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Engaging with Millennials: It's not all slides and sandpits

Engaging with Millennials requires more than some office gimmicks -- our panel reveals how to best attract, engage and manage millennials in the workforce

Entitled, demanding and forever changing jobs or digitally savvy and masters of innovation? Love them or loathe them, by 2020 it is estimated that Millennials will make up to 50% of the workforce so finding a way to engage them is a must. To find out more, we held a panel event at The Ivy made up of people who know a thing or two about this part of the workforce: Adam Henderson, the founder of Millennial Mindset, a company that helps businesses engage with their Gen Y and millennial workforce; Sam Conniff, Joint CEO, Co-Founder and Chief Purpose Officer at Livity, a youth marketing agency, Nana Amaadzie, Account Executive at DigitasLBi and former Livity trainee; and Alice Weightman, Founder and CEO of Hanson Search and The Work Crowd.

millennial event panel

[From right: Alice Weightman, Sam Conniff, Adam Henderson, and Nana Amaadzie]

See the talent, not the attitude

For Sam, a key part of engaging successfully with Millennials is shifting what he calls the ‘deficit mindset’. He explained: “We need to reverse that classic negative stereotype about young people; that they’re up to no good, they don’t know what they want and they don’t want to work hard. “Yes, they might come into our office with their jeans slung low and not wanting to talk much at first. Yes, they might come into with work with the attitude that the world belongs to them and that they shouldn’t be asked to do spreadsheets and make cups of tea for the first six months, but many of them are absolute talents.” As proven by what they’re achieving, it seems. This, said Sam, is the ‘hustler generation’. “They’re teaching themselves everything that they need to do on YouTube, while holding down a part time job and studying. They don’t feel like they need permission to do things, because largely, they don’t. This group is coming in with very high expectations and are not going to be put down or put up with the way we want them to behave so if you want the very best talent you forget about the way ‘we’ did things. That doesn’t work anymore.”

Get the package right

It’s not just about having an open mind about what this generation has to offer, however. You also need to think about the package you’re offering, explained Nana. “Salary is definitely a driver, but that’s not the only thing” she says. “This is a generation with big ideas, so to win us over you need to show how unique you are. We love a creative environment, a culture that allows people to socialise and structures that are not too rigid. We also want to know that we can progress in our career; we don’t like to be stagnant. We aim to get higher and higher.” 

And Adam agreed that the package is all important, adding “We recently conducted some research that showed that 98% of this generation want to work for a business whose visions and values align with theirs, and 100% want to work for a company that stands for something.” And this, he explained, is partially as a result of the economic changes this generation has lived through. “The brightest of them could become bankers, but a lot of them came into the workforce during the downturn and said ‘I don’t want to be a part of that, I want to be a part of something better.’ Millennials want to do good, but also to do well and businesses need to find a way of supporting those two ambitions.”

Slides vs substance

And that means really changing how businesses work and what they stand for, not just paying lip service to big ideas. Adam explained: “There’s a real dichotomy at the moment; businesses look amazing from the outside, but terrible from the inside in terms of how they are reacting to change. “I think it’s a way of thinking rather than an age group. There’s been a clash between old and new. The last five years was the war, but now we’ve agreed how things should be done. It is not about us and them anymore. That’s why now, I try to talk about ‘modern employees’ rather than millennials. It’s a way of getting management buy-in. No manager wants to admit to being a Luddite.” 

"Making a hire is expensive," explained Alice. "We need to make sure that we can retain great talent and that has to do with culture. I find from a recruitment point of view that some businesses see culture as what the office is like, do they have a ping pong table and can their employees arrive to work slightly late. What we’re saying is that there needs to be a higher sense of culture, which is more about the purpose of your business rather than just what gimmicks are in your office." What employers need to do is really get under the skin of Millennials,

What employers need to do is really get under the skin of Millennials, agreed the panel. It’s not about ping pong tables or bean bags. “So many companies say ‘oh no, we’ve got a millennial problem. Quick, put a slide in the office’. That won’t work,” said Adam. Nana agreed, saying: “Millennials will come into businesses like that, recognise it wasn’t what they expected and then leave. What’s really important is to have vision and purpose and communicate it to us. We really want our bring our talents and take work as if the company is our own, not just someplace we’re working. If you can create a culture where we are all acting as one, then we’ll really go for it. “As much as we’re leaders we’re also willing and open to learning. We are curators and creators. Just learn us, study us, open the door to us,” Nana concluded.

Nana agreed, saying: “Millennials will come into businesses like that, recognise it wasn’t what they expected and then leave. What’s really important is to have vision and purpose and communicate it to us. We really want our bring our talents and take work as if the company is our own, not just someplace we’re working. If you can create a culture where we are all acting as one, then we’ll really go for it. “As much as we’re leaders we’re also willing and open to learning. We are curators and creators. Just learn us, study us, open the door to us,” Nana concluded.

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Author: Alice Weightman

As Founder and CEO, Alice established Hanson Search in 2002 and has since gained a reputation as one of the leading search professionals in senior appointments across communications, developing an incredible network globally.

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