MEET THE NEW BOSS: How Millennials are shaping the digital workplace, and why you should care.

The millennial generation sometimes gets a bad rap. “They’re self-centered.” “They’re not loyal.” “They lack commitment.” “They’re entitled.”

But whether or not these generalizations are accurate is beside the point. The simple reality is this: Right now, millennials as a generation represent the greatest percentage of today’s workforce. And as the boomers retire, that percentage will only grow.

If you’re an employer or manager, you should care about this demographic shift, because it’s transforming how EVERY organization optimizes engagement, productivity, turnover, culture—every aspect of the workplace. In fact, it’s a major force driving adoption of digital workplaces.

Who are the millennials?

Pew Research defines the millennial generation as people born between 1981 and 1996 (ages 22 to 37).

  • They are the most racially and ethnically diverse of the “generations.”
  • They are digital natives. They can’t conceive of life without always-on, on-demand access to information over the internet. They eschew TV and print media. And they wonder, “If it’s always easy for me to get the information I need to live my life, why isn’t it always easy to get the information I need to do my job?”
  • Millennials comprise 35% of the labor force today—and will be 75% by 2030.
  • They are less likely than previous generations to have held after-school or summer jobs, so their first jobs as adults may be their first jobs ever.

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Many millennials entered the workforce during the dark times of the Great Recession. It’s likely for many that their careers got off to slow starts. Their families may have experienced layoffs or financial loss, so it’s also likely that they’re less trusting of organizations and institutions. This may explain three Gallup statistics:

  • 55% aren’t engaged at work.
  • 21% switched jobs in the past year.
  • Only 50% see themselves in their current jobs a year from now.

And one more stat from Gallup: Millennial turnover costs the US economy $30.5 billion annually.

The millennial challenge for employers.

As millennials come to dominate the working population, “my way or the highway” can no longer be an operating principle for employers. As I’m writing this, the job market is white-hot, so millennials who see a chance to build their skill set (and get paid more) elsewhere will make their move. And whether the economy is hot or cool, bad news about your company travels fast, especially among those digital natives (looking at you, Glassdoor).

If you want your organization to be a desirable place to work, minimize turnover, and get the most productivity from your workforce, then you need to meet millennials where they are now and work with them. How?

Your Digital Workplace

There’s a lot to like about this generation.

Start by understanding their positive priorities. A Manpower study revealed that after “make a lot of money,” millennials most seek to:

  • Make a positive contribution: 21%
  • Work with great people: 20%
  • Be a recognized expert in their field: 14%

Millennials want to make a difference for your organization AND for themselves. By more than 2:1, they care more about developing their own skill set (including teamwork and communication) than developing management skills (Only 4% want to manage other people, and just 6% want to climb to the top of a company.). And according to Gallup, fully 93% regard the development of their skills on an ongoing basis as vital to their career growth. In fact, millennials are likely to define “job security” in the context of the quiver of skills they can transfer to their next job, and the one after that.

But wait—does that mean they’ll learn skills at your organization, then scoot off to another job when an opportunity arises?

That really depends on you and the workplace you create. And that’s where an effective Digital Workplace (DWP) can make a difference.

How a digital workplace helps engage and retain millennials

Let’s go back to millennials as digital natives—people who’ve been living online practically all their lives. They care about using the latest apps on the latest phones, because that’s how they get the most from their digital lives.

And while they’re not the only generation living online today, they definitely expect their technology to be highly useful to them. Easy-to-use is always better, but millennials will put in the time to learn and adopt new tech—like digital workplace—IF they see the value it adds.

An effective digital workplace answers the millennial demand for current, easy-to-use, and high-utility technology—supporting engagement and retention. Here’s how:

Personalization. At its best, a digital workplace unites the apps, the tools, the content, and the data in a single intranet portal that’s as fast to learn and intuitive to use as a smartphone or tablet. Plus, it’s always current, even on older hardware. By providing all the tools and content that workers need (and nothing they don’t), DWP promotes greater individual engagement and productivity.

Collaboration. Millennials want to experience teamwork with great people, and DWP brings great people together virtually. They have a high comfort level with working remotely, especially from experiences in high school and college. In a digital workplace, they not only see their ideas blossom through sharing and cross-pollination; they also hone their skills, raise their productivity, and build communities.

Mentoring and support. A digital workplace should recommend people, resources, tools, and assets that may be helpful in accomplishing tasks. Millennial workers (who, according to Gallup, prefer coaches to bosses) can connect with coworkers who can share and teach from their own experiences.

Communication. With one-on-one chat, group chat, and calling capabilities, the ideal digital workplace supports frequent communication that keeps projects moving forward at velocity. Intranets also support the ongoing feedback that millennials prefer to regular meetings with their managers. (For what it’s worth, millennials in general are OK with getting a “way to go!” text from their manager—they don’t need to hear it in person.)

Community building. Collaboration in the office, celebrations after work. Digital workplaces bring people together—including remote workers—to accomplish critical tasks or enjoy common interests. Think of it as the “virtual water cooler.”

Brand buy-in. At its best, a DWP communicates your organization’s customer-facing brand to your workforce via layout, look, feel, and messaging. This consistent brand presence helps to keep your organization’s values top-of-mind (and infused in the work) as employees go about their days.

In conclusion…

The millennials aren’t going anyplace. Every year they’ll constitute a larger percentage of your workforce. And right behind them are the post-millennials, a group with more deeply ingrained digital habits.

By embracing digital workplace, you can meet the needs of this population AND meet your own critical needs for productivity and growth. Our SQUAD solutions, powered by Akumina, can bring your enterprise into this brave new digital world, boosting employee engagement, reducing turnover, and making for organization a desirable place to work for years to come.