. Kaushik, as the HR director was called by all his peers in senior management was slouched in a plush leather chair in one corner of the bar in his club. The chair in front of him was vacant. Kamal, the director of operations was late, since he was battling some crisis at office. And just as well – Kaushik needed some time to think.
The atmosphere in Nymphaea (as the lounge was called) was muted. There was a smattering of people reading or chatting with friends ensconced in over-sized leather chairs and sofas. The lighting was dim and the view of the perfectly manicured gardens, with its lotus pools, soothing – A far cry from the tense atmosphere in office these days.
Kaushik took another sip of his drink and stared out of the large french windows. The spectacular hues of a summer sunset were lost on him as the impending discussion with his friend loomed. He knew that his initiatives to actively engage Gen-Y would be challenging, but he hadn’t expected an outright war. The senior management were people who had vast amounts of industry experience and were more than competent. To their credit they had built the company from ground up over the last three decades but they could not afford to be blind to reality. Growth was slowing. Costs were rising. Each time a trained employee left the company, it impacted the bottom line. The costs of training and bringing new employees up to speed was non-trivial and was a topic the CFO kept bringing up in the quarterly management meets.