Uncovering the Secret to Harnessing Millennial Workers

The stiffer of the two challenges will be addressing the dynamic of Generation Y in the workplace. That generation is only now aging into their early years in the employment market, while they’ve been influential consumers for a while. A recovering economy is beginning to open new career horizons to them that were closed during the Great Recession.

“Millenials have exactly the kinds of skills companies need … if they can just figure out how to empower them.”

And more than anything else, more company leaders are realizing they need to harness millennial employees very successfully if they want their companies to succeed in a world that increasingly is being dominated by the purchasing power of their generation.

Fortunately, as McKinsey’s David Edelman wrote recently, millennials’ generational proclivities and capabilities “line up well with a burning need that companies have today: agile teams that can work quickly, test ideas, learn from them, and iterate.” The group has “exactly the kinds of skills that companies need … if they can just figure out how to empower them.”

And so not only recruiting millennials but also effectively utilizing them in the modern workforce has become a primary demand of many CEOs. How do they address this challenge?

Millennials “need to have projects that are meaningful and have impact,” Edelman wrote. “They want to work on teams that get stuff done. As a group of workers, they are not interested in managing back-office processes or funneling approvals.”

“Millennials want to work on teams that get stuff done. They are not interested in managing back-office processes or funneling approvals.”

In fact, about 80% of millennials believe the sole purpose of a company should be about more than making money, according to a recent webcast in the Microsoft Workplace series. “They believe businesses are part of both the problems and the solutions and we should try to make them better,” David Burstein, author of Fast Future, said on the webcast.

How to attract them? “It’s really about a sense of meaning,” Burstein said. Mirroring Edelman, millennials “want to be doing work that is purposeful … and also feel like they’re having a meaningful personal experience.” The employers and jobs that most attract and retain this generation provide at least one of those two important elements, he said.

Millennials also tend to believe that their employers should be as transparent and open as possible throughout the business. They’re not always sure what they, themselves, mean by that. And this generation of younger workers is learning, like their predecessors, that there are crucial business advantages in keeping certain things to yourselves. But they’re always pressuring upper management to push the envelope.

Employees’ and business leaders’ approach to social media is where much of a company’s suitability for millennials is determined. Older workers may perceive that millennials staring down at their smartphones all day are unproductive, unserious or rude. But for Generation Y, the devices—and the various worlds they intertwine with them—are integral to their lives and their jobs. They’re productivity tools, especially in the hands of workers who grew up with them. They believe, as Edelman wrote, that social media “is a phenomenal tool for crossing and breaking down boundaries.”

“For millennials, smartphones are integral to their jobs and are considered productivity tools.”

Sure, some CEOs and company owners will say that every employee from 18 to 88 would love to have a job without routine, working for a company that has purpose and integrity and can be open about what it’s doing. The difference with millennials, experts say, is that they are much more often only going to work for employers and jobs that meet those criteria. That’s important to note as millennials are fast becoming the largest generation in the U.S. workforce.

“Millennials are the future of business,” as Edelman put it. “Businesses just have to figure out how to get out of the way enough to let them lead.”


Dale Buss :Dale Buss is a long-time contributor to Chief Executive, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and other business publications. He lives in Michigan.