With so much hype put on the millennial generation, defined by Gallup as those born between 1980 and 1996, little attention has been put toward what companies can do to engage this new generation dominating our workforce today. The millennial generation is diverse, making it very difficult to label and categorize. As a millennial myself, we represent 38% of the U.S. workforce and think uniquely about the world around us. We grew up with the Internet. Most of us had cellphones at an early age. And entertainment technology moved from VHS to DVD to YouTube faster than the initial invention of the television.
These differences help shape how we view the world, but it’s important to remember that those workplace needs associated with other generations still apply when thinking about how to engage millennials. There are more similarities between us and other generations than there are differences. We have high expectations for our leaders and for the companies that employ us. It’s not just about a paycheck; it’s about purpose. It’s not just about satisfaction; it’s about engagement. It’s not just about annual feedback; it’s about development. We are getting married and having children later in life or not at all, heightening the importance placed on our careers. It’s not just a job -- it’s our life.
A defining moment in anyone’s career is the onboarding process. Onboarding has the potential to set you up for failure or success. As an employee, it determines your developmental track, solidifies your internal brand with the company and serves as your first impression with company executives, customers and colleagues.
I could not speak more highly of the onboarding process I experienced in my first professional role. I received clear information needed to be successful. I was paired up with multiple mentors and role trainers to help me acclimate to the company culture, relational dynamics and position expectations. And I trained side-by-side with a colleague who was an expert in the particular position I would be serving in the organization, giving me firsthand experience and preparation to take over my job responsibilities. After a six-week formal onboarding process, the organization continued to foster personal growth, mentorship and challenging developmental opportunities throughout my six-year tenure. The company focused me, cared about me, helped me grow, helped me review my contributions and challenged me -- all as a part of the onboarding component. It’s no wonder that this company thrives in onboarding millennials and retaining this talent for many years to come.
Based on my experience as a millennial and in onboarding millennials, here are a few key components to think about to intentionally adapt your onboarding process to meet the needs of this generation:
• Communicate personal value from day one.
Onboarding is more than simply interviewing, selecting and hiring the right talent. It’s about making sure that talent feels valued from the moment they begin working for your organization. Be clear about where they should go on their first day, who they should talk to and what is expected. Include “meet and greets” with key stakeholders to create a warm and inviting tone. Set them up for success by preparing their workspace, technology needs and other materials in advance.
• Clarify expectations.
As Gallup has studied employee engagement for the last few decades, no workplace need is more important than knowing what is expected of you at work. Onboarding provides this role clarity and sets the stage for clearly communicating what is expected at work. Not only does the onboarding process set expectations, but it also introduces new employees to the vision of the organization, its people and the company culture they now represent.
• Be intentional about developmental relationships.
Whether formal or informal, be intentional about pairing new employees up with more senior colleagues to help show them the ropes. Twenty percent of our learning occurs through people and relationships. Pair new employees up with more tenured employees who have a talent for mentorship and developing others. These individuals can be a great sounding board for the new employee and may help to answer more simple questions that arise during the onboarding process.
• Set a clear structure for feedback.
Despite the employees being new to the organization, it is extremely important to set expectations around when feedback will be delivered, how feedback will be delivered and by whom collaboratively with the new employee. Will there be a weekly update call? How will you keep up-to-date on the training being completed? How does the employee prefer to receive feedback? Millennials want ongoing conversations about their progress and want to be held accountable for what is expected.
• Leverage strengths in experiential learning.
Tap into what your new employee does best. Hopefully, through the selection process, you have begun to identify what these talents may be, but don’t stop there. Be intentional in leveraging their strengths from day one. Just because they are new doesn’t mean they don’t have lots to contribute to the organization. Leverage these strengths and play to them in determining developmental relationships, role expectations and experiential opportunities. Discuss how they can use their strengths and put them to work right away in giving them opportunities to be at their best.
• Gather the village.
Get everyone on the same page about helping to develop this new employee. While their direct supervisor will be hugely important in the onboarding experience and throughout their career, it’s not just the direct supervisor who can have a positive impact and give a great first impression on behalf of the company. We develop best in relationship to other people. The more people, the better in making the new employee feel welcomed and valued as a member of the organization.
Millennials want to be involved and active members in the decision-making process for their development. We want to know how we are doing, what we need to do differently and how our careers will evolve with the organization. Onboarding can provide the solid foundation to make sure new employees receive clarity on the information needed to do their job, get connected with mentors and advocates to help them navigate company relationships and experience learning in a safe and supportive environment.
Millennials are the future of your organization. Be intentional about setting them up with the right information, relationships and experiences to be successful and start off engaged with the people, processes and vision of your company.
Download Gallup's exciting and groundbreaking report on how millennials want to work and live here.