Tips for engaging and retaining the next generation of professional leaders.
By Betsy Redfern, MWH Chief Learning Officer
Chances are your workplace is seeking to attract or retain “Millennials,” the current generation of young professionals born after 1980. In less than 20 years, it’s estimated that half of all workers in most nations, including the U.S., will come from this generation, many of whom are starting to celebrate their 30th birthdays and becoming middle managers.
Given that Millennials represent an organization’s next generation of leaders, today’s executives and human resource personnel need to understand how to effectively engage, motivate, and train these younger workers. This is especially important given the impending retirement of the Baby Boomer generation, which closely mirrors the Millennials in size (80 million compared to 75 million).
So what makes this generation tick and what can companies do to develop their future leaders? MWH, an environmental engineering, construction, and consulting firm, developed a companywide effort to connect, mentor, and support its younger workers. The Young Professionals Group (YPG) began as an informal effort to provide better technical training for the company’s engineers in one office of MWH, and since has blossomed into a company-wide effort to engage and develop young professionals. Today, the group is run entirely by young professionals (those who have been in their careers for less than 10 years), and includes more than 600 members spread across 70 offices in 10 countries.
The main premise of YPG is to provide each member with a variety of opportunities that align with their interests and inspire them to invest in their careers and the communities in which they live and work. This includes education and training programs to help them develop work skills; networking opportunities to meet other professionals that similarly share their passions; corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs to promote volunteer and community outreach initiatives; as well as various other professional, technical, and leadership opportunities.
Based on the success of YPG, below are five tips for working with this new generation that may be helpful when attempting to similarly engage and retain your organization’s next generation of leaders:
Understand their work expectations. Since Millennials have high expectations about their work environment, growth opportunities, and rate of advancement, it’s important to allow them to take responsibility and get involved in experiences that will help them develop transferable skills. This doesn’t mean they should be pushed into too much responsibility too early, but it does mean they should be given a balance of both routine office work and more challenging and complex projects when possible.
Recognize motivational differences. In general, Millennials are not as interested in hefty compensation packages and pension plans as their parents were. In fact, 70 percent say simply liking their job is more important than how much they get paid for it, according to a 2008 Deloitte Study. Therefore, it’s important to provide them with opportunities that align with these motivations. This can be accomplished by assigning projects that encompass some sort of civil service or environmental element, or that have an immediate and direct impact on their local communities.
Respect their need for balance. More than any other generation, Millennials place a high priority on maintaining a healthy work/life balance. They should be rewarded for their hard work but also be given the space and time they need to pursue other more personal goals and objectives—whether that’s family, friends, or other outside hobbies.
Empower them to lead. For Millenials to become our next generation of leaders, they need to be given access to upper management and be allowed to submit their feedback and recommendations. YPG has accomplished this by consistently surveying its group members, forming task forces, and producing reports on a variety of topics at the request of senior leaders.
Practice good corporate social responsibility.Millennials care about the world and the greater environment in which we live, and they expect your company to care, too. This includes being stewards of the environment and engaging with communities through volunteerism and fundraising. In fact, the same 2008 Deloitte survey found that more than half of workers in their 20s and 30s prefer to work for companies that provide volunteer opportunities. The more your company embodies these principles and invests in CSR, the more younger employees will respect and want to invest themselves in you.
For example, the MWH Climate Change Commitment education programis one of the most recent and visible CSR initiatives developed by the Young Professionals Group (YPG). The program enlists young professionals across MWH’s global offices to go into local classrooms and educate students about the impacts of climate change on the water cycle and other global climate change issues. Since launching in May 2007, employee volunteers have reached more than 9,700 students in 10 countries, and program materials have been translated into several languages including Arabic, Spanish, and Marathi (a local language in India), allowing MWH to reach and empower even more students worldwide.
By recognizing and applying these five areas, companies can more effectively meet the needs of this generation, helping to attract and retain young talent and capitalizing on the collective strengths they bring to the workplace.
Betsy Redfern is Chief Learning Officer for MWH, a global wet infrastructure sector leader and provider of environmental engineering, construction, and strategic consulting services. Redfern helps to develop, review, and refine the curriculum and content of MWH University, a company-sponsored program designed to help its employees learn new skills, apply tools, and build a network of understanding.