Category Archives: Workplace


Attracting Millennials: The location factor

According to a recent report by Cushman & Wakefield, attracting Millennials has a something in common with selling real estate: location, location, location. And more precisely, urban locations. As it turns out, Millennials are city dwellers and they are all about convenience, so if you want them to come to you, well, you may need to go to them.

Why the big surge in city living? CW’s report cites surveys, including one that shows 62% of Millennials prefer mixed-use communities. Perhaps more important, Millennials have a tendency toward delayed adolescence (or adultolescence). As I’ve talked about here many times, the Millennials are staying in school longer, getting married later, having children later, etc. They are also renting longer and delaying the taking on of mortgages – either because they are still paying off student loans or they simply aren’t ready to settle down. Either way, these factors are making cities more attractive and attractive for a longer period of time.

In recent years the population growth in cities has outpaced that of suburbs, reversing a trend that had been growing since the 1930s when the automobile made the ‘burbs more accessible. Today, Millennials are driving less than any other generation and no longer see a driver’s license as a ticket to freedom. They are group-oriented as a whole and prefer to live among their peers. While it remains to be seen whether their tone changes as they age, the fact remains that more cities are seeking to create neighborhoods that offer the work-life balance young professionals desire. As a result, more companies are going to need to reconsider suburban campus centers that were so attractive to Boomers years ago. At the very least, larger companies may find it advantageous to set up satellite offices “in town” to accommodate an increasingly city-based workforce.


Entitlement: Perhaps it’s not just for the kids

When considering the different generations in the workforce it is easy to slip into blame and pointing fingers: “Back in my day, we would never talk to our superiors like that” and “They are just so out of touch.” Some folks just like to simply deny the problem off the table: “Oh, the younger generations have always pushed limits, nothing to see here.” It’s not surprising that neither of these approaches helps attract, engage and retain a diverse workforce.

But even as companies are looking at how to focus on the similarities between the generations (rather than complain about the differences) and to construct new policies and approaches that appeal to these similarities, one concept remains largely reserved for the youngest generation. Yes, Millennials are almost exclusively derided for a sense of entitlement. But is that fair?

A recent article in Canada’s Leader-Post delves into some reasons why entitlement may be more of a similarity than many would like to admit. An excerpt:

In her decade of researching the phenomenon of entitlement in the workplace, Carleton University psychology professor Janet Mantler said she’s found evidence to suggest entitlement is going up across the western world, among every age group. It’s just that the people conducting the studies tend to only measure it in youth.

(…)In a world where every kid gets a trophy just for showing up and labour-hungry companies buy warm bodies with hiring bonuses, the result is a kind of false feedback loop that distorts our conception of what we truly deserve. Humans don’t much like to attribute success to luck, Mantler said, so when we reap rewards for literally being in the right place at the right time, we interpret it as confirmation we are innately extraordinary. We don’t think we need to earn rewards – we just expect them.

I’ll just let you ruminate on that one a bit.


South Carolina is bringing apprenticeship back

With the movement of manufacturing jobs overseas, America largely lost the master-apprentice model of skill development. College transitioned from liberal arts to business prep. With manufacturing making a comeback, the need for vocational skills is growing and the labor force is not keeping up. In 2007, South Carolina recognized this gap and implemented an apprenticeship program with 777 individuals across 90 companies. In 2014, there are more than 670 companies participating and the program has reached 11,000 workers. NPR recently reported on the success of the S.C. program.

Part of succession planning is passing along institutional knowledge from one generation to the next. With the Boomers retiring and the Xer population not large enough to replenish it, the Millennials will need to be brought up to speed quickly. But this is not only a generation gap consideration. With high schools focusing on college prep and colleges focusing on business prep, vocational training has fallen out of favor. Apprenticeship programs provide a viable substitute.


Who are you calling a slacker?

