How to engage millennials in the workplace

Benefits strategy debate - millennials

Engaging with millennials is a particular challenge for employers. This age group tends to have very different values to other generations, and the brand of an employer can be an important element in any decisions around both where to work and how long to stay in a position for.

Debra Corey, group reward director at Reward Gateway, recently undertook a snapshot survey through LinkedIn to try to establish just what motivates this age group, and found brand was an important factor in motivating millennials to perform at work. “Pay was still quite high, but brand is also important,” she says.

The same message also came through loud and clear when Disney launched a flexible benefits plan around a decade ago, says Richard Morgan, head of Vebnet. “We carried out employee research beforehand to find out what actually people wanted and how they felt, and the big thing that came out was that none of them felt as though they worked for Disney,” he says. “The best quote from one of the employees was ‘I work in the middle of a roundabout in Hammersmith’, because it was just a bland office.”

As a result, the business implemented a major office rebrand, drawing on various Disney themes from films and cartoons, and creating an environment that reflected the consumer brand. “That was the key thing for [staff]; they wanted to actually feel as though they worked for that organisation,” he says. “But [Disney is] in an advantageous position because [it has] got an amazing brand and it’s tangible.”

In some cases, the answer to engaging this group lies within the employer’s product offering, says Charles Cotton, performance and reward adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. He cites the example of a mobile phone retailer that asked its employees what benefit they would most like to receive, only to be told staff would like one of the phones the company sold.

However, creating a strong brand can be something of a double-edged sword, warns Duncan Brown, head of HR consultancy at the Institute for Employment Studies. “Are employees saying ‘I love the brand, and it’s a part of me, and I’m never going to leave’, or ‘it looks brilliant on my CV, and I’m going to stay two or three years, and then it’s given me the platform to go somewhere else’?” he asks.

This has been the case for those who Morgan works with. “One client I work with in the broadcasting industry has a problem in that [it is] not seen as being cool enough, and [it is] losing a lot of people who go to the likes of Netflix,” he says. “As an employer, how do you recognise that actually, within a fairly short space of time, things have changed, and [there are] now different groups of people that it needs to attract in, and keep, and they want a whole different experience?”

Employers also have to find effective ways to communicate with this generation. “They’re used to using apps, and expect to see more interactive technology,” says Cotton.

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As a result, there is a growing number of organisations attempting to engage this generation through financial awareness apps. “This generation live on their phones, and it’s so easy to create an app these days,” says Corey. “I have not picked providers before because they don’t have apps.”

She also believes it is important to treat employees in the same way as consumers when attempting to get them to buy into the brand and engage with other initiatives. “We’re starting to use marketing language when we’re talking to our people now and I bring in marketing people to help me with communication campaigns,” she says. “That’s been a big change in the last five years.”