When it comes to career choices and commitment to a workplace, Millennials may have gotten a bad reputation.
Just like their lack of loyalty to retail and fashion brands, Millennials are seen as being quick to flee a job and change employer allegiances. But that’s not necessarily true, according to marketing and human capital experts, who describe Millennials as highly skilled and dedicated workers who are simply misunderstood by older generations.
For retail and fashion brands, managing Millennials requires empathy as well as active listening and goal-setting from managers. “Millennials also require a contemporary point of view where goals and direction are clearly outlined,” said Elaine Hughes, founder and chief executive officer of executive search firm E.A. Hughes & Co.
Hughes said, by no fault of their own, today’s c-suite executives often become set in their ways in regard to management styles and strategic approaches, which doesn’t always work with Millennials.
The ceo said the generational differences can be wide and deep. Prior generations approached life and work in a slower, more deliberate way whereas Millennials “are a generation that have grown up with immediacy,” Hughes noted.
“They are willing to work, and work hard,” she added. “But Millennials need to feel like they are being heard and understood. In fact, the key [to properly managing Millennials] is to understand them so you can then motivate them. And listening is critical.”
The issue of managing Millennials is important due to their size. As of 2015, Millennials are now the largest generation in the workforce. But in a recent Elance-oDesk and Millennial Branding study, 53 percent of hiring managers said it was hard to not only find qualified Millennial-aged workers, but retain them as well. Fifty-eight percent of Millennial respondents in the survey said they expect to leave their current job within three years.
But Hughes cautioned against blaming Millennials as “not loyal” to their employers. Instead, Hughes said Millennials “want a mission.” When goals and clear missions are not presented, the “compelling work environment” is quickly eroded and that’s when Millennials walk out the door, the ceo said. Hughes encourages her retail and fashion apparel clients to examine their work environment and gauge if it is challenging, and compelling to younger generations.
The ceo said apparel companies could take a page from the playbook of tech firms, which attempt to foster loyalty by engaging Millennials on multiple levels — from offering couches and candy to creating a team environment and making employees feel they are “part of something bigger,” Hughes said.
Janou, principle of Janou LLC, who only uses her first name, agreed that better listening was needed. She also said for fashion brands, attracting employees and managers with a broader, more well-rounded skill set is important. Janou said companies need to “look for talent that can help them create experiences that are meaningful — people who can humanize a brand through the power of storytelling and empathetic designs and concepts.”
For Millennials in particular, having a narrative and engaging in authentic experiences is a high priority in their personal lives as well as in their careers.
“And businesses need to be able to connect the dots among design, science, technology, product development, marketing and that requires a brand new kind of talent that thinks holistically,” Janou added.
Carol Lapidus, partner, national leader, consumer products industry at RSM, a provider of audit, tax and consulting services for middle market companies, said Millennial job-seekers “live in a world where physical presence is largely optional: Shopping no longer requires that you go to a particular place, but can be done anywhere and any time with the click of a button or swipe of a finger on a connected device. They approach work in much the same way — it’s not something they believe can or should be measured based on a number of hours at a particular location, but by the output they produce.”
Lapidus said today’s “high-performing companies often allow — and even encourage — flexibility, as long as the work gets done.”
She also noted that Millennials want to be “a part of something bigger. They don’t just want a job, but a chance to contribute to something larger than themselves — and to learn, both professionally and personally, while doing so.”
But they also need — and want — jobs that pay well, which could be difficult. According to the Pew Research Center, the unemployment rate for 18- to 34-year-olds rose to 12.4 percent in 2010 — at the height of the Great Recession. The center said the rate has since declined, but remains “above the 6.2 percent unemployment rate in 2007, before the Great Recession.”
Meanwhile, weekly salaries for Millennials have increased since 2012, but have done so “modestly,” according to the Pew researchers. And student loans continue to saddle Millennials more than prior generations.
“Millennials carry enormous student loan burdens,” Hughes noted. “And there’s less of a chance for them to [comparatively] earn what prior generations earned. That’s the dilemma for Millennials.”