If your organisation is struggling to attract, retain and engage millennial talent, you need to tackle the situation head on. The generation born in the 80s and 90s are becoming the primary working generation.
The generation known for being creative, adaptive and tech-savvy isn’t happy with what most employers are offering. According to Gallup research, they rank opportunities to learn and grow in a job above all other considerations. And they don’t think they’re getting these opportunities.
So, what can you do?
Start talking – and listening
Annual performance discussion that focus on the past are largely a waste of time. Millennials want regular feedback, when it matters. And they want to talk about the future. Equip your managers to have regular career conversations with their people, and make sure they understand that these conversations aren’t optional.
Be more creative
Once managers understand what people want, they need to figure out how to give it to them. Promoting people isn’t the only way to challenge them. Managers need to come up with creative ways to provide development opportunities, and organisations need to support this.
Often, a development opportunity won’t deliver immediate value to the organisation or align with short-term business goals. Seconding a valued employee to another team, office, or even to a client organisation, for example, should be encouraged. Losing an employee for a few months is better than losing them permanently.
Give them control of their learning
Millennials are used to training themselves. Whenever they need a new skill or information, they go online and find what they need. Workplace training is still appreciated, but must be delivered in a way that works for this audience. That means making learning programs short, relevant, entertaining and available on mobile devices.
Stop patronising them
Some organisations have the idea that perks like free food or billiard tables will engage millennials. Millennials are too smart to fall for this. They aren’t going to stay in a job that feels stifling because you’ve put some beanbags in the lunch room.
There are no short cuts to engaging your millennial talent. We’ve required this generation to be flexible and patient – and to make their own luck. They’ve had to push harder and take on more debt than the Boomers and Gen X did to start their careers. It’s understandable that they want to feel it’s been worth the effort.
More of us are either becoming contractors, or having to hire and/or manage contractors. Despite this, it’s very rare to hear of an organisation supporting line managers to operate within this new framework.
Many organisations assume that line managers will know how to manage contractors or freelancers. They assume it will be less challenging than managing permanent staff and, on that basis, don’t provide any guidance. In many cases they are right – it can be a less fraught relationship to navigate – but it can also be a high-stakes one.
There is huge demand for contractors with specialised skills. In many cases they are more valuable to an organisation than most of their permanent staff. One contractor we know has been so integral to the success of his client that he’s been placed the organisation’s key-man risk register.
The first thing that line managers need to understand is what motivates each individual contractor they are managing. Recent research indicates that money is still the biggest motivator for contract workers, but contract workers still want many of the same things that permanent staff want, like recognition, challenging work, a supportive manager and a team environment. There is however one thing that contractors value more, and that’s building a network to secure future work.
A line manager needs to find out what makes a particular contractor tick right from the beginning of the relationship. Is this person contracting because they were made redundant and hope a contract position will lead to a permanent role? Are they contracting because they are very independent and loathe being micromanaged? Are they contracting being they are super task-focussed and have no interest in making friends or getting drawn into office politics? Are they contracting because they have a child with health problems and need flexible hours? Knowing what motivates a contractor is essential to meeting their needs and giving them a positive experience of the workplace – the sort of experience that leads them to sign up for a second contract in another part of the business or recommend the organisation to fellow contractors.
Getting this information is exceedingly easy: managers just have to ask “What are you hoping to get from this position and how do you prefer to work?”
Contractors also appreciate managers being clear about their expectations. They want to know exactly what they are expected to deliver and when. Managers should provide a clear brief, preferably in writing. They should also give contractors background information and context for the project – no one likes working in a vacuum. A manager should schedule a briefing meeting for the contractor’s first day, as well as arranging for the contractor to meet with key team members and project stakeholders. By the end of his or her first week, the contractor should know exactly what they need to do, why they’re doing it and who to go to for information or advice.
Finally, we’d encourage managers to make contractors feel part of the team. Treat them like people – not machines. Invite them to lunch, give them feedback about their work and introduce them to key people in the organisation. (None of these things need constitute ‘employer-like behaviour’ from a compliance point of view.)
A good contractor can make a huge difference to the performance of a team, and even the wider business.
Equipping managers to work effectively with contractors to get value from them – and give them a valuable experience in return – is a no-brainer for any organisation that relies upon contract labour.
Unfortunately, one of the most powerful things that managers can do to improve their performance – and that of their teams – is something most of them are loathe to do: have regular career conversations with their people.
In fact, Right Management’s comprehensive 2015 study of the issue found that only 16% of employees report having ongoing conversations with their managers about their careers. Unsurprisingly, Right Management also found that employees desperately wanted to have these conversations and would be significantly more engaged with their work, and far more likely to stay with their employers, if only their managers would stop avoiding the subject.
Which brings us to the question of why managers are so committed to not having these important conversations. In our experience there are a range of factors at play:
- Managers don’t consider career development to be their responsibility. They figure that individual employees can sort out their own careers, or ask HR for help.
- Managers aren’t confident about having these conversations. They haven’t been trained to have them and fear raising expectations they can’t satisfy or being asked for pay rises or promotions that will cost them.
- Managers aren’t incentivised to have these conversations. In the absence of real pressure – or reward – it’s easier to avoid the discomfort that comes with talking about potentially sensitive subjects.
So what can organisations do to change managers’ minds? We’d suggest four things:
- Provide training on the subject. Give managers the guidance they need to start a dialogue with their people, which will help them build their confidence and skills.
- Make it clear that having regular career conversations is a key part of a manager’s role and that managers will be held accountable for it.
- Make sure that managers know what the organisation offers in terms of career development opportunities. Managers need to be empowered to offer transfers, training and other development opportunities to their people. They also need to be encouraged to come up with creative budget-friendly ways of developing staff.
- Encouraging employees to push for these conversations. We recommend offering employees training on the subject to ensure they too feel confident to talk about their careers.