Win Millennial Talent Through Workplace Strategy

Most companies still don't understand their youngest employees. Is your organization one of them?

Is your workplace millennial friendly? Do you have a workforce strategy in place that will recruit and retain them? Is this on your mind? Does it matter? Michael McDermott, consulting manager, and Steven J. Zatta, consulting director, for Cushman & Wakefield’s Global Business Consulting Group, think it does, and according to their study, “Facing the Millennial Wave,” despite the criticality of millennials to every company’s labor strategy, evidence indicates most still don’t know what it takes to attract and engage this generation.

I interviewed McDermott and Zatta on their findings and how those can affect your workplace strategy. Below are edited excerpts from our interview.

Let’s talk about workplace preferences for millennials. What do they want? Are they getting it?

Zatta: There are a few core millennial traits that heavily influence what millennials are looking for in a work environment. Millennials are highly educated, ambitious, and confident. They also thrive on new experiences and being both challenged and motivated by their peers. As a result, they look for a work environment that reflects their personal values, creates a sense of energy, enables them to effectively perform their roles and makes them feel connected to the activity and people around them.

Steven J. Zatta, Cushman & Wakefield's Global Business Consulting Group
Steven J. Zatta, Cushman & Wakefield's Global Business Consulting Group

From a practical standpoint, this translates into an environment that provides freedom and choice of where and how to work, and that enables fluid transfer between collaborative and solitary spaces over the course of the day.

Companies are increasingly providing these types of environments as real estate, human resources, and business leaders develop a better understanding of what drives engagement and productivity. It’s important to note that many of the same workplace attributes that millennials want are also sought by older generations. Fluid access to private and collaborative places, for example, is something that benefits workers of all generations.

Your data has some important findings. For example, millennials thrive on competition, not just collaboration. They’re experience hoppers, not job hoppers. How did you come to those conclusions?

Zatta: There are numerous studies and articles that point to the affinity millennials have for peer interactionand the fact this generation is more likely to jump from one company to another. We explored the root causes of these characteristics by doing additional research and talking to millennials about their perspectives.

When it comes to collaboration and competition, we learned that millennials look to peers as a source of motivation and benchmark of performance. For millennials, competition is not about outperforming a colleague, it is about finding sources of inspiration and developing a sense of the size and scale of their personal contribution to the company.

From a job hopping perspective, we learned that millennials usually don’t move to a different company simply because they want to work somewhere new. They move because they want new experiences and learning opportunities. When millennials have a clear understanding of the opportunities they have at their current company, they are much less likely to leave.

Michael McDermott, Cushman & Wakefield’s Global Business Consulting Group
Michael McDermott, Cushman & Wakefield’s Global Business Consulting Group

What do these findings mean for the workforce?

McDermott: These findings mean a few things for the workforce. First, they indicate the workforce needs exposure to a larger and more diverse group of employees across the company. Millennials need to interact not only with employees on their own teams but also [with] people who work in different roles and other parts of the organization. This enables millennials to understand how they stack up against their peers and exposes them to new ideas and experiences. 

Second, it means a workforce that benefits from seeing what it takes to succeed in a variety of roles across the company. This contributes to helping millennials remain energized and excited by showing them all of the opportunities they have to grow and develop.

Third, it means a workforce that is best suited to a workplace environment built on transparency and information flows that encourage people to come to the office, interact and share perspectives.

Do you think older generations are aware of this? Is there anything workplaces should be doing to accommodate millennials as a result?

Zatta: The war for talent and a desire to boost employee productivity is an increasing focus for business leaders across industries. As a result, older generations are starting to comprehend more of what it takes to craft an employee value proposition that drives engagement. The best companies recognize there is tremendous opportunity to capture competitive advantage in the war for millennial talent and work hard to be at the forefront of using workplace strategy as a powerful differentiator.

To emulate these companies through workplace strategy, organizations should stop thinking about the workplace from a real estate or facility perspective and start thinking about it as a brand. What brand does your workplace convey? Does it reflect transparency and the freedom to choose where and how to work? Does it communicate the company’s commitment to innovation, personal development, and idea sharing? Is it a brand that energizes employees and makes them want to come to work?