by Cynthia Clay, CEO of NetSpeed Learning Solutions
I’ve been doing lots of research and reading about Millennials in the workplace, aware that we are in the midst of a huge demographic shift. One thing I’ve noticed is that there appears to be a lot of carping and complaining about Millennials. I’m guessing a lot of these complaints are coming from Baby Boomers who don’t really understand the values of this generation. (Full disclosure: I count as a late Boomer myself.) Through their familiar generational lens, they accuse Millennials of being needy, entitled, disloyal, and unrealistic in their expectations, completely missing the promise and potential of this incoming generation, a generation that already comprises one third of the American workforce.
Companies need to harness this generation’s idealism, their desire to work collaboratively, their focus on continuous learning, their need to make a meaningful difference in the world, and their aspirations to lead projects and teams. If they don’t, they are going to experience significant churn (a revolving door) as Millennials go where they can grow, lead, and contribute.
The Rise of Millennials in the Workforce
By the year 2020, it is projected that Millennials will make up 50% of the workforce; by the year 2025, that percentage will increase to 75%. Organizations that are paying attention to this trend realize that a cultural shift is occurring, away from the misconception that Millennials (like Baby Boomers) will spend the majority of their working careers in one or two organizations to the new reality: Millennials intend to go wherever they are able to continue learning and leading.
In recent studies, Millennials have expressed strong preferences for working in a collaborative culture (88%). That’s not surprising, given the educational systems in which they’ve matured frequently requiring them to work in groups and teams. Millennials also prefer to work in creative and inclusive work cultures (76%) and given that they are the most culturally, racially, and ethnically diverse generation in US history (43%), that, too, should come as no surprise.
What should be most sobering to any company or organization is that Millennials are willing to move frequently to satisfy their desire to keep learning, growing, and making an impact. Indeed, 73% expect to work for five or more employers in the next five years. And 44% expect they will leave their current employer in the next two years. If that doesn’t get the attention of talent development leaders, nothing will!
Millennials Follow Their Values
Fred Dews (Brookings Now) states, “As Millennials become CEOs, or determine the fate of those who are, they will change the purpose and priorities of companies in order to bring their strategies into alignment with the generation’s values and beliefs.”
Those values and beliefs are captured through the voices of two Millennial leaders. Asha Sharman, CMO at Porch.com states, “I want to be part of something that matters and makes a difference and it reflects in how I fundamentally approach every day.” Maggie Young, a Millennial author and blogger, states, “We graduated high school into terrorist attacks and wars. We graduated college into a recession and mounds of debt… We will have the courage to pursue our dreams because we have absolutely nothing to lose.”
Many Millennial workers are idealistic, focused on making a meaningful contribution, socially-conscious, and unafraid of risk. And here’s a newsflash: 91% of them aspire to be leaders and 63% aspire to be “transformational leaders.” Given their preference for collaborative cultures, 53% of them define leadership as “empowering others to succeed.”
“What the heck?” you might be asking, particularly if you’ve worked inside an organization for many years, watching your career develop slowly over time while you take on increasing responsibilities through occasional promotions, steadily climbing up the career ladder. Many talent leaders haven’t yet fully appreciated the impact of a generation that is itching to lead and expects to be given those opportunities rapidly. You might be relieved to know that Millennials don’t care as much about the titles and the financial rewards as previous generations—87% disagree with the statement that “money is the best measure of success.”
But don’t get too comfortable because here’s the really challenging news: Many organizations are facing a leadership crisis and haven’t yet realized how to harness the passion and commitment of their emerging Millennial leaders. In recent research, 51% of organizational leaders felt that their leaders are not prepared to lead today and 71% said their leaders are not prepared to lead in the future. But, get this: only 20% saw that it was critical to develop their Millennial leaders in the next two years.
Millennials Will Leave You
Take this information in: 71% of Millennials who are ready to leave their employers in the next two years are not happy with how their leadership skills are being developed. Remember that by 2020, Millennials will comprise 50% of the workforce. Any organization that fails to realize the importance of this issue is guaranteed to experience excessive turnover in the next five years.
Simply put, it’s time to focus on developing the skills of Millennial leaders. Of course, you need to take into account how Millennials prefer to be developed as leaders: 63% prefer online classes and 53% prefer mentoring and coaching. My recommendation is to blend collaborative online learning in which Millennials work with peers, colleagues, and mentors to explore leadership practices along with engaging instructor-led, virtual learning sessions that allow Millennials to collaborate on real corporate issues, solve problems, and make recommendations. Then begin to harness Millennial talent on project teams and taskforces. As they build their leadership skills, provide ongoing coaching and feedback. They want to know how they’re doing because they care about their impact.
If you’d like a quick snapshot of these key issues, you can download my latest infographic from the NetSpeed Learning Solutions website.
Cynthia Clay is the CEO of NetSpeed Learning Solutions and the author of Great Webinars: How to Create Interactive Learning that is Captivating, Informative, and Fun, as well as Peer Power: Transforming Workplace Relationships (Wiley).
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