A panel discussion that was part of the first ever Bloomberg Business Summit examined whether the workforce was ready for the growing trend of millennials entering the workplace, and whether millennials themselves were ready for the workforce as well. The summit served as a launch event for Bentley University’s upcoming preparedness study, an investigation that is said to be the “single-most comprehensive survey on millennials in the workplace to date”. Shama Kabani – CEO of the award-winning Marketing Zen Group – participated in the panel discussion and shared her insights through Forbes on some of the major points of interest.
One key finding of the preparedness study is that “6 in 10 students say they are not considering a career in business, and 48% said they have not been encouraged to do so”. Kabani believes this shows that business has a branding problem and how it’s perceived, where many students still see traditional business as hand in hand with corporate greed and meltdowns such as Enron. Ask them, however, about working for the likes of Facebook and Google and Kabani predicts students will respond much more enthusiastically.
What this reveals, Kabani thinks, is that “Millennials care about more than just taking home a paycheck. They care about working at an organization which makes an impact, and sees them as more than cogs in the greater machine.” And indeed, research by NetImpact found that 88% of respondents believed that the for-profit sector has an obligation to improve social and environmental issues, implying a belief that their work within the private sector ought to aim to make a positive difference.
Another statistic of significance is that “68% of corporate recruiters say that it is difficult for their organizations to manage millennials”. What the number seems to show is that “If you try to manage millennials the way you manage everyone else, it is bound to be challenging”, such as imposing rigid policies that only constrain their ability to do their jobs, as opposed to making it easier. One of the important tips Kabani has for managing Gen Y is that they are “very open to providing feedback, and having a system for collecting and responding to feedback can make managing them much easier.”
What the preparedness study seems to highlight is that it’s not simply the new generation of individuals entering the workforce that needs to be prepared in order for companies to thrive, but the workforce itself needs to be prepared to nurture the aspirations of the incoming generation as well.
Kabani’s points highlight the fact that traditional strategies and approaches to management aren’t going to be effective as millennials enter the workforce. Her explanations for why this is reveals two important understandings about the individuals that are entering today’s workplace: (1) they aspire for much more than wealth and instead seek meaning in their work, and (2) they are not interested in simply being told what to do, but want to have participatory voices that are heard.
Dov Seidman explains that these are indeed two of the most prominent ways in which millennials are transforming the workforce, where “they strive for meaning in their endeavors while instinctively fusing their public and private lives”, and “they assume a norm of two-way conversations with organizational leaders, rather than passive reception of corporate messaging.” This is in contrast to traditional top-down approaches to management, where conversations are normally one-way and employee efforts are measured by “what” people produce rather than “how” they behave (e.g. collaborate, share information, persuade, etc).
As Kabani and Seidman both understand, the workforce of today is not the workforce of yesterday, and appreciating this change, rather than resisting it, will be necessary for any business that wants to truly realize and sustain the strengths that lie within the new faces that are entering the workplace. And though some may resist changing their management styles to better connect with millennials, true business sustainability will eventually require embracing the new workforce, since as Kabani notes, “like it or not, the millennials are not just a small part of today’s workforce, they are the workforce.”