The subject of millennials at work is exploding, but myths abound, the most common one being that millennials are lazy, disinterested and disloyal compared with other generations. Millennials do, however, have a very different worldview affecting the way they participate in the labor force. Millennials grew up believing that if they work hard enough, they can achieve anything. Remember, these are the children who got trophies just for sitting on the bench at soccer games, and they are bringing that inclusive and inviting mentality with them into the workplace. Gone are the days of sitting at a cubicle for hours on end. Here to stay are the times of happy hours and office mentoring programs.
When we think of the companies millennials work for, Google, Amazon, Starbucks and Chipotle are constantly at the top of the list. What is it about these companies that is so enticing to young adults? Is there a secret sauce these companies have that retains millennial employees longer than the standard three- to five-year tenure of young adults today?
The truth is, these companies are simply applying lessons every adult learned in their first kindergarten class, and you would be surprised at how simple the secret really is.
Kindergarten Lesson #1: Listen First
Our first day in kindergarten, we were taught we all have two ears and one mouth, which meant that we should listen more and talk less. Unfortunately, this tends to be easier said than done. The most successful employers are asking the questions that will inspire engagement and positive feedback from every internal stakeholder.
Do you know what matters to your employees? Do you have an authentic message you are sending out? Are you re-evaluating yourself based on employee feedback?
The answers to all of these questions can only be answered by listening, not by talking, to employees and team members.
Kindergarten Lesson #2: Include Everyone
One of the earliest lessons children learn is about sharing. Whether it is a new toy, a snack or even an idea, young children are often better than most adults at including others and sharing.
The best companies are implementing this lesson into their work environment. Google is consistently referred to as the best place for millennials to work because of the company’s inclusive environment and the opportunities for success and advancement. A study conducted by Software Advice found that 32 percent of millennial employees rank culture and atmosphere as two of the most important criteria when looking for a job. This is only two percentage points behind the No. 1 attribute millennials look for in a job: salary and benefits.
This leads us to an important mindset shift necessary when employing millennials: They don’t want to work for you, they want to work with you. According to Fortune’s recent list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For, 96 percent of millennials working at Google agree the company has great leadership and welcomes innovative suggestions from employees.
Kindergarten Lesson #3: Build Trust and Play Nicely
Trust is a key millennial currency and it takes time to develop. Unfortunately, you can lose it more quickly than you can earn it. The best way to earn it is to create a space where millennials want to be, and be there with them. As an employer, you are not just there to tell your young employees what to do, but to also interact and “play” with them. When it comes to millennials, office work is as much about socialization as it is about perspiration. According to an Intelligence Group study, 88 percent of millennials want a collaborative work environment. Millennials are not ready to give up the old saying “work hard, play hard” just yet.
Kindergarten Lesson #4: Be A Good Citizen
“Be good” are the two words that every kindergarten teacher says most. This concept also applies to the workplace. This might seem obvious, but many employers fail to recognize the impact of their business model—whether for-profit or for-purpose—on their internal employees. In a survey of 8,000 millennials around the globe, MSLGROUP found that 83 percent want business to get more active in solving social issues.
“More than anything, millennials want to be part of the solution and are turning to the companies they work for and engage with to craft easy ways for them to get involved in issues they care about,” said David Hessekiel, president of Cause Marketing Forum.
Companies such as Warby Parker, TOMS Shoes and Starbucks are always promoting campaigns that allow their employees to give back to their communities. Whether it is the “buy one give one” method made popular by TOMS, or whether it is simply encouraging employees to participate in local charity events, having an impact on the community and standing for more than just your bottom line is key when engaging millennials in the workplace.
The children that were once practicing their alphabet in kindergarten 20 years ago are now some of the best employees in our economy. By the end of 2015, millennials will make up the majority of the workplace and by 2030 will represent nearly 75 percent of the labor force in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s time we start remembering the lessons we all learned in kindergarten to prepare for a new generation of employees.