Developing Millennials In The Workplace
Jan 09, 2017
Are you ready for Gen Y?
The work place is about to change its demographic in a bigger way than we've seen before. Over the next 4 years we will begin to see the exodus of the baby boomers and by 2020 a massive 50% of the workforce will be made up of the millennial generations X & Y. Organisations are about to lose billions of hours of experience, wisdom and know how, to replace it with new ideas, new working habits and mountains of energy.
It's set to be an interesting time for many organisations as the old guard hang up their hats and the new put on their pumps. There may be many implications for employers, but knee jerk reactions based on unhelpful stereotypes are the last thing any of us need. We've been looking at the research and asking a few of our own questions to ascertain what impact this shift will have (if any) on the design and delivery of learning and development solutions.
We've identified three themes and four big things we need to change if we are going to provide a millennial friendly development solution.
Give me a personalised work experience…
For sure, the millennial generation do not have any expectation that they will spend their whole career in one place, or even in one discipline. Far from it; the expectation is that they will need a broad based capability with loads of transferable skills. There is little knowledge of where their particular careers may lead them, the options are so vast that many would consider targeting a particular profession as limiting. Yes they may have had a core capability interest that guided them through their higher education years, but openness, flexibility and options are the new paradigm.
An example of this is already being seen in their view of the traditional job description. Most would expect it to be up for discussion, while having an underlying desire to max out the learning experiences any role might provide them. From a development perspective, they know they will need a broad base of skills and will seek that experience out as they seek to explore the possibilities of the job they currently have.
It's highly possible that this demographic may be the population that begins to break down the obsession of earning ever greater sums of money from their careers. Time will tell whether this prediction comes good, but the current research clearly shows that to these people development and work/life balance are more important than financial reward. At least for now; which suggests the function of learning and development will be of increasing significance in attracting and retaining millennials.
This desire for a personalised or tailored work experience goes beyond the role itself into questions of preferred IT, working hours, places of work etc. Amongst the longer list we also find a desire for personalised learning experience. There is a rapidly growing community of self directed learners emerging. This wave started with those young web designers, who in the majority have learned their craft via self directed video or vlog style training modules. The web has become their magic mirror, they ask it a question, it has the answer. Many now watch more youtube than TV, foregoing the licence fee in preference for online entertainment. There is no stigma in learning whatever you need from the web. A rising 40% already prefer online chat style communication over face to face.
Mix these preferences with the desire to have a much wider skill base and we find a generation that wants to seek out their own learning. Personalise their own learning to suit their current identified gap. With the best will in the world, as well as a substantial budget, few L&D functions will be able to offer the array and choice of learning desired by this group. We have to get more comfortable with building autonomous learners, removing restrictions and putting the solution choice into their hands.
Give me feedback so that I can manage my brand...
Millennials are more familiar with feedback than any of us baby boomers have ever been. Think about it, from primary school they were tested (Sats in the UK), for many they have had a facebook account for the larger part of their lives so brand management via the constant marketing of self has made them expert in looking for and understanding what brings positive affirmation (Likes). A multitude of Apps for fitness, progress, health and other areas of feedback have become second nature. It may in part be true to suggest they can never get enough feedback; not hand holding, but insightful feedback that demonstrates their progress.
It may be over simplifying it to suggest that the worrying trend of increasing anxiety related illness in this population is down to this constant need to present positive across the social channels, but it would also be sensible not to dismiss it. The BBC reported at the end of 2016 that there had been a 35% rise in anxiety cases in under 25’s. Whatever the link, the level of pressure to perform seems many times higher now than what I personally experienced in my late teens and twenties. Whether there's a correlation or not, the feedback that millennials need must be tempered with a significant portion of care and concern for their wellbeing.
Most of us will have experienced that desire to revisit our social media post 10 times in the following hours just to check the feedback. Was it a good post, did many people like it, have they commented and if they have was it a positive affirmation? Place a population that have grown up within a culture of this and you start to understand just how important great feedback now becomes.
