A CEO’s Guide to Working with Millennials

Marc B. Spector, Principal, Spector Group

A CEO’s Guide to Working with Millennials

Today’s workplace is going through a generational changing of the guard, as Baby Boomers retire and millennials, those born between 1981 – 2000, have increased to 36 percent of the work force, according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics.

I’m a member of the Gen X tribe and, like many other CEOs, am working to understand how to:

  • Use the talents and attitudes of millennials;
  • Blend those with the expectations and styles of different generations;
  • Keep my business productive competitive all the while.

Given that research conducted by Future Workplace has shown that 90 percent of millennials expect to stay in a job for less than three years, it’s especially urgent to learn what motivates this generation so I and my fellow CEOs can attract and retain them .As any business owner knows, staff turnover is costly both in terms of financial and professional investment in the employee. Keeping a talented associate is, hence, paramount. The following suggestions are based on my observations and real-world practices when working with millennials

The Need for Speed

Millennials put a premium on speed and instant feedback. Whereas previous generations grew up on meetings and face-to-face interaction, millennials may see these as an unnecessary or frustrating delay. They expect instantaneous communication. At Spector Group, we balance those different communication styles and needs. We have meetings, but we’ve also incorporated a quick, responsive text or phone call to provide the immediate feedback that millennials want. The process has also streamlined our communication system and we’ve become more efficient as a result.

The Workplace Redefined

As the children of Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, millennials witnessed layoffs and eroding pay and benefits first-hand. One result is they’re not motivated solely by money or focused solely on work. This translates into a desire for an informal, flexible environment. We have incorporated this at my office. For example, we started holding early morning staff get-togethers for coffee and discussion before the workday starts, which has been very well-received by the staff. We have wine tastings and other after hours get-togethers. And in the summer, we have lunchtime barbecues. The staff has a say in these “extracurricular” activities and the camaraderie and rapport that is being built is invaluable.

How so? Since we have been doing this, I’m finding at Spector’s that our staff productivity has gone up the last few years as we’ve focused on creating a more relaxed workspace.

As an architect, I’m very aware how crucial the workspace itself is in creating a relaxed atmosphere. Companies can appeal to millennials by creating communal areas, such as gaming areas, dining areas that feel like cafes or lounges, and large, multi-functional kitchens. In addition, furniture such as rolling desks that allow people to sit in different areas is increasingly popular, as are standing desks that facilitate staying active in the workday.

Guidance is Key

Informal and relaxed have their limits, of course. We’ve all heard the stories of millennials wearing flip-flops to interviews or presentations, or spending the day updating their Facebook page. Clearly, some coaching and mentoring is necessary. In keeping with the millennials’ desire for instant feedback, coaching and mentoring should be immediate and ongoing. A bi-annual review is as out of date as the horse-and-buggy. Informal lunches and get-togethers can be the perfect occasions for discussing the basics of business strategy, protocol, and acceptable work attire.

In coaching and mentoring, I’m careful not to diminish millennials. The aim is not to eliminate reasonable desires but to re-direct and help young professionals find a productive path.

Cause Attraction

Finally, CEOs should realize that millennials are motivated by philanthropic concerns. They want to make the world a better place. They like to participate in humane endeavors and they want to work in places that are “green and clean.” Employers who want to retain this age group should look at emphasizing sustainability and good corporate citizenship as part of the company mission.

With millennials now a third of the workforce – and growing –  these practices are necessary for businesses to remain competitive.  It’s working at the Spector Group and the change has been beneficial to both our staff and our company.

About the Author

Marc B. Spector AIA, NCARB, is a principal at Spector Group, one of New York’s premier architecture and interior design firms and a leader in corporate tenant and building owner-based design. The award-winning company has affiliate offices nationally and internationally. To date, it has completed more than 2000 projects.