SPEAKER: The following is a presentation of the ILR School at Cornell University. ILR, advancing the world of work.
CHRIS COLLINS: Good morning. Good afternoon. Good evening, depending on where you are.
I'm Chris Collins. I'm the Director of the Center for Advanced HR studies, and an Associate Professor here in the ILR School. The webcast today is on the topic of attracting and retaining millennial employees. I think a topic that is of top interest to many of your companies, as you think about the changing demographics of the workforce.
Just a couple rules of the road. Today, if you are by chance watching this on a phone or other device, and you want to ask a question, just make sure you get out of the full screen mode to do so.
The second rule of the road is I'm going to try and keep the content relatively short so we have as much time as possible in the 30 minutes for me to take questions. So as I roll through this, as you've got comments, questions, thoughts, please go ahead and submit those. And I'll take the time to sort through those and get to as many as I can.
As we've been doing research on this topic, it's pretty clear to me that this generation is different. There's lots of debates out there around how different millennials are from Gen X and from baby boomers. How much of that will change as they become more mature? As they start to have children? Buy houses? Have more responsibilities in terms of mortgages and things like that?
But it's pretty clear to me they bring different beliefs to the workplace then prior generations. And there's some real interesting dichotomies in this generation that I want to point out. So one thing that's pretty clear is this is a generation that's extremely confident in its capabilities. Extremely confident is an ability to find information, use information, and deliver results for people.
At the same time, it's a generation that I think has real low tolerance for ambiguity. They like to know exactly what they need to do. They want to know what's the things they have to do to get to A, or perform well in the job to complete the project as you want it. So they're both super confident in their abilities, but also somewhat needy in terms of needing extra direction, specific advice and direction as they complete tasks.
As a generation, they're also very high on what we would think of as a need for achievement. They're very achievement oriented. They want results. They want to accomplish things, which is great for us at work. But at same time, they're also a generation that's probably the most risk averse and have some of the greatest fears of failure.
So when we look at statistics in terms of this generation and there move towards being entrepreneurs, starting businesses, it's in a much lower rate despite the economy than we've seen in prior generations. Which suggests the lot around how much they're willing to risk on their own-- the kind of fear of failing in those entrepreneurial ventures. So, again, an interesting dichotomy of a generation that's both super achievement oriented and at same time have this kind of risk aversion and fear of failure.
It's also a generation that has repeatedly been known to want to make a difference-- want to make a difference in the world, want to make a difference at work. On the flip side of that, they're also a generation that we know to be impatient and give up on things relatively quickly. So again, kind of interesting dichotomy as we think through what does that start to mean for the workplace.
And so the first thing I really want to think through is this high achievement orientation. And certainly it positively translates into the workplace in terms of how hard they're willing to work, the effort they're willing to bring to the table. It also translates in terms of wanting opportunities.
So this generation, as they come in to the workplace, they certainly want to make and have opportunities to advance. Often that means looking for a strong mentor, interested in having access to senior managers inside the organization. It's a generation that as a rule really looks to and wants to have a defined career path. They look for and seek out constant dialogue and feedback, which are all, I think, positive things about them as a generation in the workplace.
The negative flip side again on this, is this kind of need or desire for specific direction. I think oftentimes early on when they want to perform, we may not be giving up enough specific direction on tasks, on direction, on how to accomplish what they want to accomplish. Again, there's also that reverse side of the fear of failure and risk aversion that we have to think about how to overcome.
How do we great safe environments for them to test out their abilities to try and perform and give them enough freedom to do so without the kind of negative repercussions of failure, whether that's team dynamics or team settings, or more feedback sessions more frequently. I think we have to think through how to do that better. The second big one to me is this work life integration piece.
And again, while this is probably true of most generations that more and more boomers, Gen X-ers, we all want kind of work, life balance. It's really driven a lot by this generation. And they're making this an imperative of work, where prior generations didn't.
And certainly some of the things that they tell us they're looking for is freedom. And that could be freedom in terms of when they come to work, freedom of how they work, how many hours they work. Is it about getting the work done versus the face time. A lot of it is about this notion of balance, that it's more what I think of as kind of the European ethic around work. That it's I work to live rather than live to work.