The Bank of America Fall 2014 Small Business Owner Report warrants a second post. It’s chock full of generational tidbits, including a look at how the generations describe themselves. There is significant backlash against generational trends and analysis in the media these days—nobody wants to be defined by their generation alone. I get that. But the purpose of trends is to identify shifts and be better able to react to those shifts. And while not every member of a generation will possess every characteristic or fulfill every stereotype of a generation, the overall trends tend to ring true. The BofA report backs that up using the voices of the generations themselves.

Millennials describe themselves as creative (26%), confident (18%) and optimistic (15%), but not loyal (6%) or hardworking/dedicated (7%). Conversely, Boomers describe themselves as hardworking and dedicated nearly five times as often (33%) and are significantly less confident (8%). Not surprisingly, though, Boomers don’t consider themselves incredibly loyal either (6%).

These self-ratings closely correlate to the generational norms frequently used to describe these groups. With one glaring exception: more than half of Generation X – the original “slacker” generation – describes itself as hardworking and dedicated. Whether this is because they are in the thick of it in terms of responsibility or because they are fighting hard against that early stereotype, the disconnect between common folklore and self-assessment for this group is significant.


Take your parents to work day

In November, LinkedIn hosted its second annual “Bring in your parents day,” a twist on the “take your child to work day” initiative that started back when Gen X was in elementary school. At first glance this may seem like a gimmick, but there is some sound strategy behind it.

LinkedIn is achieving a double-win for the generations with this initiative:

  • It helps educate an older generation about their technology-driven business
  • It helps parents become supportive of their children’s career paths – even when they don’t understand them.

Millennials, and to some degree Gen X, have a tendency to have very involved parents. And the influence of those parents can extend well beyond the years where the child is living at home. By welcoming parents to the office, LinkedIn is extending the family bond and, hopefully, increasing employee engagement and loyalty in a small way. Other technology companies have taken note, with more than 50 companies picking up the trend.


Don’t follow your bliss

Have you seen this story?  Mike Rowe, the guy from the FORD truck commercials and Dirty Jobs, responded to a fan with an answer that would make many managers give him a standing ovation.

The fan was asking Rowe why he should not follow his dream; a reaction to a Ted Talk where Rowe told the audience that “follow your dream” was awful advice. Rowe, a young Boomer, told the fan, whose generation is not disclosed, that “Passion is too important to be without, but too fickle to be guided by.”

Rowe is known for Dirty Jobs and his new series Somebody Has to Do It.  In both, he showcases jobs and careers where one would not expect to find a lot of passion.  But his experiences have proven that people can become passionate about any work.

“Today, we have millions looking for work, and millions of good jobs unfilled because people are simply not passionate about pursuing those particular opportunities,” Rowe writes in his response.

And that’s an opportunity that some businesses can capitalize on. Despite Rowe’s logic, the idea of following your passion probably isn’t going anywhere.  Companies that are struggling to find workers for certain roles can do themselves a favor by seeking out passionate role models among their current ranks.  Use these stories to show others the why they may want to be the “someone who gets to do it.”

Read the full story here.


Do-it-yourself customer service? Yay or nay

Back in the day, if a customer had a question, she went to the office or store and spoke to the manager.  Perhaps she called on the phone. Either way it was a one-to-one conversation. The same was true with making a purchase. A person selected what they wanted, brought it to the checkout and paid a real, live person (and usually with cold, hard cash).

Today, customers can engage in entire transactions – from purchase to return to replacement – without ever speaking to a single person.  And while I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been frustrated by the demand to “please listen closely as our menu options have changed” when all they knew full well their question couldn’t be answered by the automated options, there are an increasing number of people who are happy to avoid the human element.

So what does this mean for businesses? It is hard to know how to find the balance. Even businesses that are known for their white glove touch service—such as high end restaurants—need to appeal to both the Boomer who enjoys having a personal connection with the manager and Gen Xer who wants to secure his reservation on his own time using Open Table. Both customers see value in completely opposing approaches to the same end goal.

