The age of the Millennial is here: their generation now dominates the workplace. But organizational leadership is often one, two, or more generations removed from this vital cohort. How can today’s leaders bridge the gap and effectively motivate, nurture, and retain the unique skills and potential of the Millennial workforce?
According to Pew research, one in three (around 33 per cent) of US workers is now a Millennial—an individual between the ages of 18 and 34. And the proportion is even higher (37 percent) when we look at Canada’s workforce.
Even more astonishing is the speed with which young workers have become a dominant force. As little as 15 years ago, the number of Millennials in the US workforce was only 6 percent, and in Canada only 7.2 percent. And their ranks are predicted to swell until they surpass the Baby Boomers to become the largest living generation.
The majority of Millennials are at the beginning of their careers, and will significantly impact the working environment for decades to come. According to a recent White House report, they are more diverse and better educated than the generations before them, as well as being tech savvy, entrepreneurial, and creative—all highly valuable qualities in the workplace. Being able to understand, attract, and retain this vital generation is a critical element in every organization’s success.
But it’s not always easy for leaders to connect with this valuable but sometimes challenging group. Even PwC, a consistently top-ranked employer, has admitted difficulty in retaining Millennial talent. Recognizing the importance of the issue, they conducted extensive research to discover how this generation thinks and how their unique contribution can be leveraged more effectively. Today, PwC’s NextGen: A global generational study, is the most comprehensive exploration of the aspirations, ambitions, and priorities of Millennial workers.
The report—along with many other examinations of the Millennial mindset—confirms that this generation is very different from those that came before it.
They want to work differently, including a better work-life balance and a more flexible workplace: The Canada’s Telecommunications Industry Industrial Outlook Spring 2014 reveals that as many as 70 percent of millennial employees would prefer to work remotely.
They also have a different set of values. Having grown up and entered the workforce during the recession, they are more cynical about the commitment their employers are likely to make to them. They’re less bound by feelings of loyalty to the organization and tend to change jobs more frequently as they seek new opportunities and challenges. But they are also idealistic, driven by a sense of purpose and a desire to make a difference in the world and fulfill their potential.
Most importantly, Millennials have a different way of looking at leadership. Traditional markers of effective leadership, such as personal dynamism, powerful networks, and skill levels leave them relatively unmoved: according to the PwC survey, “visible,” “well-networked,” and “technically skilled” leaders score low among Millennials. By comparison, a leader’s ability to bring out the best in those around them scored high: qualities such as being “inspirational,” “personable,” and “visionary” were at the top of the list. It’s no wonder: Millennials tend to value the team over the individual and prioritize validation, recognition, and support. A leader capable of bringing the organization together, instilling a sense of purpose, and acknowledging group efforts is the perfect fit for this value-driven and recognition-seeking cohort.
The takeaway is that the workforce is changing, and the way we define leadership needs to change with it. Our workplaces are filling up with high-potential, high-expectation Millennials who bring a wealth of energy, enthusiasm, and ideas, but without the right leadership to nurture and retain them, they won’t stay long.
HRSG’s transformational leadership competencies can help to identify and strengthen the leadership behaviors that resonate with today’s workforce. For organizations used to a more hierarchical, profit-first leadership model, competencies such as “Embracing Diversity,” “Acting with Empathy and Compassion,” and “Inspiring Others” may seem unfamiliar. But these competencies are the key to unlocking—and holding onto—the potential of an entire generation of bright, talented workers.
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