I think it’s safe to say that millennials are a force to be reckoned with. Often referred to as “Generation Disruption,” their influence on the modern workplace is hard to deny. In recent years, millennials’ expectations have been reshaping the workplace into more flexible, collaborative and transparent environments.
These types of changes will only become more impactful as the number of millennial workers increases. According to the Brookings Institution, millennials will comprise one-half of the workforce by 2020 and 75% by 2025. Yet, many employers are still not prepared to meet their millennial workers’ demands.
Businesses that adhere to hierarchical organizational structures, in particular, will find it increasingly difficult to hold onto their employees in the coming years. Simply offering perks like food and fun activities (longtime call center motivation methods) has been found to be ineffective at building loyalty and commitment. In fact, a recent ReportLinker study found that only 40% of millennials feel highly committed to their organizations (“Office Perks: Millennial Expectations Change What Employers Offer”).
Admittedly, creative workplace perks are nice to have—after all, who wouldn’t like to relieve tension with a midday onsite massage or challenge a co-worker to a game of ping-pong while on break? But overall, millennials tend to gravitate to those companies that offer help with balancing their work and personal lives. Study participants said that, of all the perks offered to them, they’re more likely to use healthcare (54%), flexible working hours (41%), paid family sick leave (33%) and career development services (23%). Also, while just 11% said that their employers offered telecommuting, 22% ranked it as No. 1 among perks that they considered to be essential.
What’s more, the survey found that the top three drivers of commitment to employers didn’t involve perks at all. Millennials desire opportunities to:
- Be involved in decision-making (87%),
- Take on new professional challenges (83%), and
- Be innovative and creative (78%).
Some centers have already recognized that the rules of engagement have changed, and have put in place practices that align with their staff’s expectations. Take, for instance, Valvoline’s strong focus on employee development and collaborative efforts to continuously improve the work environment. In an industry where a 30% turnover rate is typical, Valvoline’s support center boasts an impressive average agent tenure of 10-plus years. You can read more about their story in this month’s Inside View column (see page 16).
A Model for Managing Millennials
Millennials’ expectations in the workplace have been shaped by numerous things in their upbringing—including helicopter parents, constant positive feedback and profound technological advances, among others.
“Millennial workers grew up in a more transformational than transactional environment,” says Dr. Jesse Calloway, leadership consultant, trainer and author of All the Way to the Top: A Practical Guide for Corporate and Business Leadership. “Millennials more accustomed to contingent reward. For instance, when I was coming up in the corporate world, I was rewarded for standalone or individual accomplishment. It was about me and what I did. If I solved problems, I was rewarded; If I didn’t, I wasn’t rewarded. That is the transactional view. In contrast, millennials have been nurtured in a more transformational manner. They received more feedback and coaching.”
Calloway points to the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which held teachers accountable for ensuring that their students and schools passed standardized tests. As a result, teachers significantly increased the amount of feedback and engagement with students.
“Now that those former students are in the workplace, they bring with them a certain expectation that is consistent with transformational leadership,” he adds.
How can you apply a transformational leadership technique in your contact center? Calloway has developed a model that he calls “the 5 Cs.” They include:
Conversation. The first step is to have a conversation with each agent to provide feedback about his or her performance improvement opportunities. It’s important to offer “personalized feedback and consideration—the same type of individual interaction that they grew up with,” he says.
Calculation. During the calculation stage, look for ways to engage agents intellectually. Provide them with personalized goals that the individual can achieve and discuss how to work toward them (e.g., “Bob, I need you to improve your cSat rating by 5%. How should we approach this?”).
Collaboration. “Very little gets done without collaboration,” Calloway states. Emphasize that you’re working together to reach the goals that you set with your agent in the calculation stage. For instance: “Bob, I need you to help me identify the obstacles that are preventing us from achieving a 5% increase in cSat.” Then follow up with: “Let’s have a conversation about how we can remove them.”
Communication. Continuous communication is critical to ensure that agents are moving toward their goals. Provide ongoing feedback about their progress and work together to overcome any barriers that surface.
Cognizance. “What gets measured, gets done,” Calloway notes. “Sharing the vision, goals and objectives with your agent is just the beginning. You also have to provide them with a means to measure their progress on a real-time basis.”
Culture Is the Secret Sauce
If there is one thing that Alorica’s VP of Talent Acquisition Teri Morse believes is the “secret sauce” for attracting and retaining millennial employees, it’s having a welcoming, supportive company culture. She should know—millennials make up approximately 80% of the contact management solutions provider’s workforce.
Morse recalls her own first impressions upon arriving at the company’s Irvine, Calif., headquarters for a job interview. “People came up to me in the lobby and welcomed me,” she says. “Company leaders were visible throughout the site, shaking hands with the candidates and saying, ‘Welcome, we look forward to meeting with you and sharing with you what we have.’ That is the spirit that supports our culture. It grooms the individuals that we hire from their very first interaction.”
Once candidates are on board, how does Alorica foster loyalty and ongoing commitment? The following are just some of the practices at this millennial-friendly organization.
Culture champions. Alorica’s leaders nurture the culture to ensure that it is engaging. Each of the company’s 150-plus locations has its own culture champion—individuals who oversee ongoing activities in the workplace to keep staff’s energy and motivation levels high. Dance contests and talent competitions are popular events at the Irvine location, Morse says.
Career development is viewed as a tree. Rather than offering a career ladder that limits agents’ upward mobility to the contact center, Morse describes Alorica’s career progression model as “a tree of growth.”
“It can branch out—there are all kinds of opportunities for personal growth,” she explains. “Agents can move into other functional areas like workforce management, quality, procurement, accounting, legal and recruiting.”
Also valuable for those starting out on their career journey is the company’s self-service training platform that allows employees to experience the different types of training available for various functions. “We’ve got different modules that people can access to help themselves move toward that next opportunity,” Morse says.
Alorica’s career development process has a high success rate. About 70% of the company’s management team has been promoted from within—many of whom started their careers in the contact center, she notes. “It is a great entry point.”
Leaders get involved early with employees. As Morse described, Alorica’s leaders make a point of engaging not just new employees, but candidates who are at the interviewing stage. “Our leaders understand that early engagement fosters higher retention,” she says.
In the contact center environment, supervisors and managers are not hidden away in their offices. They use tools and applications that allow them to monitor staff on mobile devices so that they can spend their time on the floor, always visible and engaging with employees.
If you’re a baby boomer or Gen X manager who has been struggling to connect with your millennial agents, Morse recommends spending some time to learn how to use social networking apps. It’s a mindset adjustment, she points out, but adds that “if you’re not current, you’re going to miss out. Start communicating with your friends and family using social apps. Often, managers from older generations refuse to try Facebook, but you’re passing up a tremendous opportunity to communicate with your staff, to understand them better and to share with them.”
Giving Back to the community. Millennials prefer to work for employers that give back to society. Alorica inspires a sense of community pride through its MLBA program—Making Life Better at Alorica—which supports site-specific volunteer activities. Each location’s employees select charities they feel most strongly about, as well how to get involved.
Move Past Stereotypes
As every generation turns over in the workplace, there is a tendency for the older groups to distrust the newcomers simply because of differences in upbringing, values and work styles. (Remember all of those articles, books, studies and conference sessions on how to manage Gen X?)
The millennial generation is no different. Early on, they were described as lazy, entitled, narcissistic job-hoppers. But they’re also known for being highly adaptable, innovative and tech savvy—all valuable attributes in today’s contact center.
Editor’s note: For more on managing millennials, as well as a look at workplace expectations and attitudes by generation, see Mark Brody’s article “The Changing Landscape of Employee Engagement” on page 32.