Only connect: How good employers need to interact with the new generation of workers

Hot on the heels of ‘Gen-Xers’, millennials – those born between 1980 and 1999 – are the new force to be reckoned with, able to make or break your business. The largest age group to emerge since the baby boom generation, accountancy firm Deloitte predicts millennials will make up 75% of the global workforce by 2025.

And as a generation that came of age after the 2008 financial crisis and have never known a world without the internet, they have very different expectations about jobs and money.

If you have offspring in this age group, you will already know that these younger workers aren’t motivated by the same factors as previous generations, such as a pension, private healthcare or job for life, but instead value a good work/life balance and a sense of purpose beyond mere financial success. (Although as a long-suffering parent you may feel financial success would be a good start.)

It’s a drastically different outlook from the generations before who are used to the more traditional hierarchy of large corporate firms where it was once common practice to reward decades of long service with a carriage clock or gold watch.

Less than 25 years ago, it was considered commendable to stay at the same firm and work a set number of years in a particular post before progressing. But as millennials grow as a proportion of the workforce, employers will need to shift their working practices and shake up their company culture to attract and retain staff from this generation.

Entrepreneur Richard Branson has long recognised this and was ahead of the game in creating the kind of corporate culture that appeals to millennials. “People are what have made Virgin what it is today and my philosophy has always been treat staff how you would want to be treated,” he says. “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”

Being Richard Branson, he took this philosophy a stage further and Virgin Group held what it called “a corporate day”, asking employees to behave in the way many traditional firms expect just for one day. Staff had to wear formal business clothes, arrive at 9am, use titles such as Mr and Mrs instead of first names, couldn’t look at social media and weren’t allowed to make personal calls. The horror!

“The purpose of the exercise,” he explains, “was to give our people a taste of what a lot of the world is still run like.”

So, what does this mean for estate agency businesses?

Surely as an industry we already offer fairly relaxed workplaces where harmless banter is encouraged – admittedly within limits, as we must still present a professional image to customers.

From my experience of talking to numerous millennials one-to-one for many years, here are my tips:

Bear in mind that you are talking to people used to buying everything they need on demand. This generation doesn’t bother with doing ‘the weekly shop’ because it has grown up with Amazon Prime and knows they can place an order for coffee and it will arrive tomorrow. This age group doesn’t care about owning the music they listen to when they can access it free on Spotify or YouTube. And as for waiting a week to watch the next instalment of a TV show, you must be joking – they expect to stream it instantly and watch it at any time on any device. What this means for the recruitment process is that we simply can’t get away with ‘old school’ timescales any more. Responses at each stage need to be more or less instant.

Digital is second nature, paperwork is not. While the legalities of the conveyancing process mean a certain amount of documentation will always have to be hardcopy, digitise as much as possible and make good use of services like Dropbox and Google Drive.

Use social media to show what your company is really like. Use real employees in your pictures, not stock photos. In addition to a list of open positions, your LinkedIn and Facebook pages, Twitter account and website should be full of un-posed pictures of your people going about their everyday working lives. In this way you’re giving an authentic view of your firm to help potential employees see whether you’d be a good fit. The key word here is ‘authentic’ – don’t pretend to be something you’re not. Attracting millennials (or anyone else for that matter) under false pretences will only get the relationship off to a bad start and may well result in them leaving anyway. And a company trying (and failing) to show it is “down with the kids” by communicating in text speak or whatever they think is their lingo is not only embarrassing but patronising.

Acknowledge that many millennials want a job where they can make a difference. This is another reason posting only photos of drinking and smoking employees could backfire. Apart from being misleading, it’s a stereotype that partying is all millennials care about. Survey after survey shows millennials are not motivated only by money: they want their work to mean something. Show them how they can change people’s lives by helping them find their perfect homes.

Focus on retention, not just recruitment. According to com, 91% of millennials expect to stay in a job for less than three years. The main reason agents leave an office is because they felt their boss didn’t appreciate them and stopped communicating with them once they were on board. Stay involved. Provide training and guidance that will help them get to the next level. Other ideas include reward programmes, community involvement and mentoring.

Show off your workplace. In common with all candidates, millennials want to have all their questions answered and see everything they need to see when they come in for an interview. Yet how many companies sit candidates in a conference room or one corner of the office? Walk candidates around the office so they can hear phone conversations, take in the atmosphere and meet people. This is about more than showing a candidate where they might be working – with millennials especially, it’s all about making a connection.

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