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Where in the World Is Gen Y Working?

According to popular belief, all 20-somethings want a high-tech career. But as research conducted by the Great Place to Work Institute points out, sector has very little to do with where millennials dream of making a career.

“Industry is actually not a limiting factor for creating a great workplace, and millennials are smart enough to see that,” said Michael Bush, CEO of the Great Place to Work Institute. 

They’re also smart enough to recognize the importance of development at work, which also influences their decisions. Bush talked with Chief Learning Officer about Gen Y’s proclivities and how companies can meet them to secure young talent that will grow through the ranks. Edited excerpts follow.

Based on your study findings, where do you find millennials want to work?

Great Place to Work surveyed 90,000 millennials to determine the best workplaces. Fortune and millennials’ top picks hail from a wide range of company sizes, locations and industries. Some names you’d expect — Google and Twitter rank in the top third, for example — but the financial services and insurance, professional services and construction industries also have strong showings, with family-owned Power Home Remodeling Group beating everyone out to take the top slot.

This is great news for companies in less obviously enticing industries. Acuity, for example, which is a regional property and casualty insurance company, has consciously built an extraordinarily generous, warm and even zany workplace to combat the huge upcoming skills gap they expect their industry to face due to projected retirements and lack of interest on behalf of younger people who view insurance as boring (Ferris wheels and zombie apocalypses would say otherwise).

What makes these companies stand out?

They behave fairly and respectfully with their employees, honoring them as people and as professionals. And they do so much better than their peers.

Our research found that millennials reserve their highest overall ratings for companies at which they receive a fair share of the company’s overall profits, are paid fairly for the work they do, and whose leaders avoid a command-and-control type atmosphere, involving rank-and-file employees in decisions that affect them.

Fundamentally, millennials value the fact they work for leaders they can believe in, are treated fairly and with respect, and do so in an environment that encourages them to connect with their peers and be proud of the work they do.

How important is development to millennials?

Career progression [and] professional and personal development are very important to millennials — and should be equally important to business leaders. Within the next 10 years, millennials will dominate the workplace, making up 75 percent of the total U.S. workforce. These are the emerging leaders companies rely upon to take their organizations into the future, and it’s critical that existing leaders know how to prepare them.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all way to engage millennials in that process. The best companies take time to understand the needs of their specific employee population and of their business and then develop formal and informal programs that match. Boston Consulting Group, which has 9,700 employees worldwide, offers such a comprehensive suite of professional development support that it defies summary.

Michael Bush, Great Place to Work Institute
Michael Bush, Great Place to Work Institute

But even small companies can develop effective programs. Ontraport, with 72 people at the time of its selection, supports employees’ development by letting them drive their own projects. Rather than receive assignments, employees pitch projects, create processes around them and are given three hours of email-silence each day to work on them. Ontraport also offers an apprentice program where staffers can shadow team members from other departments.

Many of the companies that we work with explicitly take into account generational differences as they develop their training programs. This may be as simple as providing training to all employees about the different assumptions and communication styles that millennials and other generations tend to have. Or, in Workday’s case, building an entire program called “Generation Workday” that is focused on hiring and training college students and recent grads, inviting them to senior leader meetings, mentoring them and providing rotations throughout the organization.

Have you seen a shift since studying millennials or do you think other generations valued the same things?

We see more similarities than differences between the generations and what they desire in a workplace. Fundamentally, organizations and the people in them — regardless of their generation — operate at their peak when employees and managers trust each other.

Millennials have high expectations for the level of transparency in organizations and want to be involved from the get-go in work that matters. They value environments where everyone has an opportunity to contribute regardless of their age or their position — where they can do so right next to the CEO and other executives. They are one of the forces creating pressure on the market to deliver great workplaces or lose a potential competitive advantage.