Category Archives: Workplace


From “Give me a chance” to “You get one chance.”

Last week I received the following email:

         We are a small company with a diverse workforce and recently hired a team (4) of recent college engineering graduates as Sales Engineers. The generational differences are creating challenges that are affecting productivity and morale and we are searching for ways to help all of us to overcome these differences with better understanding and support. 

Workplace challenges amongst the generations continue as they have for the past twenty years. I see no slack in the demand for solutions. And the solutions vary depending on the size and ability of the employer. For example a fellow panelist at an event this past spring listed the things that the Millennials want in their workplace: Mentors, meaningful work, flexible schedules, newest technologies, planned and predictable career paths, predictable bonuses and raises, and the freedom to work on things that interest them. “It’s simple,” he said. “None of this is hard.” Maybe not, but are these reasonable things to offer a new-hire with no track record? And only the largest workplaces with ample HR budgets can afford to offer these things.

The vast majority of workplaces are like the writers of the email above – small companies where workplace disruptions impact lots of people. The audience that day listened like I did with a perplexed look on their face, saying, “Yeah. You’re right. It’s easy to understand. But who is going to implement all this? And change the way we currently do things? And smooth it over with the old-timers who have been loyal and received none of this treatment? And where is the budget going to come from? We’re small and need people who want to fit in, not disrupt.” Easy to understand? Yes. Realistic? I don’t think so.

Today’s workplace has gone from a place where a new hire sought opportunities to prove themselves to a place where new hires say to their employers “Make me happy or else…” From “give me a chance” to “you get one chance.” My assessment may be harsh but my employer clients seem to agree with my description. As a society we have promised today’s youth that someone else will make them happy; that their happiness is not up to them. In their workplace they want to be made happy, not to be happy. So all the things today’s workplace trends highlight – from mentors to workplace buddies to Ping-Pong tables – are to make employees happy, especially the youngest ones. Maturity will ultimately teach them that their happiness is their own job but until this maturity sets in, the job is the employers. It’s evident in the way we raise children today – from rewarding participation vs. results – to the way we talk about the purpose of education – “do well on your tests so that someday you’ll find a good job that makes you happy”. It’s become a part of our culture.

So what do you do?

  • First, there is an undeniable corollary between age and turnover: the younger they are the more likely they are to leave you to find another employer who they hope will make them happy. From now on, hire youth at your own risk. Buyer beware.
  • Next, don’t let “short timer’s disease” deter you when you’re hiring. If you see a number of different jobs and your applicant is nearing their late twenties or early thirties they’re now become a more predictable person and are likely learning that no employer, job, title, or Aeron chair is going to make them happy. They’re at the age to realize that they want a good job and are willing to invest their efforts into making it a good job. They’re also at the age where they realize that happiness is their job, not yours.
  • Next, communicate interpersonally frequently. Set the devices and the emails aside and look your people in the eye and talk. The screens in our life prevent meaningful interpersonal connections. Talk, show interest, and relate – old school stuff.
  • Finally, where you can provide anything off the list from above that the Millennials want, do it. But don’t alienate your loyal workers in the process. Explain that these new workplace offerings are designed to benefit everyone, not just your youngest employees.

Ultimately word will get out that you’re a good, fair employer and they’ll come looking for you with their resumes in their hands.


What’s Motivating Millennials?

Do you know what’s motivating your millennial employees? Research presented earlier this year by venture capitalist Mary Meeker, and shared by the Huffington Post, indicates that many managers don’t.

In studies cited by Meeker, nearly half the managers believe the most important indicator of success for millennials is high pay. All other factors paled in comparison, with none registering higher than 12 percent.

But when millennials were asked how they define success, only 27 percent said money was most important. Most of those surveyed, 30 percent, said meaningful work was their top factor, while 24 percent said it was a sense of accomplishment.

Both of these factors polled at only 11 percent among managers. Slightly higher on the managers’ list was a high level of responsibility (12 percent), but just 3 percent of the millennials surveyed found that most important.

Millennials backed up these opinions by ranking training and development (22 percent) and flexible working hours (19 percent) as the top two benefits they value most from employers. Cash bonuses were third (14 percent).

Why the disconnect?

It’s human nature to relate to others with the same yardstick with which we have measured ourselves. Baby Boomers certainly would have viewed salary as the top indicator of their success in their rise up the company ladder. Most Generation Xers, while focused less on money than their predecessors, still would have viewed money as a primary measuring stick.

Now that those generations are in management, they logically expect their employees to hold similar values.

But much as Gen-Xers differ from their Baby Boomer parents, millennials have different priorities. Quality of life is important to them, and that phrase doesn’t just apply to the size of their bank account.

The desire for flexible work hours shows a commitment to life away from work. The desire for “meaningful work” and a “sense of accomplishment” speak to their social awareness and their desire to be socially responsible citizens – not only in the private lives, but in their professional pursuits as well.

Employers who want to hire the cream of the millennial crop — and keep them on the payroll once they’re hired – should take note. A final batch of statistics cited by Meeker drives home the point. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 35 percent of the nation’s civilian workforce in 2015 is millennials – the highest of any generational group (Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers are both at 31 percent). Baby Boomers had been the largest group up through 2010.

Money still talks, but as the millennial workforce grows, it’s no longer the loudest voice in the room. Employers and managers: Adjust accordingly.


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.

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