Millennials and Meaning: Employee Engagement in our Digital, Mobile Age

Posted by on June 10th, 2016

Employees are an integral stakeholder and, most importantly, an ambassador for a company’s brand. As evidenced by various high-profile PR challenges, for example Yelp, Applebee’s and here, a disengaged worker can act out and cause untold damage to your company’s reputation – no matter what industry you work in.

To address these newly empowered employees, companies are changing how they engage their staff. At the root of these changes is the reality that the face of the workforce is undoubtedly changing, and with it, expectations concerning the integration of personal values and workplace practices. With millennials (generally, those born between 1980 and 1993) now comprising the largest workforce segment in the United States, it is important that employers take note of their needs – which, studies have shown, are divergent from those of past generations.  Millennials are increasingly less likely to feel a sense of loyalty to the company that they work for and, given the significant cost of high turnover, it is worth performing some organizational soul-searching to see if changes need to be made. In short, we cannot ignore the fact that millennials are driving change in the workforce and corporate culture.

The paradigm shift in corporate culture can be witnessed across industries as diverse as healthcare and finance: even buttoned-up financial services stalwart Morgan Stanley recently unveiled a seismic overhaul of its employee evaluation process, which was long characterized by the assignment of numbers that ranked each individual’s perceived performance within the firm. This rather impersonal approach is being replaced with, instead, the assignment of various adjectives that reflect not only the employee’s profitability, but other more holistic qualities such as their leadership skills and what they’ve contributed to the company culture.

As examples of the changing face of the modern workplace, JP Morgan and PricewaterhouseCoopers within the last few weeks adopted a more relaxed dress code, with one JP Morgan spokeswoman astutely asserting that, “Authenticity is very important to this generation of job seekers.” Here at KCSA, we’ve taken a similar stance – management recently announced that jeans are to become a daily part of office life (formal meetings with clients excluded!).

PricewaterhouseCoopers further underscored its commitment to engaging a millennial workforce by recently appointing its first ever “Chief Purpose Officer.” According to said individual, Shannon Schuyler, her role is to “connect purpose to an individual so they know what they need to do in their roles and…help them see personally how they connect with values and behaviors.” She will also be tasked with overseeing the company’s corporate responsibility initiatives, and helping employees to identify the purpose and value in their work.

As an increased number of organizations implement progressive HR policies, it’s time to ask yourself: what can you do to attract and retain talented, happy employees that extol the virtues of your brand? Here are a few hints:

  1. Give back. A 2016 Deloitte survey found that millennials require “a strong sense of purpose beyond financial success.” Corporate responsibility programs are on the rise, and seen to be of increased value to jobseekers. KCSA, for example, provides employees with a day off each year to volunteer their services to community initiatives.
  2. Encourage work-life balance. Many companies now offer opportunities for remote working, and flexible work hours that promote optimum productivity and enhanced wellbeing. Make it known that employees can take advantage of such policies without being penalized – one Ernst & Young study indicated that lack of flexibility and fear of being stigmatized for utilizing “flex days” were among millennials’ primary reasons for leaving job roles.
  3. Provide opportunities for meaningful growth and self-improvement. Offer your employees access to learning tools that provide them with opportunities to expand their skill sets and reflect on their progress. This should also include a comprehensive and constructive review process that allows you to spotlight both strengths and areas for improvement; more importantly it should emphasize the necessary support to progress and a clear communication of the steps that must be taken to ascend the ranks.
  4. Provide a forum for transparent, two-way communications. Ensure that employees are kept apprised of significant developments within the company – you never want your staff to be the last to hear about significant organizational news. It will not only lose their trust, but increases the risk of them relaying incorrect – and potentially damaging – information to external parties.

Additionally, make it known to your employees that there is a forum and process in place whereby – within reason – they can express their gripes or concerns without fear of retribution. Most of all: take their feedback on board and assess whether or not it merits broader change.

  1. Have fun! Admittedly, work has never been a hedonistic pursuit. But that doesn’t mean we can’t take some time to enjoy ourselves – solicit employee input to organize company days out and initiatives that allow everyone to let off some steam and develop positive relationships with their coworkers.

Investors, media and clientele are all essential to a company’s bottom line. But don’t forget the people who are there on the front lines, driving your brand forward – ensuring that they share in your vision and are engaged is critical to a brand’s success. Development of authentic, felicitous internal communications and fostering of a supportive corporate culture tends only to yield an excellent return on investment that will ultimately benefit all stakeholders.