The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question, “How can you help millennials feel like they’re part of the company?” is written by Phil Schraeder, president and COO of GumGum.
At GumGum, we’re conscious of treating all generations with respect, while also recognizing that millennials grew up in a very different world than Gen Xers and boomers.
Recruiting and retaining millennials is a particular challenge, and it involves making them feel like they’re truly part of, and important to, your company. Here’s how we strive to do exactly that:
Respect them as individuals
Older managers need to realize that millennials are social media natives, which means that they’re used to publicly sharing about what they think and care about. They’re used to having a voice.
Allowing employees to have a voice starts with embracing them as individuals. Even though my colleagues and I are working hard together on business and marketing applications of computer vision, we encourage everyone to share their personal stories and interests outside of the office. I schedule monthly team lunches with every single department in our Santa Monica office, which is a great way not only for me to get to know individuals in our company, but also for them to get to know each other better.
We also encourage team members to let everyone know about great stuff that’s going on in their personal lives. For instance, the leader of our image science team told us when he released a new mixtape. When his teammates could see him as not just a tech guy, but a musician too, it created an instant point of connection.
Work in the office
In order to foster a collaborative culture, we ask that all of our employees work in the office. Telecommuting has its fans, and we’re flexible when employees must work from home to deal with a personal situation or take time off with their unlimited vacation days. But when we see employees of all ages socializing in our various breakout spaces, it’s clear that helping them feel like they belong starts with giving them opportunities to all be in the same physical location and have face-to-face contact.
As our company has grown, having a kitchen where people can bump into each other and grab a snack or lunch has been especially valuable for fostering serendipitous conversations and collaborations. Daily presence and informal hangout spaces help weave our company together across departments and projects every day.
Understand what ‘fun’ really means
A lot of companies have elaborate “bonding” sessions, such as retreats and other carefully planned get-togethers, that employees actually dread. Management says, “This is going to be fun!” yet employees are thinking, “This is the opposite of fun.” Instead, you should listen to what your employees think is fun, and mold your activities in accordance.
For example, when it became obvious that a bunch of people here are really into fantasy football, we started up fantasy leagues across the company. We also picked a day to go to a sports bar and watched a football game—fans and non-fans alike. Tapping into shared passions is a good excuse to spend time together and talk about things other than work. Unlike a company retreat with an hour-by-hour agenda, we didn’t structure the event in any way—and I think that lack of structure made it all the more valuable. Giving coworkers the time and space to get to know one another has done wonders for team collaboration and cohesion.
Ultimately, I think we’ve learned a lot from our youngest employees. We wouldn’t be able to do so, though, if they didn’t feel like a part of our team.