Three Questions to Ask Yourself About Millennials

I still remember the first time I heard about the Millennial generation. I was at a recruiting conference in New Orleans about 10 years ago, and one of the presenters was commenting about how the boomers were about to turn 50. He said the bulk of workers who would be replacing them would be coming from a generation we now know as Millennials.

I can still see the crowd’s reaction as the speaker talked about how this generation would be particularly coddled (raised by overly indulgent parents), have off-the-charts self esteem, and focus on a “what’s in it for me?” attitude.

I have to confess that I overheard more than a few staffing professionals remind themselves to check on the status of their IRAs when they got back to the office, as they were seriously considering retiring early rather than be forced to conduct campus job interviews with students who brought their parents along with them.

That was 1997, and here we are 10 years later. Amazingly, just about everything that speaker said has come true (I think he worked for an insurance company). The Millennials are here, they want it all, and they want it now.

Just like you, I’ve experienced the drama of the college kids who have their mothers negotiate their offers for them, the new MBA who tells the vice president that she won’t travel unless she has “at least two weeks’ notice,” and the interns who refuse to stuff binders. The chilling fact, though, is that we ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

The first boomers only just turned 60 last year and have not yet started leaving the workforce in significant numbers. As staffing professionals, our job during the next few years will be to replace a generation of almost 80 million people with these Millennials.

Before I go any further, I need to do some disclosure and point out that I am in no way an expert on this subject. If you’re interested in the characteristics of the four generations currently working side-by-side in today’s workplace, I highly recommend a book called Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069 by William Strauss and Neil Howe. If you want to learn more specifically about Millennials, I recommend Cam Marston’s book Motivating the “What’s in it for me?” Workforce.

While the arithmetic challenge of replacing these hires is daunting, there are other considerations that will make this shift especially complex. These considerations include your ability as a staffing professional to find and attract job seekers you’ve never targeted before, your ability to truly understand what motivates this generation, and your ability to prepare your organization for this inevitable change.

This is a huge responsibility. I know some days I feel like celebrating just for getting our applicant tracking system to work. How will I ever be able to lead what amounts to a total revolution in how my organization views talent?

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Fortunately, unlike many other changes we encounter in life, we already have a great deal of information available to us. The Millennials are the most studied and analyzed generation in history; we know what motivates them, we know what’s important to them, and we know how they view themselves. A few well-spent hours researching this topic can really help prepare you to guide your organization through the next few years.

Once you’re done, see how you answer these three questions:

  1. Do you know how to find these job-seekers? The building in which I work has been renovated several times throughout its history. In the conference room near the staffing department there is a door that opens up into the front yard along the street. While it’s currently used as an emergency exit, it has a nice awning over the door, which is different from the strictly utilitarian design of the other emergency exits in the building. Someone finally explained to me that the door was once used by the “Personnel Department” to receive walk-ins who literally walked up to the building and filled out an application for employment! What a long way we’ve come since then. Nearly all of us now post jobs on specialty websites and do the odd bit of branding to attract passive job-seekers. Some of the braver among us use social networking sites and virtual worlds to recruit new hires. Do you know where inexperienced hires are looking for their first jobs? Do you know how they want to learn about your company, or even what questions they’re likely to ask you when you meet them? If you don’t know any Millennials personally, find some and talk to them. This generation has great clarity around what they want from their careers and will be glad to share their insights with you.
  2. Is your organization appealing to these job-seekers? In nearly every meeting I’ve attended where the topic of recruiting Millennials was discussed, someone has vowed out loud that they’ll never hire someone who isn’t willing to “pay their dues” like they did. Boomers value hard work and don’t take kindly to people who don’t see the value in “putting in their time” before they begin to realize the rewards such hard work inevitably brings (i.e., a bigger office, a loftier title, more money). Interestingly, the Millennials aren’t motivated by the same things their boomer bosses are.
  3. Do your hiring managers and leadership know how important this is? If your organization is like many others, you’ve probably never sat down and taken a “generational” look at who currently comprises your workforce, who runs things, and how your reward structure is configured. Many organizations today are run by boomers for the exclusive benefit of other boomers. Getting in early, staying late, and appearing to work hard is rewarded. People probably brag about how they came in on the weekend, or that they answered a Blackberry message in the middle of the night. People who navigate these organizations successfully are rewarded with corner offices, drive expensive cars, and enjoy the ability of having people obey their directives without a lot of discussion.

In a few years, the workplace will be significantly different. People will come and go to suit their schedules (some companies already offer employees unlimited vacation as long as their work is getting done); employees will change jobs much more frequently, so rewards will take the form of training and development; and titles and corner offices will take on less significance as good employees challenge ideas no matter who comes up with them.

Question: Does this workplace vision sound better or worse to you than your current work environment?

Answer: It doesn’t matter what you think because the changes will take place regardless of your buy in.

During the Great Depression, my grandfather walked into the headquarters of one of the Big Three automakers, was hired on the spot, and worked there for 40 years. Today’s Millennial job-seekers will have a very different experience: they’ll work for perhaps a dozen employers, participate on virtual project teams with team-members located around the globe, and probably integrate their work life and personal life more effectively than any previous generation.

I’m quite excited about seeing what life will be like when the world is run by a generation that has never known a time without computers and cellular phones. Getting your leaders to acknowledge the impending changes will allow your organization to get the edge on your competitors and make you a hero.

He started his career as a research chemist in the laboratory. Now, Michael Kannisto has tried to apply a similarly disciplined and science-based approach to the fields of recruiting and talent management. His long-term interests include employment branding, multiple generations in the workforce, and using Six-Sigma methodology to improve recruitment outcomes.

His current passion is the development and use of mathematical models to predict future staffing and development needs (a remarkably more accurate form of “workforce planning” than what is traditionally employed). Call it predictive modeling, call it “big data” ... but the information sitting in your HRMS right now has the potential to change the way you think about talent forever.

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