HR 23 December 2016

What small business owners need to know about the millennial mindset

attract millennial talent
Millennials need more feedback than older workers

Writing for Business Advice, employment specialist James Malia looks at how small business owners can tap into the millennial way of thinking and attract top talent.

Millennials are the largest generation in the workplace and, by 2030, will make up 75 per cent of the global workforce, according to the US Bureau of Labour Statistics. This means that it has never been more important for businesses to create a desirable professional working environment to help attract and retain the best talent from this age group.

For larger corporations that have large budgets for benefits packages, this isn’t necessarily a daunting prospect. However, SMEs and startup businesses will need to consider their offering for millennials very carefully in order to evoke loyalty to the business.

In order to do this, SMEs first must first consider what motivates millennials and what they truly value – and then think about how an SME employer can fulfil these needs. So what are the five key traits that make a millennial compatible with an SME?

Wellbeing in the workplace

Having a good work life balance is something that is highly valued by millennials, with 69 percent listing it as one of their biggest workplace worries. Research from Willis Towers Watson revealed that 88 percent of this generation wish they could have greater opportunity to start and finish work at the times they choose, within reason.

Millennials clearly value freedom and trust from their employer to work the hours they wish. Flexible working is therefore an area that a lot of SMEs and start-ups have embraced, with many companies now allowing individuals to fix their working hours around existing commitments – such as childcare and family commitments – rather than having to follow a more traditional 9-5 work schedule.

The digital era

The millennial’s desire for flexibility in terms of when and where they work may stem in part from the fact that they have grown up with technology and are well versed when it comes to digital and social media. For example, they are used to accessing information instantly and on the move, regardless of location, and expect speed, mobility and efficiency in all aspects of their lives, including work.

This is one particular reason that millennials can be such an attractive group to employers, as many will have an innate understanding of digital, having grown up experimenting with new technology and social media, thus removing the need for extensive training in this area.

SMEs can build on this talent, however, by offering millennials the chance to develop their technological skills even further, as many will be open to the idea of experimenting with new digital channels. After all, many SMEs have already embraced technology as a way of managing their company procedures, from HR to payroll. These programs could be appealing for a millennial, as the will allow them to showcase their technology prowess.

Fluid feedback

Traditionally, feedback is given to employees after a task has finished, or as part of their annual appraisal. Millennials, however, want to feel appreciated and supported in their work with much greater frequency, so this approach to providing feedback can often feel outdated.

When it comes to launching new HR initiatives, SMEs are often more agile than large, more established corporates, so it will be easier for these companies to embrace the concept of providing feedback on a regular basis. This method will appeal to the millennial generation, which prefers ongoing dialogue in real time, rather than formal sit-downs. Because SMEs have a working culture that can accommodate this model more easily, these companies can be an attractive place for millennials to learn and develop.

Mentoring over managing

Millennials would prefer a mentor figure in the workplace, rather than a traditional manager alone. In short, they want someone that can support them in their career, which is something an SME or start-up can offer as they often work in tighter-knit teams.

Millennials also prefer a flatter structure more generally, where everyone contributes and works as a team, regardless of how junior someone is. This demographic tends to thrive in an entrepreneurial culture where they are encouraged to think for themselves. This makes them perfectly suited for working in an SME, where this behaviour is welcomed and rewarded.

Experiences are key

Alongside these other qualities, millennials are also the main force behind the ‘experience economy’, moving away from materialism in favour of experiential activities such as eating out and other leisure activities, with 78 percent of millennials preferring to spend their money on an experience rather than a possession, according to research from Eventbrite.

This is affecting how managers reward this age group, with more companies moving away from financial rewarding in favour of more personalised gifts such as cinema tickets or day trips. It is often easier for an SME to offer a personalised experience compared to a larger company, as managers can engage with each individual to find out what they would consider a desirable reward.

Millennials’ attitudes, expectations and aspirations are different to the generations before them. Businesses therefore need to consider offering this group a variation on the traditional working structure in order to attract the best talent.

This is where SMEs can offer real value, as they typically do not work in the same way as a large corporate firm. Understanding the mindset of a millennial will go a long way to helping an SME showcase its best features in this regard, and thus make it much easier for them to attract and retain the best talent.

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