I have been reading many different articles about the generation known as Millennials. These are the over 50 million American adults aged roughly 18-34 who now compose at least one third of the American workforce. Numerous studies and surveys have been done about the wants, needs and characteristics of this generation, and I will list some of the references at the end of this article. Of course, data derived from such surveys is to some degree a gross generalization, but I think it can be used to provide us with ideas as to how our corporate environment and image may need to change in order to appeal to this large group of people.
It is my expectation that we do need to appeal to this generation, both as important participants in the labor pool from which we are pulling to staff our companies, and as consumers of the goods and services that we provide – whether as individuals or as key staff members in the organizations of the customers we serve. I will start by listing and categorizing some of the skills, beliefs and desires of this generation according to the survey information, and then I will examine the implications for the lubricants business.
Skills: Millennials are excellent multi-taskers, talented at networking, learn quickly, and are familiar and proficient with technology.
Beliefs: Millennials believe in social responsibility, are more tolerant of personal differences (such as those related to gender or race), and believe in the potential of entrepreneurship.
Desires: Millennials want to be listened to, want a friendly and exciting work environment, are committed to a balance between work and family/friends in their lives, and want to be successful and secure in their careers.
These characteristics have some significant implications for those of us in the lubricants business.
The lubricants business and related industries (automotive, petroleum and chemicals) do not have the best reputation for social responsibility. I do note that over time all of these industries have moved in a more socially responsible and sustainable direction, both in their actual activities and in their communications of those activities. Many companies in these industries now produce sustainability reports and incorporate key messages related to the environment in their TV and print advertising and on their websites. However, in the competition for talent, our industries may have a ways to go to appeal further to the socially responsible and aware Millennials.
Our industries are overall still not the most diverse places. Again, progress has been made, but this area needs continued focus.
Our industries have not been the fastest to adapt to changing technologies, especially with respect to social media such as Facebook and Twitter. Advertising still seems quite focused on symbols of speed and power such as racing and monster trucks, and while that may still be appealing to the current predominant customer base, I believe that this may need to shift over time.
Finally there is the issue of corporate culture, which I have written about in several previous articles. Perhaps your corporate culture is entrepreneurial and fast-paced yet nurturing and welcoming to new entrants, in which case you are perfectly positioned for the Millennial generation! Or maybe your culture is a bit slow-moving, bureaucratic and inflexible with regard to work hours or telecommuting, and could use a push to become more Millennial-friendly.
Here are some practical ideas to get the ball rolling in your organization:
Consider your attitudes and policies that affect work-life balance such as working from home, maternity and paternity leave, and flexible work hours. Changes in these areas are likely not expensive to make and can help appeal to Millennials who are considering joining your company. Likely any changes here will also be appreciated by your current staff as well.
Evaluate your process for interviewing and onboarding new joiners. Ensure that Millennial interviewees can link up with your current employees via texting and social media as appropriate. Create opportunities for younger employees to work together. Encourage volunteer activities and consider providing a paid day off for such activities.
Consider your approach to coaching and mentoring within your organization. These can be powerful tools not only for retaining Millennials, but also your high performing staff of any age. More frequent but less formal reviews and a higher degree of personal interest and attention from management could be the way to go.
Consider providing top of the line technology and tools (think laptops, tablets and cell phones as well as tools for virtual meetings, etc). These may indeed cost more but will enhance productivity as well. Millennials expect to work at times in the evenings or on the weekends (although they may leave work early for a childs dance recital).
Consider ways to encourage entrepreneurship in your company. Can employees come forward for funding with entrepreneurial projects? Starting something like this could promote innovation and bring forward good ideas as well as appeal to the Millennial spirit.
Evaluate the approach to sustainability within your organization. Consider whether your website, products and marketing materials need any updating to introduce or emphasize environmental benefits. Consider setting visible sustainability goals for your company, such as with respect to reducing waste, energy consumption and water consumption.
Consider diversity of all types within your organization. I believe that if your company is not reflective of the societal pool, it will have long term consequences for hiring, retention and external relationships (such as in sales and procurement). Consider steps to build more diversity such as changing the mix of schools where you recruit and using a more diverse set of recruiters and interviewers. Consider how you support and promote those in your organization who are different.
Yes, the Millennials are already here, and I believe they will have a positive influence on our companies and our world, if we let them.
Fortune June 23, 2015 article, Everything You Need to Know About Your Millennial Co-Workers
Articles and research done by BCG on Millennial consumers
2015 Millennial Majority Workforce, by Elance-oDesk and Millennial Branding
Sara Lefcourt of Lefcourt Consulting LLC specializes in helping companies to improve profits, reduce risk and step up their operations. Her experience includes many years in marketing, sales and procurement, first for Exxon and then at Infineum, where she was vice president, supply. E-mail her at email@example.com or phone (908) 400-5210.