Certainly they expect and want to be shown appreciation for effort in coming to work. It's certainly a generation that looks for experiences. And that's a word I'm going to keep coming back to that is important to them is experiences. And certainly a generation that values social.
So the fact that sometimes I want to work from home doesn't get away from the fact that they want a social environment. They want to be able to interact and work with others. Teams are important. Social environment is very important to them.
I think part of the flip side of this is this generation has a massive distrust in hierarchies and institutions. And for lots of you is larger organizations-- that often translates into a distrust of you. That somehow you're part of the system, you're the man that's keeping them down. I'm kind of exaggerating a little bit, but they do have a definite distrust in terms of processes, rules, and institutions that we have to be careful of.
They will definitely, again, not all of them, this is kind of a broad sweeping generalization, but they tend to prioritize self overwork and self priorities over work priorities. And so that's a negative thing that we have to potentially keep in mind. And they don't really fit with past views of sacrifice and deferring gratification.
So it's quite potential that I was born a Gen Y and not a Gen X. Because I heard that from birth, basically from my father, that I never knew how to defer gratification. But it's certainly true with this generation. They want things fast. They want things to happen fairly quickly. So we have to keep that in mind as employers.
I think also what's interesting to me is this is a generation that's super capable. They've got lots of great skills, lots of great skills around technology, around use of technology, around finding and using information. And coupled with that, it's a generation that really wants to make a difference. And so to me, again, that has really positive spillovers to work.
They want exposure to more tasks with more responsibility, more duties. They're a generation that wants to take on tasks and assignments that are outside the normal job that they want to do more and more all the time. Certainly really interested in doing project work and volunteerism-- is really important to them. Those are all positive aspects of this generation. I think we should be thinking about how do we use both their advantage and our advantage.
There is a negative flip side of this though, right? They're very impatient with the pace of working in larger organizations. Or at least what they perceive to be the pace of work in large organizations. They tend to have a very deep focus on aspects of work that are meaningful to them, often at the consequence of those aspects of their work, or job that aren't so meaningful to them.
I think from our research and surveys that we've done, we're seeing upwards of 90% of this generation saying they expect to stay at any one organization no longer than three years. So they kind of see that three year as a hurdle of when they expect to be leaving or turning over to some other place. And I think often they under-deliver on projects, on assignments, particularly around those assignments where it's not been made clear to them the why. So this generation isn't particularly great at just being given tasks and told to do it. It's really important for them to understand the why not just the what.
So for us, I think that really comes into a lot of things that we should start to think about as organizations. And before I go into some of these thoughts, I want to continue to encourage you to submit some questions. I'm going to start taking a look through now and just see what kind of questions have come in already.
So first one, will the slides be available? Yes, of course, slides will be available. Later today they'll be up on the website.
One of the other questions that seems to get asked a lot and has already been asked so far today is, what does this mean for you, larger organizations that have built in hierarchies, you need hierarchies, you need some levels of bureaucracy and structure in order for organizations of your size to exist. I'm not sure that millennials necessarily are against that. I just think they need to know how they fit within these structures.
I think this is where it really brings out the importance of-- do they understand what career paths are? Do they understand the why of reporting? So not just saying, well, this is how it is, because we're a large company. But do they understand the why that we have to produce these particular reports? Do they understand why we have to get this kind of permission to make things happen?
So I think a lot of this is helping to socialize this generation to the workplace, and what all the positives are, as well as what are some of the downsides of the hierarchy. So I think helping them understand-- here's how we're built, here's why we're built that way, here's how we can speed up decision making, here's opportunities for you contribute-- all those are ways to kind of work around the hierarchy without making them feel upset about it.
A lot of questions coming in around why is this generation the way it is. Particularly questions around what were some of the factors-- was this around parenting? Someone actually rode in the helicopter-- parent-problem. It is about a lot of things, actually.
And so the search we've done, all the reading I've done, there's lots of things that shape any particular generation. Think about it, this is a generation that grew up with immediacy of technology, immediacy of answers at their hands, certainly around parenting and teaching techniques that made them feel that self esteem is critical, that individualization is really critical. And that's hammered on them from day one from marketing of products, marketing of services to them as a generation. It comes with their free access to information that they grew up with.
