How businesses can address low engagement levels in millennial employees

Bill McMurray | Managing Director, Asia Pacific and Japan | Qualtrics

How businesses can address low engagement levels in millennial employees

Millennials have come of age in a layoff culture, so their understanding of loyalty isn’t based on a sense of job security. They crave a clear career path, mentoring, training, and other learning opportunities.

Defined as those aged in their 30s and below, millennials now make up an increasing percentage of the workforce. However, research suggests that businesses are struggling to find ways to engage their employees, with 59 per cent actively looking for their next employment opportunity1 and 50 per cent saying they would consider another job even if they weren’t looking to leave their current role2.

To attract and retain millennials, business leaders must understand their stressors and motivators, and invest in building engagement with these employees. Building engagement starts with knowing what is likely to grab millennials’ interest and keep it. When millennials become leaders, their notion of loyalty becomes very different; 44 per cent of millennial leaders say they intend to stay at their same company for more than 15 years compared with just 29 per cent of non-millennial leaders3.

Leadership appears to be of vital importance to millennials. In the fifth annual global millennials survey by Deloitte, respondents stated a shortage in opportunities to grow their leadership ability is the primary reason they move to a new job4. Another recent global survey conducted by Qualtrics found that employees are seeking tailored training experiences and not a classic, fixed, broadspectrum approach.

Retaining talent is important for business continuity. For most businesses, the cost of replacing a departed millennial employee is somewhere between $15,000 and $25,000, which doesn’t include the knowledge they take with them5. The benefits of putting in some extra effort to understand and motivate millennial employees are therefore clear. Not only will they likely be more productive, but they’re also more likely to be loyal, which will save costs.

The key to employee retention, regardless of what generation they come from, is to engage them. The trick is understanding how to develop that engagement. For millennials, it could be about providing strong leadership, including coaching and training, to help them develop skills that are meaningful to them and valuable to the organisation. Business leaders should also personalise training experiences to each employee, not their role within the organisation. This may include creating modulated training sessions delivered using micro-learning and mobile learning tools for short, sharp learnings.

The first step towards increasing and improving engagement is to understand where engagement currently sits in the organisation. If employees are already relatively engaged, it could be simple to add some workplace activities or training to take their engagement to the next level. However, if engagement is very low, businesses will need to prioritise which issues to address first so they can begin to improve those engagement levels. Some surveys show that as much as 55 per cent of the millennial workforce is not engaged at work, while a further 16 per cent are actively disengaged6. This presents a potentially significant issue that businesses must address urgently.

The most direct way to find out how employees feel about their job and the company is to ask them. Annual employee surveys are uniquely valuable to identify drivers of engagement and recognise areas of low engagement. Pulse surveys can help to determine levels of engagement and sentiment across the organisation more regularly. Conducted on a monthly, bimonthly, or quarterly basis, pulse surveys are short and timely, and the results are easy to analyse. Business leaders can gain immediate feedback, consistently track levels of employee engagement, and identify trends and at-risk employee populations with low engagement and attribution.

There are four key pieces of advice businesses can follow to measure and act on levels of engagement in millennial employees:

1. Make it easy

Open-ended questions and frictionless processes are crucial for companies to get the rich, detailed feedback they need. Companies should simplify the survey process and consider whether they’re using the most appropriate channel when asking for employee feedback. For example, millennial employees have grown up in a mobile world where text messages are vastly preferred over paper-based or even emailed surveys. Pop-up boxes via the company’s intranet may also be useful.

2. Lifecycle feedback

Lifecycle feedback lets businesses measure and connect insights across their employee’s entire lifecycle, from recruitment to exit. By collecting ongoing feedback, organisations can recognise employee engagement trends across every lifecycle touchpoint. Pulse surveys that employees can complete in less than a minute using their mobile devices can work well because they’re minimally intrusive and can create a habit of feedback that results in more consistent insights.

3. Share and act

Companies must let decision-makers access feedback in a timely fashion. By implementing feedback channels, business leaders can learn what employees like and dislike, leveraging this information to design and deliver experiences that their employees value which encourages loyalty. Employees are more likely to feel valued, heard, and understood when feedback is not only sought but, importantly, acted on. This also makes them more likely to respond honestly to surveys in the future, increasing the value of the feedback they provide.

4. Show the value of loyalty and hard work

With career advancement a main motivation for many employees, including millennials, businesses looking for ways to attract and retain workers can do so by addressing these concerns. Whether it is the importance of loyalty, hard work, or other factors specific to the organisation, identifying and communicating the best ways to achieve their desired career path can be a strong way to cement the loyalties of millennials in the workforce.

Millennials will soon make up the highest proportion of the workforce, so they’re key to helping businesses achieve their objectives and targets. Millennials can provide a unique perspective and fresh ideas, so organisations must invest in keeping them engaged, challenged, and interested, while presenting opportunities to learn and grow where possible. Businesses that frequently and regularly measure the experiences of their employees can obtain a clearer picture of how to best work with not only millennials but all employees.

Bill McMurray is an international technology executive with over 30 years of experience in the Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) industry.

He has held senior executive management roles across Europe, Asia Pacific, Japan, and the United States. His career highlights include holding the posts of Managing Director (ANZ) at CA Technologies; Senior Vice President & General Manager (Asia Pacific & Japan) at IDS Scheer; Vice President Sales & Marketing (World-wide) at IONA Technologies; as well as senior roles at Parametric Technology, Seer Technologies and IBM.

Bill is currently the Managing Director (Asia Pacific & Japan) at Qualtrics, who provide the rapidly growing experience management platform. A key part of his responsibility is to establish and grow Qualtrics across this region. Qualtrics is a single system of record for all experience data, also called X-data™, allowing organisations to manage the four core experiences of business - customer, product, employee and brand experiences - on one platform. Over 8,500 enterprises worldwide, including more than 80 per cent of the Fortune 100 and 99 of the top 100 U.S. business schools, rely on Qualtrics.

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