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Shift Happens

To attract millennials at work, consider the 'Athena Doctrine'

<p>People between 15 to 35 years old place equal importance on empathy and accountability, this author says.</p>

Hierarchical companies or those with aging workforces may struggle to attract and retain younger talent. Getting management to create the organizational change needed to address this challenge can be difficult, especially when those setting the tone and making the decisions may be older than 50 themselves.

The commitments and actions needed to engage a mature workforce are not always relevant for engaging millennials, or those ages 15 to 35. Companies must consider a new dimension of engagement in order to attract and retain talent from this generation, as well as respond to millennials' attitudes and expectations about work and life balance.

Consider these dynamics:

Millennials are numerous: As millennials enter the workforce, they eventually will eclipse baby boomers by 5 million.

Millennials are digital denizens and consumers: They exchange information, connect and socialize with each other using digital networks. They consume news and entertainment on demand, which fuels their need for instantaneity. So pervasive is digital technology in their lives, millennials may not recall a period working without it.
Millennials are diverse: This generation is diverse both demographically and from a values perspective. They seek their own measure of satisfaction and fulfillment through a variety of choices and ethical or social causes. Millennials are attuned to the values of a company and its mission, but they are not brand loyalists.

Millennials expect frequent job turnover: Compared to previous generations, working millennials also anticipate more career changes. Younger workers also expect more frequent feedback, advice and support from management.

How workplaces are adapting

In his book "The Athena Doctrine," John Gerzema describes a phenomenon where workers and workplaces are increasingly collaborative, adaptable and nurturing, which he calls feminine values. To keep pace with these rapid societal changes and worker expectations, Gerzema says leadership should be based on "inclusivity" and a "diversity of ideas"  -- whether it's men or women -- and bringing younger people into the decision-making process. He urges the need for business leaders to engage their customers, employees and communities continuously.

Does that describe your workplace? If not, it's time to adapt.

An effective engagement approach can generate significant financial return. A recent Towers Watson study of 32,000 employees across 30 countries makes a compelling case for the connection between an engaged workforce and financial performance. This new study concludes that the traditional means of engagement is no longer sufficient to yield top performance. Work environments that more fully energize employees by promoting their physical, emotional and social well being -- "sustainable engagement" -- had an average 1-year operating margin of 27 percent. In comparison, companies deploying traditional engagement techniques had a margin of 14 percent.

These same companies also had very different retention profiles. Some 24 percent of employees with average engagement scores said they were likely to leave their employers over the next two years, compared to just 18 percent of employees with the highest sustainable engagement scores.

If you have not modified your engagement techniques and substance already, be prepared to do so. A key to attracting and retaining millennials is fostering an organizational culture that places equal importance on empathy and accountability.

Tackle the millennial conundrum

Consider the following approaches to more effectively engage with these employees:

Encourage participation in social media at work by introducing and supporting digital communities, chat rooms and virtually connected employee resource groups. Evidence strongly suggests job satisfaction is driven by collaboration and socialization, both during and after work hours.

Pair more senior workers with millennials in operations to share knowledge and experiences. These relationships build respect across the generations and can diffuse cultural differences.

By fostering an adaptive, collaborative relationship with millennials, these employees will become more emotionally invested in the organization. In turn, this will enhance the employer's reputation and employee retention rates. When employer reputation changes, so do the relationships of employees with employers, thus yielding "sustainable engagement."

It's crucial that companies find a way to attract and retain employees from a younger generation in order to continue evolving and growing in the marketplace. Putting effort into this organizational change will prove beneficial in the near and long-term and help companies stay competitive.

Image by Pressmaster via Shutterstock

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