Millennials (or Generation Y) work the frontlines of companies around the world, and make up the majority of the workforce in customer-service organizations. Yet many employers are unsure how to keep these workers engaged and productive, and struggle with staff churn.
As a call-centre company staffed largely by young people (almost 80% of our global workforce is Gen Y), we’ve had to tailor our hiring and training practices to attract and keep these workers for the long haul. What we’ve learned is that to do that effectively, companies must adapt to their workers, rather than expecting their workers to adapt to the existing ways.
This may sound unappealing. However, businesses that adopt recruitment and training practices that enable this highly social and technologically savvy demographic to achieve their full potential will be well-served. Millennials are more educated, on average, than any cohort to come before them. Like every generation, they have been shaped by their culture—and in their case, that culture is rooted in technology and media. Their career aspirations, life expectations, values and behaviour have been heavily influenced by new methods of communication.
In general, millennials tend to be excellent multi-taskers who are highly engaged and collaborative. They are very patient and team-oriented, which fits well into a customer service organization. However, Gen Yers have grown accustomed to rapid shifts in their attention, which means they may also appear less focused. So how do we keep people in entry-level positions enthused and engaged?
Here are some practices we have found work well in recruiting and training younger staff.
Use technology to increase your accessibility: Technologically savvy methods of engagement indicate to millennials that your company is in tune with their needs and interests. The details matter. For example, use tablets for sign-up at hiring fairs rather than paper sign-up sheets. And leverage social media to spread the word about opportunities at your organization. We have dramatically increased the number of applications we receive by allowing candidates to apply through Facebook or other social media sites. Remember, however, that your company should provide faster turnaround time for feedback to millennials—they have come to expect that.
We have dramatically increased the number of applications we receive by allowing candidates to apply through Facebook or other social media sites.
Make your interview process more informal: Enlightened employers are realizing that employee fit is key. However, fit is just as important to interviewees as it is to interviewers. Prospective employees, particularly millennials, will pay close attention to how the company and its culture fit into their lives, and won’t hesitate to move on if that fit isn’t snug.
To allow yourself and your job candidate an opportunity to assess fit, give them room to shine. Rather than asking traditional questions such as, “What are your weaknesses?” ask more situational questions to see how your interviewee might deal with a particular dilemma, or more informal questions to see how they engage socially.
Actively involve employees in training: Millennials expect that sense of fit and engagement to carry through into their training and day-to-day work. Avoid one-directional communication, such as lectures or videos, whenever possible. Instead, aim for the following:
- Express the company culture. Encourage trainees to become part of the team and help them relate to your corporate culture as if it were designed for them.
- Use virtual training, technology and avatars to keep training fun and interactive. We’ve found these techniques increased knowledge retention by 30% to 40% in some programs.
- Shorten the training programs. The staff’s knowledge retention tends to be much higher when training programs are selective in the content they present, and focus on the essential skills and knowledge trainees will need to do their jobs.
- Encourage peer-to-peer collaboration by having trainers serve as facilitators. This breaks down barriers and promotes active participation.
- Be hands on with real-world practice. Ensure trainees get plenty of experience talking to real customers during their training sessions.
- Promote knowledge sharing and storytelling. Encourage employees to share their knowledge and experiences—another way to get them talking, as well as listening.
- Change the setting. A change of scenery, such as taking a group discussion to a nearby park or going on a walking tour of the company’s facilities, helps keep trainees engaged.
- Give immediate feedback.
- Use assessments throughout training, rather than holding one big final test. Millennial workers are hungry for regular feedback and immediate results to help them improve. For that reason, the sooner you’re able to give feedback on their performance, the better.
The unique strengths of millennials are creating exciting new opportunities for employers. However, companies need to take responsibility for recruiting and training this generation in ways that give millennials the opportunity to shine.
Gah Bird is vice-president at Telus International, an arm of Telus that provides call-centre outsourcing. Look for a second installment of Bird’s advice in the weeks to come.