It certainly comes with, I think, a little bit of everyone getting a trophy for participation. And I think we have to take some of this into account that as companies, we have to think about what's important to us in terms of how we treat our employees. And I think more and more so whether it's Gen Y, this millennials Gen Z that's going to come into the workplace, but even Gen X-ers, like myself, and baby boomers, we more and more today are at that stage where we expect to have some degree of recognition of the effort we're contributing, the recognition of the value we're bringing to the organizations.
And there's a lot of cynicism in the world. And that cynicism is built up a lot through exposure to media, exposure to technology, and exposure to information. But I think it's important for us to remember as organizations and as a function to think through how do we build in that positive reinforcement inside the company, whether that's through our leaders, through systems, through our own technology. But I think that's an important thing to recognize.
A lot of questions as well on how long we expect this to last. Is this a fad that's going to go away? Because again, once this generation starts to become more encumbered by responsibilities with children, mortgages, car payments-- I do think that the newest research coming out from the sales of housing is this generation right now is the most active buyers of real estate and housing in the country.
From what I just heard last week, it turns out that the most popular house being bought by generation of millenials is the three bedroom, two bath suburban home. Which is shocking to many of us, because it's basically a replication of their youth. So some people are starting to use that as an argument to say, well, soon as they reach a certain age this is all going to go away. They're going to have all this kind of need ground out of them. And they're going to behave like all the people have in the past.
I think the fallacy of that is Gen X and Gen Y are starting to look more alike as Gen X starts to have these same demands. In fact, baby boomer employees are starting to have many of these same demands as well. So I think we need to rethink the workplace in a broader way.
And some of the principles I think that are going to be important is this notion of how do we create better systems for feedback on performance. How do we stop making this an annual cycle that doesn't match kind of the more frequent nature in which people need feedback to perform? I think we have to think through better systems and better ways to solicit input from our employees.
The lifeblood of our organizations is knowledge and knowledge work. So how do we increase the chance and opportunities for people to have input, have real ideas that they can contribute to the organization? I think we have to continue to make sure we're thinking about the work environment that we're creating.
Part of the responsibility for us as a function to make sure we're creating these places that are great places to work. That we can continue to attract and retain the best people. And I think this notion of meaningfulness in work is cutting across generations.
People want to work on things that are important and meaningful, so we have to think through how do we create those opportunities. So long answer to a short question is, I don't think it's going away whether or not they gain more responsibilities. I think many of the same principles of what we need to do differently are going to remain the same.
This is kind of an ongoing debate and a lot of questions that get raised whenever we do meetings on this topic of millennials-- is this notion that they need really fast progress-- that they need to be promoted every 6, 9, 12 months into new roles. I think what we're actually finding is what this generation wants is experiences. This notion of experiences over promotions and titles. And we're finding this from a lot of different angles.
I was just talking to a senior HR leader last week about this generation. In talking to him and some of the research they've done is that there's a lot a notion that this generation values experiences in life in general over things. So the notion that fewer of them are going to own cars, or own houses, or whatever. Because they're going to use that money instead for experiences.
I think that's true in the workplace as well, that a lot of this generation you can really engage, keep excited about work beyond promotions by additional assignments, additional opportunities to contribute additional ways to input to the organization. Whether that's through short-term projects, short-term assignments, through rotational opportunities-- without necessarily always promoting them every 6, 9, or 12 months. Because at some point we actually have to have them start to deliver results. If we're going to evaluate their ability to perform at higher levels, to lead the organization in the future, we've got to have them stay through cycles where they can actually deliver results in their jobs.
So I wouldn't be afraid to continue to push out the span of with which they move from job to job, but to augment that. Are there ways to test out their skills and new ways with short-term team project, short-term project assignment that goes outside the scope of their job. And what I love about this generation is they'll put in the time.
If you're giving them work that's meaningful and explain to them why their full-time job is still important, but what this new assignment may mean to them, to the company, to new products, or whatever it might be, they'll put in the time to do both of those. So I think that part of this is thinking through how do you manage to expand the job rather than just keep pushing them from job to job.
And that kind of leads into questions the number of you have about this notion of career paths. I think again, this career path thing's going to get harder and harder for us as a function. As we change and think about differences in our own organizational structures, how fast then business environment is moving, how fast competition is moving, it's really hard to plan out 10 and 12 year careers. And I honestly don't think that this generation has the patience to think through a 12-year or a 15-year career path anyway.
