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Millennial Misunderstandings

When was the last time you were in a business meeting with one of your grandparents? This may seem like a strange concept to most of us, but it’s a real possibility for Millennials who will account for 50 per cent of the workforce by 2020, and will work alongside multi-generational colleagues.

Even for those of us who work in HR and are already familiar with the changing nature of work – the looming talent crisis, multiple generations in the workforce simultaneously, the death of the traditional career path, and the significant rise in freelancers, contractors and intermittent employment – the consequences and massive transformation required is, well, staggering.

And here’s the thing I find quite worrying. I’m not sure enough HR directors fully appreciate the deep impact and strategic changes necessary for survival, let alone success. Real insight about these challenges is even lower at the board level. In fact, most companies are worryingly unprepared to capitalise on the changes ahead of them.Millenial Misunderstandings Blog276049_l_srgb_s_gl.jpg

The harsh reality is that the 2020 workforce will be increasingly flexible, as non-payroll consultants, freelancers and contingent workers redefine traditional relationships between employers and employees. This issue alone will force organisations to change their workforce strategies.

Diversity is yet another pressing issue. With globalisation ushering in wider age groups and nationalities than ever before, these labour market shifts will also significantly impact workforce strategies. People management will need to become more strategic and evidence-based to accommodate the diverse workforce of tomorrow. But for some, the workforce of tomorrow is misunderstood.

A recent worldwide survey by Oxford Economics, sponsored by SAP, reveals a lack of basic understanding about Millennials. For example, 46 per cent of executives think Millennials are frustrated with manager quality, yet only seven per cent say they are. Likewise, 46 per cent of executives think Millennials will consider leaving their jobs due to lack of learning and development, yet only 12 per cent say they have.

The same survey also revealed that only 34 per cent of executives say their companies give special attention to the particular wants and needs of Millennials who will want and expect to be managed, communicated with, and trained in a completely different way than their predecessors. Because of their fluency with social media and mobile devices, they expect simplicity, great user experience and collaboration. They have a completely different frame of reference. For this generation, knowledge needs to be ‘accessible’ rather than ‘known’. It triggers perplexing questions around the extent to which knowledge should be managed in organisations. It also creates a unique set of challenges for business leaders from a recruiting and talent management perspective.

Likewise, understanding the engagement and retention challenges of the multi-generational workforce is critical. There is a general trend towards declining employer loyalty with each generation. Understanding what motivates and engages employees today and in the future, and expressing that understanding in the way that work is rewarded – and talent is retained – is yet another challenge.

All of these forces are pushing (and in some cases shunting) the modern HR organisation to rapidly adapt. Managing and realising the expectations of a multi-national, multi-cultural, multi-generational workforce is a big enough challenge in its own right. But it doesn’t stop there. With today’s technology, HR is already feeling the pressure to cater to the needs of an ever increasing evidence-based organisation where data becomes readily accepted and acted upon. This can only be delivered through leveraging real-time workforce insights.

It’s no accident that companies with higher than average profit margins than other firms in their industry are more concerned with Millennials entering their workforce. The new face of work can be summed up in one word: change.  Complacency is not an option. Effective workforce management is now a strategic imperative.

For more information on the future of work, take a look at these resources.


Eric Brunelle

Global Head of the Executive Value Network for HR

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      Author's profile photo Carolyn Brock
      Carolyn Brock

      Hi Eric, I look forward to reading more posts about this. One thing that concerns me, especially in large organizations, is the long on-boarding process. Companies invest in new hires, and if younger employees are inclined to move more often than older employees, that on-boarding investment becomes a bigger expense. Additionally, we'll have to plan how to manage "brain drain" much differently than we do now. I'd love to hear your thoughts on that.

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      Blog Post Author

      Hi Carolyn. Thanks for your question on onboarding. I remember talking to the head of talent management at a large pharma company in Switzerland a while ago and his main concern was the same: onboarding. Actually, I think onboarding is critical regardless of the age of the new hires, may they be millenials or older. Onboarding is the first thing you want to consider when you look at employee engagement and retention. This is the process where you might be doing the first wrong things as an employer. When engaging with customers, I see two things. Nr 1: they make sure the technical infrastructure is there (PC, Cards, security equipment in manufacturing, etc.). Nr 2 is probably the most important one: the leadership/ engagement piece. You need to make sure the new hire engages with management on the very first day, gets a mentor, etc. SAP has mentors for new hires so that they feel confortable in the organization on the very first day. I can recommend a book my customers are reading: The first 90 days from Michael Watkins, Harvard Business Review Press. The copy I have is from 2003 but the content and approach still valid. More than happy to blog more on this!

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Just wading in on these comments here.  I read some interesting research the other day about the impact of social recruiting into the organisation and how it actually reduces the onboarding time when a new employee has been hired via an existing employee (there are lots of other benefits too - Pin by Sarah Goodall on Social Business | Pinterest) so a social business approach is also critical.  How you mobilise the organisation to become a social business and the millennial generation are coming into the workforce with this work ethic in their DNA.  Huge opportunity for POV