A New Workforce Is Here. Are You Ready?

You may have heard the recent statistics that trumpeted how Millennials have become the largest segment of the US workforce. In fact, by 2020, they will represent nearly 50%.

What you may not realize is that Millennials are also the most disengaged generation of workers. As the chart below from Gallup shows, almost 3/4 are not engaged in their work.

To track these statistics, Gallup measures employee engagement based on workers' responses to its Q12 survey, which consists of 12 actionable workplace elements (e.g., knowing what is expected, having the right equipment, development opportunities, clear company mission or purpose).

Engagement - The #1 Challenge

Factoring in the huge impact on customer satisfaction, productivity and profitability, Deloitte recently published a major study that concluded that “this year, employee engagement and culture issues exploded onto the scene, rising to become the No. 1 challenge around the world."

As you consider the next 10 or 20 years, how ready is your organization to recruit, engage and retain Millennials?

If you know you’re not ready or you’re just not sure, here are three key factors that Millennials look for in a job and things you can do to prepare.

Find and Communicate Your Purpose

One of the key elements Millennials look for in choosing an employer and a key driver of engagement once they’re on board is a clear and inspiring organizational purpose – standing for something beyond making money.

Gallup’s research shows that “ensuring employees have opportunities to do what they do best every day and emphasizing mission and purpose are the two strongest factors for retaining Millennials. ” It turns out these are also the key factors for Generation Xers and Baby Boomers, too, so this is well worth your while for all employees.

I wrote a post a few weeks ago about how purpose has made a huge difference for Chipotle.

Another great example is the leading hosting and cloud company Rackspace, whose very crisp mantra of “Fanatical Support” drives engagement and behavior every day within the company. It's no accident that Rackspace has been listed four of the last five years as one of the 100 best places to work by Fortune Magazine.

As you look to identify your purpose, Roy Spence’s work is a great place to start.

Collaborate in Creating a New Organizational Story

In a recent UNC white paper, the authors summarized their findings by labeling the Millennial generation “The Collaborators” while describingGeneration Xers and Baby Boomers as “The Cowboys.” While the prior generations grew up with a “command and control” management style and preferred to work individually, Millennials prefer to work in teams.

As you work to bring your purpose to life, a critical next step is to create a compelling new version of your organization’s story. In our work, we use story development as an opportunity to encourage collaboration. If you involve your team in crafting your new story, you will not only engage the Millennials, but you will also gain insights you might have otherwise missed and ensure maximum buy-in to the new message. With some training, your team will become both effective and passionate messengers for your organization, which drives both engagement and substantial business benefits.

Let Employees Know Their Work Matters

Another key finding from UNC research paper was that Millennials value meaningful work more than pay.

One of the best ways for people to know their work matters is for senior management to take an interest in their group or their project.

A legendary proponent of this approach was Dave Packard, who early in Hewlett Packard’s growth invented the concept of MBWA (Management By Walking Around). Packard made it a regular practice to drop by employee workspaces unannounced (as in the photo below) to learn about what they were working on and ways he could help eliminate any obstacles to success.

Following that lead, Steve Jobs also embraced MBWA and took it a step further at Apple. He not only dropped in on employees, but he also answered customer service calls or emails himself to keep his finger on the pulse of the business. It’s hard to imagine the experience of having Steve answer your service call himself.

If the idea of MBWA appeals to you, check out this Forbes article with tips on how to approach this in your workplace.

Attracting Talent and New Business, Too

As you look to engage Millennials (and other generations, too), there are substantial benefits to finding and living your company’s purpose, collaborating on your story, and personally letting employees know that their contributions are meaningful. When this is all clicking, you will create stronger advocates in your workforce and this will drive significant recruiting and new business benefits your way, too.

If the alternative is joining the trend toward ever greater apathy, what choice do you really have?