Recruiting the next generation

Written by: Jessica Furseth Posted: 22/10/2013

Recruitment featureIf companies want to attract star talent, they need to adapt to evolving career attitudes – and that means bending to the will of the Millennials, as Jessica Furseth discovers

Money can't buy you love, the Beatles once sang, but it also turns out money can't buy you the loyalty of the Millennial generation either. Higher salaries may have been important for their parents, but for employees in their 20s and early 30s, a better work-life balance carries more weight.

Raised in the age of the internet, the Millennials – those born between 1980 and 1995 – have seen work change from a place to be into something to do. And watching their parents climb the career ladder by working all hours of the day – and possibly even night – has failed to persuade them it's the road to happiness. This is the conclusion of an extensive study from PwC that found employers who want to attract the best candidates will need to deliver what the Millennials want – remote working, overseas assignments, being valued in the office and opportunities for training.

“As the Millennials' generation becomes a more important part of the workforce, companies will need to be mindful of their priorities to attract top talent,” says Evelyn Brady, Partner at PwC Channel Islands in Guernsey. “To do this you need to understand what inspires and motivates people. The old mentality of just remuneration is not going to be enough to attract the right people to ensure a successful business.”

PwC's global study, polling 44,000 people over two years, in conjunction with the London Business School and the University of Southern California, found Millennials aren't convinced work is worth the sacrifice of their personal lives. And while the desire for flexible hours is not unique to the younger generation, Brady says she was surprised by the extent to which Millennials will actually give up money in exchange for freedom. According to the research, nearly 20 per cent would forgo some of their pay and slow the pace of promotion if they could work fewer hours.

“The monetary element of the package is important, but not as important as people of my generation would have thought,” says Brady. “Millennials look at life differently in terms of what inspires and motivates them, having seen older people work very hard, spending a lot of money and potentially now finding themselves in debt. And for what? Why not use the best years of your life to enjoy yourself?”

This wish for greater freedom does beg the question: is this realistic or just idealism? An executive who got ahead by being the last to leave the office for two decades could be forgiven for thinking it all smacks of entitlement from spoilt kids out of touch with the real world. But this would be a rash conclusion to draw. Millennials are just as willing to put their noses to the grindstone and work hard – they just want a bit more flexibility.

Working smarter, not harder
“It used to be that you worked long hours to get up the corporate ladder, but this generation doesn't see it like that,” says Tina Palmer, Director of ASL Recruitment in Jersey. “They want to do a good job, but they look for companies that appreciate and support them.”

It was always going to be difficult to persuade those who've grown up with web-connected mobiles in their pockets that you have to be in the office for eight hours a day. They know they can just as easily power up a laptop on the train, log into the company network from home at night, or email in a report while spending time abroad.

The Millennials want to take advantage of these possibilities: nearly 70 per cent of those surveyed said they'd like to shift their work hours, plus occasionally work from home. A sizeable 37 per cent of Millennials are interested in working abroad – as opposed to just 28 per cent of the previous generation – and they generally want to have a say in how they work rather than just being told what to do.

“The companies used to have all the power, telling staff: ‘If you want to get up the corporate ladder you have to be here, do this and that, and I need you in on Saturday morning',” says Palmer. “But that power is shifting, and factors such as company ethics and how a company should treat employees are coming into play.”

This represents a significant cultural challenge for businesses, as a positive team spirit and a sense of social responsibility are all-important factors for the Millennials. They also want transparency around performance and compensation, and will much more easily share salary details with colleagues.

Companies need to take this into account when putting together job offers for the younger generation. “People are looking at the culture of the organisation, the leadership, and what kind of working life they get. They ask, how much holiday do I get? Do I get medical? Do I get time to study? People are realising they spend a lot of time at work, and they need to be happy there,” says Palmer.

Some would argue the Channel Islands are slow to adjust to new trends, and a failure to attract the best Millennials workers could lead to a wider skills gap, or even the islands becoming insular. While all the sources interviewed for this article agreed that change will take time, evidence of adjusting attitudes is already visible. Palmer says Channel Island staff used to job-hop, moving on every few years for the sake of a few grand: “Now people look at the packages, and often they will choose the one with better benefits, even if it's for less money.”

Community spirit
As 92 per cent of those surveyed don't have children, work-life balance also means time for hobbies, travel, personal development, or simply meeting a friend for a drink while the sun is still up. Millennials also expect companies to ‘give something back' to the community.

Sarah Garrood, Partner at Maven Partners in Jersey, points out how the Channel Islands will appeal to Millennials' sense for community and teamwork. “I've been pleasantly surprised at how much community work goes on here,” she says. “It seems every day you open the local paper and read about employees engaging with the local community, be it sponsored events, sports, or companies donating staff's time to charities.”

But while positive examples are there, there's still work to be done. “We need a cultural shift to meet the demands of the new generation. This is happening, but it's a slow burn,” says Shelley Kendrick, Managing Director of Kendrick Rose in Jersey. Kendrick, who has worked closely with the Association of Graduate Recruiters, says the recession led to limited flexible working: “Companies want a full-time headcount, and there's not a great deal of job-sharing going on. Companies want people in place, by their desks, all day long.”

Having said that, Kendrick is seeing a definite change to how organisations listen to what employees want: “There is a cultural change going on among Channel Island companies, in terms of looking for people that will ‘fit'. This means looking for an attitude as opposed to just technical skills, and seeking out people who think differently and who can help the business grow.”

Smaller companies may find it especially challenging to cater to Millennials' requests for sabbaticals, volunteer assignments or extended travel, but PwC's Brady believes a flexible attitude and keeping an open conversation is the key: “This way it's not a surprise, so when you recruit you understand this may be part of the career cycle… It means thinking beyond one or two individuals in favour of a longer-term view.”

The hassle of managing roaming staff means companies may initially bristle against it, acknowledges Brady, but as the Millennials age, they will soon make up the bulk of the workforce. If you want top talent, you can't stick your head in the sand about what drives the new generation.

Jessica Furseth is a freelance writer

How to attract (and keep) star talent

Get the deal right
Get creative about the benefits available to employees, as it's not just about cash. People like the idea of customising their perks.

Test the theory
It's pointless having a flexible working policy if everyone knows you get passed over for the good assignments if you use it. Make sure the everyday work experience lines up with the ideas from the top.

Help them grow
Consider putting Millennials on rotational assignments to provide a variety of experiences and a sense of progress. Be open to creative suggestions. Letting staff go overseas is a great way to add experience and a global perspective to the team.

Be open
The annual review is not enough for Millennials – enable open, honest dialogue about how they are doing at work, highlighting positives as well as opportunities for improvement.

Set them free
Once a task and a deadline has been set, does it really matter where it is completed? Millennials have grown up using technology that makes location irrelevant, and will relish the opportunity to work for someone who lets them take advantage of this.

Nurture talent
Millennials are keen on learning, and consider results to be more important than tenure. Corporations may lose young staff if they insist on following a seniority structure instead of allowing talent to rise in the ranks. A mentoring programme could foster team cohesion.

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