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8th July 2016.

Is your business future-proofed? Better ask a Millennial.

By Tony Collard, Sales Director at Ethos. 

Funny thing getting older. The older I get, the older “old” seems. That said, it’s still a challenge to look at the young executives in the office and not feel my age.

 At Ethos, people in their early career are part of the life blood of our company. What they lack in experience, they bring in commitment, enthusiasm and willingness to learn. So I’m slightly perplexed by the way the media tend to portray this up and coming generation – the much maligned “Millennials”.

 If you believe what you read in the press, today’s youth are a pampered, over sharing, entitled bunch in a state of permanent arrested development (or ‘kidulthood’). They’re obsessed by selfies and celebs, disinterested in politics and work.

But that’s not a picture that chimes with my experience of working with so called ‘Millennials’. The media’s one-sided narrative seems to me to be a cynical reflection of a new type of age gap and a new kind of anxiety specifically effecting those who can remember when there were only four broadcast channels. Millennials are the first true digital natives – people who’ve only ever known a digital world – and for those people and organisations struggling to keep up with the disruption of digital, Millennials can seem more like a threat than an asset.

Whatever your perceptions and preconceptions are of Millennials – and I’d love to hear them in the comments below – we need to look at the facts. By 2020, Millennials will make up half of the global workforce. And yet many businesses are still failing to understand and engage them.

Take advertising – Millennials baffle advertisers. Board rooms in brands and agencies echo with the same worried refrain: How do we engage Millennials? With this new generation, traditional advertising just doesn’t cut through. Even worse that that - brands that try and Snapchat their way to engagement often come across as inauthentic and frankly, a bit embarrassing, the advertising equivalent of Dad dancing at a wedding.

But clearly any dynamic company that is serious about future proofing its business needs to understand what makes Millennials tick as customers, consumers and, as employees.

This is a generation for whom terms like ‘online’, ‘digital’ and ‘social’ are completely meaningless, it’s how they operate on a daily basis. From an early age they’ve been weaned on smartphones and tablets, see WiFi as a basic human need and have been educated with the entirety of humanity’s knowledge at their fingertips.

Ten years ago, when social media was first emerging, the media abounded with disaster scenarios of youthful employees wreaking havoc on company profiles. It quickly became part of office folklore: NEVER let the intern near the company Twitter account! That rule is still held sacrosanct but it’s now completely outdated. Millennials have grown up in the social age. They behave online like mini-brands, promoting their lives, their values and attracting what businesses crave – authentic engagement. If there’s one person in your company who has the power to reach the Millennial customer it’s your office junior. It’s time to give them the keys.

And not just to social accounts either. The benefits of giving early career employees more input into the running of your business seems to me to be self evident. But here lies the rub: while businesses are working hard attempting to attract Millennial customers and talent, many Millennials are questioning traditional attitudes to work. They’re increasingly opting out of office jobs and instead living the life of the “digital nomad” – travelling the world with their digital skills ever in demand. So how can traditional businesses hope to attract and retain their talent?

One way is to recognise the value this new generation brings to the table. Employees that are valued and respected and have a true voice in your company are less inclined to quit and grab the first economy flight to Thailand. Compared with older generations, Millennials often have different career aspirations too – and business must recognise and respond to that shift in attitudes.

Deloitte’s fourth Millennial survey highlights the shift. Six in ten Millennials surveyed stated that ‘a sense of purpose’ is the main reason they work for their current employer. And, as Deloitte CEO Barry Salzburg said,

The message is clear: when looking at their career goals, today’s Millennials are just as interested in how a business develops its people and contributes to society as they are in its products and profits.

Bringing Millennialls closer to the centre of your business helps unlocks new commercial opportunities, helps attract and retain talent and can help your company operate with a “sense of purpose”. So isn’t it time you asked a Millennial employee to report to your board? Your company’s future will thank you for it.

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