3 ways employers can engage millennials at work

June 2, 2015, 4:35 PM UTC
Photograph by Aping Vision/STS Getty Images

A profound change is on the horizon for corporate America as millennials (born between 1980 and 2000) are poised to make up as much as 75% of the workforce by 2025. And along with this transformation come two other seismic global shifts for businesses to consider: first, increased transparency and public scrutiny due to continuous advances in technology and the explosive growth of social media (e.g. leaders can be exposed by a mere 140 character post on Twitter) and second, a rise in more “democratized” workplaces where collaborative management structures prevail and ideas matter more than experience. This means our workspaces, and society at large, are moving from a centralized, “command and control” style of leadership to a more networked approach, where responsibility and decision making is shared.

Employers are now demanding much higher skill requirements at the entry level, making it much more difficult for younger workers to stand out among the competition. At the same time, the Great Recession has contributed to millennials’ dissatisfaction with today’s workplaces.

In order to keep up with this coming transformation in our world of work, companies can evolve their corporate learning programs in three ways to better engage and equip millennial employees.

Take workplace training online

Too often, companies waste thousands, even millions, of dollars on employee engagement and professional development.

Employers need to provide ongoing, online learning that is engaging and valuable to this new workforce. Millennial employees are “screenagers,” born and raised online. These digital natives value meaningful online experiences—experiences that many Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) cannot offer through a filmed lecture. Instead, employers should be looking at how an online learning platform can facilitate expert-led, problem-specific learning rather than static, dry lectures or lessons.

Technology matters in today’s world and workplace—millennials are 2.5 times more likely to be early adopters of technology than are older generations, and they also stand out when it comes to producing and uploading online content. Organizations must take note of this and embrace the opportunity.

Widen online social engagement

Taking learning online, however, is not enough. Other important factors for companies to consider when evaluating their corporate learning approach are content, connectedness, and production. To be innovative and engaging, the content behind these programs must be strong. The material must be relevant for employees and should connect to their daily work and the needs of the employer. And lastly, high-quality design and production of the program matter. Again, millennials have been born and raised online so it will be important for the material to be captivating and well produced.

Making work personally meaningful

It is no secret that millennials are the most plugged-in and tech-savvy generation of our time. However, they’re also more vocal about social impact. Almost 90% of millennials link their purchasing decision to a company’s social commitment. Some 63% of millennials expect their employers to contribute to a social cause.

To build upon online learning, a tangible social impact project can be a meaningful way to link employees’ personal values with work. The most creative, innovative ideas form when a group of diverse people with a diverse set of talents get together. Creating these working relationships will also increase productivity and trust, which in turn will provide for a more desirable workplace environment in general.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway for how to prepare for this millennial invasion in the workforce is this- engaging millennials will take more than just providing them with quality professional development. Leaders and upper management must start evolving now so that collaboration and trust can come more easily later on with the next generation of leaders.

Alan Todd is founder and CEO of CorpU, a technology firm focused on applying the science of learning in organizations. Carsten Sudhoff is founder and CEO of CircularSociety, a Swiss-based social for-profit enterprise that helps businesses and society connect financial and social profit, and the former chief HR officer at the World Economic Forum.

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