Agents of Change

A senior vice president of HR’s advice on how to attract, hire, and retain younger generations.

By Jackie Chizuk

Millennials and Generation Z are graduating college and entering the workforce; they will account for approximately 56 percent of all U.S. employees by the year 2025. This means that one in two workers will have been born after 1980 in the next eight years.

As the workforce evolves, so must the approach to recruiting and retaining new talent. Compensation, health benefits, and paid time-off remain mainstays to luring desirable job candidates. But if a company wants to attract millennial and Gen-Z workers, they must be prepared to dive deeper into organizational culture, purpose, societal impact—and it better be genuine because these generations are smart and move fast!

Millennials and Gen Zers are somewhat of an evolutionary case study. These segments have similar values with varying behaviors and characteristics based on their upbringing.

Millennials are loosely defined as people born during the 1980s through 1996. They embrace a strong entrepreneurial mindset and are loyal to opportunity, even if that means leaving their current place of employment. Millennials also had to assimilate to learning from and working with emerging technologies at a fast pace during adolescence. This makes them highly adaptive, efficient problem solvers and critical thinkers.

Having been born in 1997 and later, Generation Z has barely experienced cognition before digital technology and social media. According to the most recent census bureau data, Gen Z equates to 61 million people in the United States, and 52 percent of them owned a smartphone before they turned 13.

Millennials and Gen Zers view social networks as communities and prefer instant, text, and email messaging as primary forms of communication due to their immediacy. For a company to tap into these generations for talent, HR should be prepared to communicate where Millennials and Gen Zers communicate—online and on social media.

Where communication occurs is as important as how it occurs. The standard, formal hiring tone can be misinterpreted during the recruitment process as “automated” and ingenuine. In addition, long wait times for interaction or hiring feedback can cause millennial and Gen-Z candidates to lose interest quickly or assume they are not a fit, resulting in looking elsewhere for jobs.

Younger job candidates want an authentic career experience and are quick to research or share their experiences online. Sincere and open communication paints a positive picture for the job seeker, and their peers. Less scripted, informal—but always professional—and immediate interaction works best. This can increase the likelihood of converting prospects into new hires, while maintaining a positive company profile among younger generations online.

Recent research shows that millennials and Gen Zers change jobs at least four times within the first decade of graduating college. This is up from Generation X, which averaged only two job changes within the first 10 years of college graduation. What are companies doing to try and retain young talent?

Ten years ago, the big trend in workforce development was to provide employees with free food, napping areas, and creativity rooms with air hockey tables and bean bag chairs. This helped recruit young talent, but had very little long-term impact on turnover.

Recruitment is a two-way street. Younger generations want to know that a company sees a future with them as much as employers need engaged, talented, and motivated workers. A 2016 Addison Group workplace study showed that millennials are enthusiastic about management opportunities. In fact, 67 percent of respondents want to be a manager compared to only 58 percent of the broader workforce. Organizations should be open to discussing career paths, performance expectations, and professional and educational development programs early and often with younger employees to leverage this enthusiasm.

An open approach to career planning brings varying opportunities directly to millennial or Gen-Z employees. It also starts a conversation around the options younger workers have for moving up within the organization—decreasing the likelihood that they will look for it elsewhere.

Assigning senior-level mentors to coach, evaluate, and inform younger team members can also be used to demonstrate a company’s willingness to provide resources that keep younger generations on a path to gaining as much experience and knowledge as possible. In other words, it shows that a organization has a team mentality, and genuinely cares about its up-and-coming workforce.

A positive hiring process and experience-rich job atmosphere are great fundamentals for any company, but millennial and Gen-Z employees are also looking for careers that serve as extensions of their holistic values. They seek purpose. They want to leave their mark on the companies they work for and their communities—even the world—if they have an opportunity to do so.

Being part of a collaborative effort is important to any generation looking for purpose, and that wants something to believe in that will motivate them from day to day. When a company can articulate its mission and values, those with similar values immediately buy into that mission along with operational objectives.

For example, Varroc Lighting Systems’ CEO Stephane Vedie spent his first 100 days on the road doing an in-depth listening tour across all the countries that the company operates in. His goal was to refine what the company stands for, better articulate the company’s values, and recommunicate those values to the enterprise.

As a result, the Varroc enterprise now knows how to explain what Varroc does and the values that guide operations globally. This is a smart strategy for bringing younger generations into the shared voice of an organization early and in-turn, gaining a strong sense of buy-in from the onset.

The passion for purpose that the younger generations share can often align with company corporate responsibility (CR) programs. Whether they are fighting world hunger or increasing access to education or catastrophe aid, odds are there are that millennial and Gen-Z employees are eager to be involved and lead the effort. This adds another layer of professional development in the workplace as well as motivation for the young employee. Thus, alignment can be a win-win for the company and the CR program’s effectiveness.

Often mistaken accused of being entitled and overly opinionated, millennials and Gen Zers are passionate about asking questions that challenge the status quo, share their stance on issues close to them, and taking corrective action. These generations can be agents of change, and that’s a good thing.

Millennials and Gen Zers are brilliant researchers and have been raised to make quick and informed decisions—a trait seen as a valuable characteristic among leaders. They are great multi-taskers, valuable crowd-sourcers, and know how to self-educate. Most important, they want to have purpose that has a positive impact. These characteristics—if channeled properly, managed effectively, and developed by values with genuine purpose—will benefit any company greatly by bringing new perspectives and fresh ideas into an ever-changing workforce.

Jackie Chizuk is senior vice president of human resources and communications of Varroc Lighting Systems.

Posted September 25, 2017 in Talent Acquisition

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