Employee Engagement Sucks and Millennial Workers Figured It Out

By Telvin Jeffries

In an article on ESPN.com, Robert Sarver owner of the Phoenix Sun’s blames his organization’s poor performance partly on millennial culture. Sadly this is a recurring theme, wrongly characterizing a critical segment of the workforce. I think it’s time to have a healthy conversation about the frustrations between the generations and the relationship to employee engagement.

We know things change, and the only constant thing is change itself. Millennial workers have evolved from the past generations, having more education than the previous generations. This age group heavily influenced by access to more knowledge through traditional educational channels and technology than previous generations are trained to challenge status quo. As a result, Millennials have confidently expressed their expectations for a great workplace and one that supports their life goals.

The divide between the generations is not that disparate. But I think that Millennials have clearly expressed that corporate culture and the mission of a company, trumps pay and perks for them when choosing a workplace to work or stay. I would argue that most workers regardless of their generation would prefer this arrangement.

Retention with Millennials

Experience.com indicated 70% of Millennial left their job within the first two years of joining the organization. I can see how this can be frustrating for company leaders as high turnover can have a significant impact on achieving the organization’s short-term goals and objectives. The long-term implications are even more problematic when you consider executing a long-term Human Capital Strategy. How do you develop a deep bench and fulfill the company’s succession goals if you have retention problems with what is soon to be the largest part of the workforce? One study shows that by 2025, Millennials will represent 75% of the U.S. workforce.

Millennials May Have Exposed Employee Engagement Efforts

High employee turnover is a concern overall and many companies believe employee engagement is the answer to helping people be more content in their job and ultimately drive retention. Company and HR Leaders have all worked hard to raise engagement levels with the expectation that it will aid in driving better business performance as well. I think that Millennials think our efforts in employee engagement are a joke because the efforts aren’t improving tangible business outcomes or making the workplace better from their perspective. I would mostly agree with them. In over a decade working with employee engagement, I can’t say that it improved business outcomes or having data showing consistent correlation with employee retention rates.

Employment Engagement Is A Nebulous Target

The Employee Engagement industry is reaching $500 million dollars, and we have been sucking up tools, software, and so-called best practices in an attempt to improve something against a nebulous target. The goal is cloudy because there is no real definition of employee engagement and I have not found a company that can tell you empirically that any score is directly impacting a business outcome. To further this argument, some of the companies with the best engagement scores lack a meaningful difference in their retention rates.

The Answer

Let’s get back to basics. Companies exist to make a profit for its owners. Companies who sell products and service that their customer’s want are worthy to be in the marketplace. Companies who thrive are clear about their purpose, which they serve and how to best serve them — mission. They also recognize that they have to evolve with the customer preferences and the way they need to interact with them to maintain positive relationships with them.

The right employee for your company likes your products and services. They like whom you serve, why you serve those particular customers and more importantly how you serve your current and potential customers. They genuinely want to be participants in how and who they serve. For that exchange of participation they want:

• To be heard! We live in a Yelp-ified world.

• The ability to contribute in a meaningful way to the work and work process.

• The awareness that they may want to “work for a living” and NOT “live to work”. People want a balance between work and their personal lives.

• To make a competitive salary and be able to use their pay to do their kind of life.

• To be treated fairly and respectful.

The point of this article isn’t to provide a solution, but to spark discussion. However, I think the answer, is rooted in using data differently, and interactions with employees of all generations to improve business outcomes, develop our future workforce and retain the best talent.

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About the author

Telvin Jeffries is the Chairman of CHRO Partners Americas. In his practice he serves clients in the area of Human Capital Strategy in consumer services, retail and manufacturing sector. Prior to joining CHRO Partners, he was the Executive Vice President of Human Resources for RadioShack Corporation and Kohl’s Corporation.

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