So I think when we're talking about career paths with this organization or with this generation, it's really around helping them understand what's the current role they're in? What are the array of opportunities that expand from this? So, what are the different paths and what they might look like? Helping them understand what are the skills, capabilities that they need to do for each? What are the opportunities within each of those?
And create again, the opportunity for them to have information to make choice. That's really again, when I think about what defines this Generation-- why websites and companies like Amazon are so attracted to this generation-- it's a fundamental match of their need for information with choice in individualism. So how do we make sure that they're getting lots of information around what are opportunities? What might they look like? But also what is required of them to get there.
That need for them to have specific detailed information on the how and what's expected of them in order to get that achievement, I think is really important. So this career path thing to me is more-- this is the coaching discussions between them and HR leaders-- them and their line leaders around what are those opportunities? What do they look like? And how would they get there? And what would be the benefit of each of those roles for the future?
So career path's the old traditional succession planning of here's the next 20 years of your career and here's the seven jobs you'll have to get to the top job you want. But what's the next role really look like and what is going to be required to get there? So it's a different take on a career path then we're used to.
A lot of questions coming around this notion of tips on how to coach millennials. And I'm going to just flip ahead in terms of content, because I actually want to try to think through this a little bit. When I was putting together the presentation-- I think this coaching thing, it's all about feedback. And think about ways to provide that feedback.
So a lot of the coaching I think starts with ensuring that there's clarity. Clarity to them on what's the actual task of the job. Clarity for them on the priorities that are tied to that job. What are the things that are most important?
So if you got 12 different aspects of your job, which are the things that are most important, most critical. What are the key steps in each of those tasks or assignment? And also why? This understanding the purpose behind the tasks, I think is really essential to them.
And I think a lot of the performance issues that companies face with this generation, and I've certainly seen it in the classroom, is lack of clarity. And much more so than 10 or 15 years ago. They really want clear expectations on what exactly do you want? What are key steps of getting there? And then the freedom for them to pursue ideas of how to actually accomplish it.
So I think part of the coaching is about frequency. Having those conversations more often than less often is really important. But I think part of that coaching again, is what's the bigger goal or set of goals? Creating the challenge for them to think through how would they approach it.
Listening to them and talking through their own thoughts about it. So they've got lots of input, lots of chance to have their own ideas and vision of this. Giving them positive feedback and support to start. And then adding in the critical part after.
So it's the and, not the but, conversation. So you're doing really well at this, and one way to enhance that would be this. Rather then, you're doing a really good job, but. So as soon as they here but, it generation-ally somehow puts up the hackles for them.
So we want to make sure we're thinking through this-- how do we do it in an appreciative way? How do we do this in a positive way that's helping them think through, you're doing well to point, and, if you want to enhance it even further, here are two or three other things that we can start to think about, or you should start to think about. So really taking it from that coaching perspective of having them understand the challenge, having them understand what's in front of them, and what they need to do. And then getting them to think through with you the opportunities and ways that they can go about tackling that.
So I think it's a generation that, by nature, responds really well to coaching. Many of them grew up with that from very young ages in being in youth soccer, or youth sports of all kinds, youth dance, whatever. So they're used to coaching. There used to lots of that kind of expert looking in, helping present an idea, and getting them to think through with the expert how to get to where they want to go. So I think they respond really well to what we think of as traditional coaching from an organizational perspective.
Lots of questions on this notion of dress code and formality. And as a generation, by far, the least formal. So I thought my generation Gen X was far less formal than our parents.
And you think all the way back to, dare I bring up president's. But you know, Kennedy, the first president not to wear hats out to formal meetings. So suddenly the whole notion of formal dress code changes in the US.
This is a generation that grew up understanding that they could deliver results and it didn't matter where they were at the time, what they were wearing, whether they were home in their pj's playing their games, interacting with their friends, completing projects for school. The formality of dress just doesn't mean much to them. Unless, we can create the why.
The why in under what situations does formality really mean something. And then helping them understand what that means. What does formal dress look like or should it look like for these particular clients we have to go visit, or this particular presentation you have to make.
Why is it important? Why does it create a certain different kind of feel in the room? And what does that look like?
