Executive’s Desk: Millennials look for certain workplace aspects

John Geddie, president, Geddie Associates, Inc. (Courtesy of John Geddie)
John Geddie, president, Geddie Associates, Inc. (Courtesy of John Geddie)

What are you doing to keep your employees from becoming your competitors?

Trying to understand the psyche of the workforce is not easy, but it’s not difficult either. Treat people equitably, care about them, satisfy their desire for good working conditions and flexibility, provide them market-range salaries and opportunities to continue their skill development, and they are more likely to stay with your company. That applies broadly across all five generations now in the workplace. But, in many ways, the millennial generation (those born since 1980) are different than earlier generations.

Millennials desire flexibility in their work schedules to balance work and life. They have expectations of rapid advancement up the corporate ladder. And yet, a study by Bentley University says they are the most entrepreneurial generation in decades. If businesses don’t find a way to keep that entrepreneurial energy channeled in the service of the company’s goals, they may find millennials becoming competitors.

How do you create a workplace that is attractive to millennials and other generations of employees?

Flexible work schedules have become an expectation rather than a perk. While your company’s needs may require core work hours to be covered, offer employees the ability to come in earlier or later when possible. If telecommuting is possible in your environment, allow it once a week. You can set clear expectations and standards to ensure the work gets completed, but err on the side of being flexible.

Tie employee compensation to the achievement of mutually negotiated goals and objectives rather than tenure. The fairness of compensation is in the eye of the beholder, but employees respond favorably to pay plans that let them control their destiny. Understand your employees’ motivations and drivers, and you will understand what pay package will keep them loyal. If you offer year-end bonuses, tie them to performance, as well. Ensure that your reward system values personal contributions, not seniority.

Focus on coaching and performance management rather than job appraisals. The first is forward-thinking, aimed at improvement in the future. The latter is more punitive. Clarify expectations so there can be no room for misinterpretation.

Recognize the negative impact the “slackers” in your organization have on your top performers. Top employees often get saddled with additional work from the employees who are “coasting” and it builds significant resentment. Adopt a policy of zero tolerance for nonperformance. Make it fair by setting clear expectations of those who don’t reach the performance bar, provide them any required training, then hold them accountable.

Provide your employees with opportunities to attend training courses to advance their skills. It’s counterintuitive but, when you keep employees marketable by keeping their skills up to date, their loyalty to your company grows. Training and development activities should be offered across the board – from your executives to the cashiers to the clerical staff. Consider an accelerated leadership training program for your rising stars, coupled with challenging job assignments to test their capabilities.

Provide regular feedback. Make communication a two-way street. Communicating company goals is important. Getting feedback from employees on how to make their jobs more productive is equally important. Schedule check-in sessions with employees at least quarterly to gain their perspectives about their jobs, as well as the company’s goals.

Train your managers on how to interact with imperfect human beings. Technical skills are important but, in a management role, interpersonal skills are just as critical. One of the cardinal research findings of the past two decades was the recognition of the impact managers have on the performance of the workforce. The fundamental discovery of the work by the Gallup Organization, as reported in the book “First, Break All the Rules,” was that managers have great influences on employee satisfaction and loyalty. But often managers are promoted to that position without the appropriate training on how to do the job.

A 2014 study by Oxford Economics said 35 percent of organizations it surveyed claimed their top concern was employee longevity and loyalty, but only 13 percent think a lack of engaged employees is a factor. In that dissonance between the executive suite and the front line where the work gets done is the obstacle to retaining talent.

John Geddie is president of Geddie & Associates Inc., a management consulting firm headquartered in Albuquerque. Contact him at 505-323-1911 or john@geddie.net.

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