We recognise that young people starting out on their working lives want to make a difference; they also want to feel valued and to be recognised for their contribution. Beyond that people have different career motivators, from developing deep technical skills to enjoying the social environment at work (source Edgar Schein, Career Anchors).



At a recent gathering of HR and business leaders, it was suggested that Millennials entering the workplace now have an expectation, almost a sense of ‘a right’, to be happy at work – and this expectation differentiates them from the other four generations still in the workforce. Alongside this many Millennials retain a strong desire for secure and stable employment and expect the business to look after them and nurture their careers. When this does not happen this generation of employees are left feeling bitter and let down.

This led to questions around balancing the needs of the business with those of a Millennial workforce.  Are these expectations reasonable and realistic? Does this generation have the experience to appreciate the ‘hard work’ that’s necessary? Are organisations equipped to create the experience Millennials want? Are both sides prepared for what lies ahead?

One participant expressed the view that ‘Graduates have a reality shock when they come out of university – often it’s the first time they are forced to reflect and develop their skills’. Others noted that social media plays a role in creating expectations: ‘Social media enhances bias for “grass is greener” – more points of comparison’.

As another participant at the gathering put it ‘What is needed is an open environment where young people can express themselves and ask questions about the options that are available to them and access honest advice from more experienced colleagues’.

By probing these issues it became apparent that new and different conversations are called for.  Millennials have grown up in an environment of mass personalisation, enabling them to tailor things to their needs and likes. Organisations need to recognise and respond to this challenge by personalising their experience of work.

These different conversations need to be purposeful, frequent and on-going, but with particular focus on key ‘career moments’. It was suggested that conversations that help individuals progress and grow should not be confused or overshadowed by performance discussions – high quality feedback is an essential ingredient for both, but a development conversation has a more open and honest setting. Formal HR or selection processes are an opportunity to clarify expectation and agree or ‘contract’ (in a psychological rather than legal way) between employee and organisation. Done well, these conversations can enable both a closer matching of ambition with opportunity (avoiding or taking the maximum value from the ‘accidental tourist’ approach to career development) and a more constant and sustainable growth of talent.

One HR Director who was present gave an example of how they make it crystal clear when inducting new starters by stating explicitly: ‘It’s your career, you are responsible.’

There was also recognition that many organisations are now part of a wider eco-system, and as people are more socially connected we should invest the same amount of time on enabling people to move on from an organisation as we do on-boarding them. Longer-term, the benefits of people being supported as they depart lead to good referrals of a business willing to nurture people and their talents.

Do these views resonate with you? How is your organisation responding to these challenges?

Look out for our future posts on acceleration talent success and the importance of relationships and behaviours and the new psychological contract.

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