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The Return of the Millennials

The next generation of employees will either transform your business or watch you close it.


The Return of the Millennials 
by Peter Miller
VP Brand & IP, Red Tree Leadership

About eight years ago, the HR world was buzzing about Millennials (Gen Y). Research on the subject was just appearing and there were articles in the business press, conference presentations and Gen Y consultants sprouting up. 60 Minutes even produced a segment called “The Millennials are Coming.” (It sounds like the title from a bad horror movie.) And while HR departments seemed interested, CEOs didn’t. You see, it wasn’t really a problem yet for organizations. Then, the recession hit and sidelined the topic for a while. The Baby Boomers postponed retirement and there just wasn’t as strong a need to focus on integrating younger twenty-something employees into the workforce when you could just keep your older, wiser employees around a little longer.

But now that’s changing. A gradual recovery in the economy has allowed some Boomers to choose to retire, and age has forced others. Most corporations aren’t on wild hiring sprees, but when they do hire, it tends to be younger workers – Millennials. Many organizations have found that they aren’t ready for the shift. Because Boomers have dominated the workforce for the past 30 to 40 years, they generally set the culture for the organization. Gen X wasn’t large enough to throw their weight around and change things, but Millennials are. In fact, they will be the largest generation in history, and the business environment that was set up by the Boomers may not work for them.

Failing to be Millennial-ready is already causing big problems for some companies. One organization we recently spoke with has about sixteen thousand employees, but handed out over forty thousand W-2s at the end of the year. That’s a lot of turnover – nearly three to one. All that turnover is incredibly expensive. It happens because Millennials aren’t afraid to leave a job that’s not working for them. In fact, a recent study showed that nearly 40% of Millennials would rather have no job at all than a job they didn’t like. They simply want work to be fulfilling, and many have a safety net and can move back in with their parents.I can hear some Boomers out there right now grumbling that we’re all doomed and that these ‘kids’ don’t know how good they have it – but the older generations raised them.  They were taught that they could do anything they want. They were taught to look for meaning. Millennials are simply behaving consistently with the beliefs they’ve been given their entire lives. In fact, in the 1960′s, Boomers were causing the same turbulence as they entered the workplace and wanted different things from work than their parents.

The way I see it, companies have a couple choices. They can ignore the issue and just hope that Millennials learn to fall in line, or they can adapt. Like it or not, companies who ignore major changes don’t seem to last very long. A failure to adapt to the next generation is going to mean higher turnover, and worse – your organization is going to see all of the critical, hard-won expertise evaporate when the older workers decide to leave. No one lives forever, and your retiring Boomers are not going to pass on their knowledge to younger employees they don’t have a rapport with or who are just passing through the revolving door.

So, CEOs are starting to pay attention because this time the threat isn’t just theoretical. Boomers are retiring and Millennials are the ones replacing them. Your organization can either enjoy its final golden years and fade into obscurity, or figure out how to adapt and harness the power of an energetic, imaginative, (and yes) hard-working young generation who is aiming even higher than we did.

Things to watch for in your business:
• Turnover rates for new hires are larger than normal
• Complaints by older workers about young employees
• Average age of your employees is over 45 (could indicate large numbers of imminent retirements)
• HR policies and hiring practices that have remained largely unchanged for ten years or more
• Lack of adequate new-employee training and development programs


 Gen Y
 Red Tree Leadership

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