Go from the steakhouse to the grocery store and you have the same conversation.  Self checkout lanes are becoming increasingly popular, but their use is largely divided on generational lines. What is good for business? What turns your service into something that can be experienced anywhere you can swipe a debit card? Where is that line?

Depending on the moment, I may prioritize convenience over connection, but then sometimes the best conversations come when and with whom you aren’t expecting anything interesting to happen. As usual, one size doesn’t fit all, so the best solution comes when you can provide options that appeal to different people…or even different moods.


Creative benefits: An example that resonates

I’m on the road at least one night per week for 30+ weeks a year talking to companies about how to attract, engage and retain the next generation of talent. Whether in a small group workshop or to a keynote audience of multiple hundreds, we are often discussing creative ways to look beyond pure dollars and identify other benefits that make employees feel appreciated and understood.  The examples I share and ideas that come from the audience frequently focus on achieving the elusive work-life balance.  I’ve heard a lot, but I found this example recently on and it is new, even to me:  A pre-cation.

At least two companies (both based in San Francisco, where competition for tech talent is fierce and people are generally weirder than most other place) have begun offering, actually requiring, new recruits to take a paid vacation before starting new jobs.  It’s brilliant. It’s also a bit odd.

In today’s over-worked, stressed out work environment many, if not most, employees do not take all of their vacation (or “paid time off”) anyway.  Therefore the pre-cation isn’t a heavy financial burden.  Even when employees do max out their PTO, the cost of an additional two weeks at the start of employment pales in comparison to the benefit of having a refreshed, appreciative and, yes, engaged, new employee join the ranks.  Atlassian and 42floors, the two companies referenced in the Slate article, have been at this for a couple of years and see a difference.  In fact, one of them requires another 2-week paid refresher after five years on the job–they even provide a travel bonus.

I’m not sure how quickly such an idea could catch on in other industries or for larger companies, but it is a great example of thinking outside the box to find solutions that benefit both the company and the employee.


Is an ethics course in order for the Millennials?

The workplace cliché of the boss who makes the young staffers do all the work and then takes all the credit may be meeting its match.  A new study by marketing firm DDB found that 27 percent of Millennials had taken credit for someone else’s work.  And that’s just the ones who would own it.

Comparatively, 15 percent and 5 percent of Xers and Boomers, respectively, admitted to the same.  So what’s driving this seeming underhanded behavior?  And how does this reconcile with a group that we’ve called social and altruistic?

According to the survey authors, it’s the old dollar bill.  With Millennials feeling pressure to secure their jobs, they may be more willing than usual to ignore their inner Jiminy Crickets.  On the flip side, and to be fair to the Millennials, this survey didn’t have a historical reference point.  That is, we don’t have a similar statistic asking Boomers this same question when they were the same ages Millennials are now.  So is this ethics indiscretion a factor of youth or a reflection on a generation?

I think this may be one of those areas where age drives the bus. The older employees get, the more they have to lose and the more they understand the risk to their reputations vs. what is usually very little reward.  Or at least I want to believe that to be true.


Retirement across the generations: Outlooks and warnings

It’s generally accepted that individuals will need retirement savings of roughly 16 times their pre-retirement salary, and that social security will cover only 4 times salary at most. It is also generally understood that most individuals cannot count on employer-defined plans to fund that missing 11 times salary – but how much is very different by generation.

An Aon Hewitt study reported in Benefits Quarterly predicts that Boomers will be responsible for generating roughly 6.3 times salary out of their own savings while Millennials are faced with a  daunting 10.5 times salary gap. The upside, of course, is that Millennials still have plenty of time to contribute, however very few are approaching retirement planning as aggressively as they should.

This presents employers with an opportunity to help their youngest employees to help themselves. Young employees are less likely to have established financial advisor relationships and may not know where to turn for advice, other than their parents and peers. Providing regular retirement planning education can help this important employee base understand their options and be more confident about the future. Demonstrating an interest in their future success – even while knowing how unlikely they are to stay with the same organization for long – will help with their loyalty, both as employees and as future centers of influence.

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