So again, I don't think they necessarily don't want to do it. I think they just have to understand the why and then the what. So just a generation that has been indoctrinated in school and with parenting, it always starts with why. And then helping them understand what does that actually look like.
So I don't know if they're against it. I mean, it's also hard for me to rail against people who don't want to dress formally when this is about as formal as it gets-- me throwing on a blue sport coat to do a session like this. But otherwise, you'd be hard pressed to ever find me looking too formal in my office. So again, I think we also have to think about what does that mean for the culture we're trying to create in our organizations. And how much formality do we really need at this day in age anyways?
Some questions coming in around that notion of the dichotomy of risk versus achievement. I think to me, and this presents a great opportunity for large companies. So again, lots and lots of this generation really have this high need for achievement. They really want to make a difference in the world. I think a lot of this comes down to our own employer branding.
How do we create the notion in their mind that there's great ways that our companies are impacting the world, whether that's through the way we're impacting health care, the way we're impacting the environment, the way we're impacting the economy, the way we're impacting opportunities for people in growth markets overseas. Lots of ways all your organizations are impacting the world and making it a better place.
So a lot of it is using that to help connect with them on campus, to help connect with them when you're trying to recruit them. But then taking it to the next step. Helping them really see the line of sight in their jobs to those bigger ideas of the organization.
How do they connect what they're doing to the bigger world around them? And I think what they're looking for is a safer place in which to make the difference. Instead of starting their own new small business, taking on lots of that risk themselves, they would love to do that in a context were that risk is deferred across a team, across a group of individuals, across the broader organization. So a failure doesn't necessarily reflect on them, it's something shared by the bigger group.
But I also would push them to understand that failure is part of learning. And it's not necessarily failure at the end, but how do we make small steps and take small risks early that don't lead to big failure later on? And doing that through the feedback, through the coaching, through the interactive and engaged leadership of our organizations. And I think that that's the way to really drill into this organization.
Your organizations have tons of opportunities for them to have experiences to try new things, to be adventurous, to have input in new products, new ideas, new marketing, particularly back to their own generation. So there's lots of companies that are using them on projects to think through how to digitize their marketing, to think through new ways to connect brand to this generation. So put them to use. Give them those opportunities. And then give them the guide rails on which to be successful. I think then you get the best of all these worlds.
I'm going to try and hit more question and then we're going to wrap up. So the last question, which seems to be coming up a lot about, is the notion that they're not the only generation that we have in the workplace. And I think that's an incredibly important point. That we want to remember that one, not everyone in this generation has the exact same needs or beliefs.
And there may be differences between Gen X, Gen Y, baby boomers. I do think there's a coming together, though. More and more of all these generations want the same thing. They want respect at work. They want to feel like they're being given all the information they need to be given in order to be successful.
They want transparency. They want choice. They certainly want to feel appreciated and valued. And they want a place where they can be engaged with work and really contribute their whole selves to the organization.
So I think a lot of these things cut across generations. And really just means we need to be doing a better job of managing the workplace. And a lot of what our best practices I think of HR get to the heart of that.
So I would say yes, they're different. But probably the other generations are more similar in many ways now than we think. So I would think about this as a total kind of redo of our organizational structures, and performance management, and culture. But in the context of lot of things you do already probably appeal to most of these generations, if we could just let it be known.
So thanks again for all the great questions today. I loved the fact that it was 20 plus minutes of being interactive, versus me just rattling off content to you. We will post the slides.
There is a working group report as well up on the Cars website from the last working group we did on millennials that you should check out as well. And we'll probably look to do another one of these in six to eight weeks. So keep us in mind. And we'll send out another email for the next session. And thanks again for joining us today.
This has been a production of the ILR School at Cornell University.
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Much has been written about millennials and the potential impact their generation will have on companies as they become an increasingly larger percentage of the workforce. Many companies have already started to think through the changes they will need to make to company culture, organizational design, HR practices and leadership models, in order to attract, engage and retain top talent from the millennial generation.
Chris Collins, associate professor of human resource studies and director of the Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies (CAHRS) at Cornell, discusses how the millennial generation is impacting its work environment and outline the underlying HR challenges presented, with regard to work habits, recruiting practices, performance management, employee development, career pathing, workplace design, work-life balance and engagement.