Engaging Gen Y: Employees Are Thinking Far Beyond The Cubicle

employee engagement gen y

The Business Manager at my last employer just celebrated her 43-year work anniversary. At 20 years old, she took an administrative job and worked her way up over the next 40 years as she gained more experience and tenure. It was her first job and she will be working there until she retires 2 years from now.

Stories like this used to be more common in the workplace. It was commonplace to get a job on the ground floor of a company, expecting that they will take care of you and your professional career while you grow with them. You were expected to work your way up the ladder to a middle management position, then the corner office; all the while building your pension so you can finally escape the cubicle on your 65th birthday.

Times Are Changing

Millennials (or Generation Y) are made up of people born between 1977-1995. They’re currently in their 20’s and 30’s, and even though there are plenty of stats and studies around this generation, the corporate world has been slow to adapt.

While most Baby Boomers have traditionally valued job security and benefits from their employers, Millennials are focused on employability. Employees that value longevity are slowly being replaced by a younger generation of workers who are constantly aware of how their current jobs can be leveraged within their career overall.

Millennial and older generations alike are both focused on a career, but the younger generation is always looking outward. They often consider their current job as one step on a bigger career path. It’s a stark contrast from the way older generations have tied their career advancement to a desk within the walls of their current employer.

This distinction is paramount for companies to consider when hiring and retaining people in today’s work environment. It means that organizations have to adapt to a new way of managing their people; adjusting their incentives, benefits, and culture to better match the emerging workforce.

Employee Engagement For The New Generation

The way your employees view their company values, leadership, and their own part within the organization is changing rapidly. In 10 years, Millennials will likely make up 75% of the workforce. Gen Y will begin to take higher-level positions as they advance their professional careers, bringing a host of new challenges for companies to adapt to.

There’s no doubt that today’s business landscape is changing rapidly. Now is the time for organizations to consider changing their culture to support their younger team members, or risk losing them to the more forward-thinking competition.

With that in mind, below are 3 key considerations for building a company culture that engages and supports the millennial generation:

1. Embrace Social Responsibility

According to a 2012 report by Net Impact, 72% of university students surveyed said they valued a job that makes a social impact over wealth, prestige and having children. This is in stark contrast to 53% of today’s workers, illustrating a growing focus on values over compensation.

Younger generations aren’t the only ones focused on social impact, though. According to Net Impact, “the majority of all generations agree that they have a personal responsibility to make things better for society, rather than leaving it to others.”

While Gen X and Boomers tend to separate their career from their civic contributions by volunteering and contributing outside of work, Millennials want these values integrated into the work they do every day. The majority wants to know that their employer’s corporate responsibility behavior reflects their own.

Organizations looking to retain employees should consider the impact they make outside of their office walls, and how they can engage their team members to contribute.

2. Engage employees in your company story.

Transparency has become a buzzword in the way organizations do business today. But, for companies like Buffer that take it seriously, building a culture of transparency is more than a buzzword. It’s about trust, and teamwork.

The idea of hiding behind the boardroom walls to make top-down leadership decisions is becoming more unpopular as employee engagement becomes a priority.

This yearning for more transparency in the workplace may be a result of their lack of personal privacy outside of work. Millennials are continuously hooked into a world of transparent communication online, following real-time news, trends, and status updates from their peers. It signifies a level of trust for them that isn’t shared by generations of the past.

Millennial employees want to stay informed of the direction of the company. They want to feel valued by the company and empowered to help drive the organization’s strategic goals.

Engaging them in your company story helps infuse a sense of purpose and value in your team members. Whether it’s an overall culture of transparency or something else altogether, sharing your story with them allows them to embody that culture in the work they do every day.

3. Support their professional growth.

Multiple studies have suggested that Millennials are only planning to stay in their current role for an average of 3 years. Even today’s more senior employees have changed jobs an average of 11 times over the course of their professional lives according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The fact is, you can no longer expect your best employees to stay with you forever, and it’s up to you to decide how mutually beneficial you want to make the time you have with them.

Investing in your team through professional growth opportunities is an investment in your business. It helps them grow their portfolio of skills and accreditations that they will apply to their role within your company.

And, they may even stick around longer than you thought. While there are many factors that contribute to employee retention, a lack of advancement opportunities is a big reason why employees decide to leave.

Give them opportunities for professional development, both internally and externally, and your employees will ultimately stay more engaged in their current role.

Looking Toward The Future

As your company’s senior executives begin to retire out of the workforce, and a surge of younger generations begin to take their place, organizations must begin to make employee engagement a priority.

The emerging workforce is entrepreneurial, cause-oriented, and more digitally connected than ever before. All of these studies and stats should tell you one thing: Your employees are now thinking far beyond their cubicle.

It’s clear that we are at a pivotal time in the way work gets done. As a leader, you can fight against it, or you can begin to make the necessary changes to your company culture to help your best employees stay active and engaged in a meaningful way.

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Chris Cancialosi

Chris Cancialosi

Partner at gothamCulture
Chris Cancialosi is a recognized expert in the field of leadership and organizational development with particular focus on the leader’s role in shaping high-performing culture.
Chris effectively combines his operational field experience with his knowledge of organizational psychology to provide unique and practical solutions to today’s ever changing business landscape.
Chris Cancialosi