By Andrew Stockburger on February 24 2016
One of the most important fundamentals that can flavor the success or failure of an organization is its culture. A company that demonstrates a positive and engaging work culture is more likely to be innovative, productive, and long-lasting (in no short part because fulfilled employees tend to want to stick around for the long haul).
Executing a positive culture is especially important for organizations aiming to attract and retain younger talent. Compared to their generational forebears, Millennials tend to value job satisfaction very highly and are more likely to leave an employer who cannot provide an appropriate level of satisfaction and engagement. Last year, the Pew Research Center observed that Millennials are now the “largest generation in the U.S. labor force”, representing over a third of American workers. As Baby Boomers continue to retire and exit the workforce, the Millennial majority can only expand.. It is incumbent on any company that hopes to thrive in this evolving landscape to nurture a culture that will motivates Millennials into positive long-term action.
It won’t be easy to prepare for the coming structural changes, but constructive change is never particularly easy. If you want to get your culture with precision, you’ll find it necessary to work with people at all levels of your organization. The leadership must be on board with policy decisions and follow through on them, and the rank and file need to know what is happening and provide real-time feedback. However, despite the challenges, you can create positive change if you have a clear and definitive vision of what you want to achieve.
Now what does a vision of a positive company culture entail? Let’s look at four targets that Millennials will love to see from their future employers:
Greater communication between employees is not just a matter of efficiency and creative cross-pollination — keeping employees in-the-know and allowing them to exchange ideas freely will make them more engaged and loyal to your organization. Your employees should have a clear understanding of what your organization’s goals are, what is being done to achieve those goals, and how they contribute to the bottom line. Your should also feel comfortable sharing their ideas and concerns with their coworkers and higher-ups in an open and free-flowing platform.
Millennials thrive especially well in organizations that promote open communication and collaboration. They like constant communication with their supervisors. Supervisors should provide Millennial employees with frequent evaluations (rather than the stale standard of annuals) of their work and ask for opinions. The opportunity to develop a strong relationship with a supervisor is viewed as especially important, and can go very far toward creating a culture of collaborative loyalty.
Millennials don’t have the same regard for rigid authority as their forebears. When they immerse into your organization, you can probably expect them to be informal in their composure, with everyone from the janitor to the CEO. Organizations should take note from this and adjust (within reason) their hierarchical barriers.
Google is a striking example of a company that has excelled with a relatively flat hierarchy. The Harvard Business Review describes their culture as follows:
“Google gives its rank and file room to make decisions and innovate. Along with that freedom comes a greater respect for technical expertise, skillful problem solving, and good ideas than for titles and formal authority. Given the overall indifference to pecking order, anyone making a case for change at the company needs to provide compelling logic and rich supporting data. Seldom do employees accept top-down directives without question.”
Google does maintain a multi-level hierarchy (In 2002 they unsuccessfully experimented with eliminating management), but they actively avoid hierarchical barriers and encourage employees to make decisions on their own and speak up as needed.
Google’s situation would certainly be revolutionary for more than a few organizations, but for a more moderate approach, there are certainly some stylistic beats to take note of. Innovative ideas shouldn’t be halted at inception because they hail from someone far down the totem pole. Managers and executives should be receptive toward their subordinates’ ideas and seek out opportunities to speak on an even level with them. As workplace cultures shifts to a more autonomous structure, organizations that demonstrate (we’re being real here) stale leadership will find themselves at a competitive disadvantage in the coming decades.
Flexible hours and telecommuting are very attractive perks for younger workers. Employers should recognize that many Millennials’ have a “work to live, not live to work” mentality. They want to engage in pursuits outside of work and are willing go to great lengths to have a good work-life balance.
This demand can create tensions with employers, many of which have held long hours at the office as an expectation. A global study by Ernst and Young says that 1 in 6 Millennials believe keeping a flexible work schedule has negatively affected their careers and that inflexibility and excessive hours are two of the most common reasons for job changes.
In fact, it’s actually better for employers to flow with this changing expectation of work-life-integration.
Employees with flexible work arrangements (you know, executing overtime in pajamas) have been shown to be happier, healthier, more productive, and more loyal.
In fact, human productivity has been demonstrated to decrease in excess of a normal work week.
The discussion of work-life balance should not be taken to mean that Millennials don’t want their work lives and social lives to intersect. Employees should be given opportunities to forge meaningful bonds with their co-workers outside of the context of the office. Parties, dinners, philanthropic events, sports leagues, and the like are great opportunities to break down barriers between employees of different levels.
There is a fundamental culture change coming in the labor force, and employers can either embrace it and move with the winds of change or risk cultural stagnation.. Organizations can meet this challenge (we like to think of it as an engaging opportunity) by crafting positive cultures in which employees are valued and engaged. This can be a difficult venture, but any forward-thinking company can and will thrive at the challenge.