Employment trends: can you bridge the generation gap?

18 August 2017

In my blog of 7 September last year I dealt with the advantages of employing those of more mature years. Many of us are finding that the employment of members of our younger generation can be challenging.

The term ‘millennials’ has now entered common parlance and is usually defined as those individuals born after 1980 and the first generation to come of age in the new millennium. As many traditional employers have already discovered, this generation is different from any that have gone before so recruiting and retaining them has to be done in a different way. The attributes that characterise the millennial generation are:

  • They have been brought up in the digital world. Technology is second nature to them and they will use it readily to find information and solve problems.
  • They are accustomed to new products, frequent technical advances and new ideas. They will therefore constantly seek these in the workplace.
  • Whilst being connected to technology they are also connected to people. Working with others, rather than alone, is the norm.

A survey of HR professionals in the UK carried out by Manpowergroup revealed that there is a serious mismatch between what employers thought millennials saw as important and what they actually valued. As a starting-point 80% of HR professionals thought that the education system did not adequately prepare this generation for the world of work. 90% thought that these young people lacked soft skills such as communication and a positive attitude to work ethics.

When asked to rank in order of importance the factors which contributed to an employee remaining with their employer, the top four given by millennials were:

  1. Reduction in responsibilities
  2. Guarantee of a job
  3. Taking a break and returning to one’s current position
  4. Aligning one’s work with one’s purpose in life.

HR professionals were asked the same. They thought the most important factors were:

  1. Job security
  2. Corporate social responsibility practices
  3. Benefits in employment, eg. health insurance and pensions
  4. Location of employment

There is indeed a serious mismatch; only job security appears on both lists. Many employers will be dismayed to see that millennials value taking career breaks and shedding responsibilities much more than opportunities for promotion or higher pay.

It is clear that as employers we need to change our approach to training and to organising the workplace. We may not change the attitudes of the millennials but we can play to their strengths and use their talents. Education is a starting point and this immediately highlights the perennial problem that 67% of employers would prefer to recruit someone with the right skills rather than invest in training. For those who are willing to train but claim that the education system does not prepare students for the world of work, more collaboration is required. Most students in their last year at school work for a short period in a factory or office. It is in the interests of business people to work with schools and colleges to provide longer and more frequent work experience periods during the last few years of formal education.

To develop the leaders of the future and overcome the unwillingness of millennials to take on more responsibility businesses need to invest more in high-class development programmes for their young talented employees. Many large companies excel at this but SMEs generally find it more difficult to apply the necessary resources.

Millennials generally are very talented in the use of digital technology but the majority of those surveyed thought that they were not given sufficient opportunities to use these skills. This is the area in which employers can most advantageously exploit the talents of their younger employees. It requires collaboration and inviting them to contribute their ideas to the business’s strategy. In the areas of marketing and business development no-one is better equipped than the millennial generation to use social media to develop contacts with customers and potential customers.

So to conclude, here is a checklist of the most effective methods of recruiting, retaining and making the most out of your millennial team members:

  • Encourage collaboration
  • Provide a roadmap for growth and development
  • Understand personal and professional goals
  • Provide development opportunities
  • Introduce or expand flexible working
  • Set up channels to obtain regular feedback
  • Ensure that you have regular performance reviews
  • Establish a vision for your company that goes beyond the basic profit motive by identifying its contribution to society.

We at UHY can help you to improve or expand your business and we are always ready to discuss your business ideas and problems. If you would like to consult us on the human resource matters dealt with in this blog, or on any other aspect of your business, contact me at r.givans@uhy-uk.com or talk to your usual UHY adviser.