The McKinsey Quarterly reported in its 2008 edition that nearly half of the executives that they surveyed identified increased competition for talent as the trend that will have the greatest effect on their companies over the next five years. They further report that a majority of the respondents say that their companies don’t have a clear view of how to meet this challenge. In fact, most companies are not organized to manage global trends such as the war for talent.
There is a new cottage industry, focusing on how to deal with the latest generation of workers to enter the workforce, the so-called Millenials. The practitioners of this industry play on the fear, anxiety, frustration, and anger that many managers and leaders are experiencing as they confront this new mysterious group of workers who won’t play by the old rules. It is true that an organization’s ability to attract, develop, retain and utilize this generation of workers will be key to their ability to win in the competition for talent and global success. After all, in a few short years (by 2015), Millenials will represent the largest generational cohort in the workforce.
While a lot is being made about this new generation, I have concluded that Millenials are not much different than any other generation. Towers Perrin conducted a global workforce study in 2007 through 2008. It is the largest polling study on the views of the global workforce done during this time. The firm collected 88,600 responses from employees in 18 countries. The study focused on attraction, retention and engagement through the eyes of workers at midsize to large corporations in a broad range of industries.
In my work as a diversity management expert, I have long concluded that any cohort group (generations being the latest example) can be easily stereotyped, which will lead to massive mistakes in the competition for talent. Rather than managing a cohort group, I recommend that organizations learn to manage to the individual.
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The Towers Perrin study suggested that the overall value system of Millenials is not as different from that of Gen Xers or Baby Boomers as anecdotes might suggest. There are dozens of articles that emphasize the younger generation’s push for work life balance. But there is a caution. That caution is: beware of assigning generational labels to individuals. It is true that Generation Y considers work life balance paramount. But the study indicates that work life balance is a significant retention driver for every age group. In summary, the study found that:
- The number one driver of job attraction is competitive base pay. That is true for all generations,
- The top driver for retention in every age group was excellent, career advancement opportunities.
- The number one driver for engagement was feeling good about the company.
- The number one reason for career mobility (that is, willingness to leave one employer for another) has more to do with age or stage of life, not generation, and opportunity. Young Millenials are seeing that they have more job opportunities, and they tell themselves, if there are opportunities knocking out there and the company that I work for doesn’t do things to engage me then I’m going to leave.
In one of my speeches I present the audience with an example of a career experience and ask them to guess which generation it represents. The characteristics of this career experience match closely the stereotypes of Millenials. Most of the audience, in fact, guesses that the careerist is a millennial. After some prodding, I reveal to them that the career experience described was my very own, (I am a front end baby boomer). I use this exercise to illustrate the importance of managing to the individual and not allowing cohort labels to influence the way that we manage people.
So, to win the competition for talent, organizations need to pay attention to those things that are true across all generational groups
. That includes better training, good relationships with supervisors, and development programs. All these things help to raise engagement scores. Organizations will need to learn that if they do the right things, they are not going to have to be concerned with generational differences. People want to be engaged by what they do every day. Provide that engagement and you can attract members of any generational group. The Towers Perrin study indicated that those companies with high employee engagement averaged about 19.2% increase in operating income while those companies with low employee engagement experienced an actual decline of 32% in operating income. Those companies that are winning tend to bring on better candidates, have better training, implement more diverse programs that make new hires more efficient at work, and are more willing to tailor the programs to make them more effective.
Don’t get distracted. Human nature is consistent. Gen Y (Millenials) may look different and have a different set of toys and tools, but they want and need the same things that all of the people in the in the workplace want and need. Be smart. Give the people what they want.