Behind development, career progression is the 2nd top priority (52%) of millennials, again ahead of financial reward. Feedback that supports this priority is where its at.
It’s not an attention problem, it’s a 10 second filter!
Have you recently used youtube to learn something, anything? Most of us will likely answer yes to that question. Whether it's how to knit, play guitar, watch a product review or something else, YouTube has become the second largest search engine behind Google. They are the default entrance points to the magic mirror. They are the tools by which we limit the endless possibilities and begin to sort the wheat from the chaff. For a generation that lives in a virtual world where options are limitless and time is short, the sorting happens super quick. If the content is not trusted or not good - then forget it! In fact, forget it and move on quick; 10 seconds quick. It's not an attention problem that they have, it's simply a 10 second filter. Content has to hit the desired spot to get through.
A current day example of this can be seen in the emergence of gamification in eLearning, the considered 'must have' approach for millennials. One we asked responded (and I use their words) by saying "gamification, crapification." There experience simply didn't hit the spot, it wasn't good enough to get through the filter let alone keep their attention. That's not so surprising when you consider the quality of gaming that they are accustom to. Their standard is based upon multi million budgets, leading technology and 1000's of years of development time. Who's L&D budget could compete with that? Patronising eLearning doesn’t last 10 seconds!
Interestingly a far more appealing intervention style is what we might call 'personality led learning'. It's what many are tuning into, trusted individuals that have expertise in their chosen area. This trend has resulted in the emergence of a raft of trusted vloggers who have literally millions of followers. Almost every sphere of interest has them, most will be unknown to us, but to their followers they are mini celebrities who share their lives, humour and insight with them in a one-to-many, yet highly individual way.
It's a form of micro learning, short video stimulus that facilitates comments, discussion and response from the audience. It allows the discussion to build as one and another followers comments and adds their opinions and thoughts. It's an interaction that has relationship and personality which builds a sense of community and belonging amongst the disciples. It's also builds high levels of trust once it's survived the short 'is it any good' phase, allowing new content to be accepted without question.
Four big things we need to change if we are going to provide a millennial friendly development solution
So there are the three themes and so here are the four big things we need to change if we are going to provide a millennial friendly development solution.
1. Build in feedback mechanisms.
We've got to build in effective, caring feedback mechanisms. Not just about how to do something, but more importantly feedback which provides insight into how they are progressing in their development and careers.
It's time consuming for managers, but never has their been a more important time to enter into meaningful discussion with the individuals. Truly supportive managers are needed to provide guidance, sharing, peer critique, whilst offering insightful evaluation. We need to provide a supportive and reassuring environment that is low in risk and high in safety.
2. Build autonomous learners.
Let go a bit! Even when you build a quality learning portfolio, you will never be able to serve the breadth of learning expected by your millennials. It is imperative that you provide them with the tools to take responsibility for their own learning. That probably means providing budget and setting them free to explore their desired avenues of development.
Yes of course it needs to be organisationally focused, but feed their hunger for development by allowing variation, personal choice and individual solution selection.
You don't need to loose control in the process, you simply need good managers who will have their hand on the tiller to provide gentle direction.
3. Build a learning community.
Work out how you can provide and organise discussion topics. Then create a vehicle for sharing and commenting. Provide pre-structured threads, so to avoid chaos.
Then facilitate in depth discussion and interactive response.
This of course should be technology led, remember IT provides the preferred communication mechanism for 40%. That's a percentage that is only set to grow over the coming decade.
All this being closely linked to:
4. Build micro learning as conversation enablers.
We would do well to use more video as discussion enablers. Providing stimulating, fun content that is personality led, quick to access, whilst providing practical insight and application is the way ahead. The ability to post comments against each learning asset (just as in Youtube etc) to build understanding and development needs to be at the heart of building that learning community.