I find it interesting that people always seem to be looking for some secret answer – that ever elusive bit of information, research, new theory or latest model that is going to help them solve all of their problems. Yet in my experience, when you look more deeply at these “groundbreaking” research and models, it isn’t telling us anything we don’t already know – or at least anything we wouldn’t already know if we were paying attention and using our common sense.
When it comes to the labour shortage, one such example is the increasing interest in the Millennials, those born between 1978 and 1994. Also known as Generation Y or Echo Boomers, this under thirty crowd is supposedly who you need to be thinking of to ensure that your organization is going to be able to attract and retain the people you need to remain competitive in the increasingly global marketplace over the next several decades.
As several of my clients currently have a majority of their employees in this generation, I was quite interested in the research quantifying and “qualitating” how these Millennials are different and what you need to do to attract and retain them. On looking at it more deeply, however, the research on these Millennials was identifying some pretty common sense things – things that most employers already should know that any employee would look for in a company that they would want to join, stay with and, more importantly, give their full energy, creativity and potential to.
Millennials supposedly want to be managed differently. They are less accepting of traditional authority. They expect immediate credibility and status. They want frequent and timely feedback. They expect that their opinions and ideas be not only heard, but acted upon. Now correct me if I am wrong here, but while older generations may have been prepared to settle for less, if what everyone is telling us about the impending labour shortage is true, wouldn’t it make sense that employees of every generation would favour employers who could offer them this?
Let’s look at another area. Millennials apparently demand life-work balance and flexible time schedules, but at the same time have high expectations of success on even shorter timelines than other generations. In short, they want it all. In my role as an executive, life and career coach, I can attest to the fact that this element of my business is thriving because people of all generations are waking up to realize that they want (and deserve to have) it all too. The difference has been that up until now most of us Boomers and Xers (I was born in between these two generations) have accepted the bill of goods we were sold that we couldn’t have it all. In a labour shortage that “fact” isn’t something any generation is going to be willing to buy anymore.
Perhaps one of the biggest factors in commitment and engagement of Millennials is their need to have an emotional connection with their work. They expect their work to be meaningful, fun, to be about believing in something and to be a means of doing and learning the things that they are passionate about. Having helped thousands of people from around the world for over twenty years to create and sustain such work, I can state without a doubt that not only is this a desire for people of all generations, but it is a critical learning path for organizations. It is and essential element to successfully make and sustain the shift from the command and control “mass production mentality” of the industrial age to the empower and excite “creativity is king” mentality of the information age where inspiring and engaging employees of all ages is paramount to sustain the ongoing innovation necessary to captures the hearts and dollars of the marketplace.
My suggestion? Instead of spending time and resources trying to figure out what information you might be missing, sit down and use that energy to start acting on what we already know. If your workplace is not attracting, keeping and retaining Millennials, chances are you are not doing such a great job of attracting and keeping anyone. There is no mystery to what it takes to do this. Just look in the mirror and reflect on what it takes to keep you. In many ways Millennials are paving the way to make the workplace better for everyone. They demand what everyone else wants, but is afraid to ask for.